The sign of a belonger? Giving directions. Over the last few weeks, I've been giving directions to more and more people, or rather, I apparently look like I know what I'm doing, and people approach ME for directions, and I surprise myself by being able to give them. (SO MANY people have asked Rasheed and I where they shot the movie Notting Hill. Gross.)
Yesterday, though, I got to play "tour guide" for the first time. My old friend Dave from the States was passing through on his way home from swing dance camp in Sweden, and gave me a call to see if I'd want to hang out one of the two days he'd be here. So we hung out, did touristy stuff (I took him to Little Venice, as that's one of the really cool places in London that nobody knows exists; and then on a riverboat cruise down the Thames) and then finally - of course - swing dancing at the 100 Club on Oxford St. We got dinner, too, at this so-called Tex-Mex tapas bar in Notting Hill (so-called because they list SALMON BURGERS on the menu...how's that for Mexican?!), and he paid for my meal, saying: "Well, it's the least I can do for my tour guide." And then I realized, hey, I was sort of the tour guide!
And it made me feel so much more at home here, and so much more that the city was somehow "mine." For so long since I've been here, I've wanted to share it with people, especially my mom. My dad and I really worked on her to come visit (but, of course, she's kind of apathetic about these things, won't even get her passport), but she won't come, and the best we could get was that she'll come visit me next spring in Brighton (if she remembers my name by then!). There were just so many things that I wanted to show her and my dad, and so many places I wanted to take my little brother to just hang out (and he WOULD have come to visit if he wasn't shit-broke). So Dave was the first person of "mine" to come visit. (I was afraid to leave him on the tube alone at the end of the night! But I got him [and myself] home safely.) I loved being able to take someone new to all of these little places that have become familiar to me over the past few months, to see someone see "my" city for the first time, to show off my city.
Today, I had another, smaller opportunity to act as a guide. Rasheed & I met this sweet little old woman on the train platform at Euston Sq, where we were picking up the Circle Line (or so we thought). She was in the city to meet up with her sister at High St Kensington, but then, there was trouble with the Circle Line (an "incident with a passenger" at another stop, says the announcement), so our options were to stay stranded at Euston for God knows how long, or to get on the next train to wherever and switch where we could get a train taking us to our goal-destination. But this woman obviously had very explicit directions to get her directly to High St Kens, and these, of course, didn't include train "incidents." So we hop on the train with her, and then at another Station, get a train that will take her to where she's going (luckily us, too, only a few stops away). I just couldn't leave her there, you know? Standing alone and confused and short, thin-haired (dyed red), slightly hunched over and trembly-handed with a slow walk and sandals too tight for her soft white old-woman's feet with the little toes pointed in naturally and lying over the toe next to them as if she (like me) had spent her entire 20s squashing her feet into high heels that were too narrow. And when we were getting on the train, she said to me, "Oh, dear, you always will find someone to help you, won't you?" And it's been true: since I've been here, people have always been more than willing to help me out with directions or trains. Maybe it's just like that everywhere, when it's "your" city: you love it, so you want other people to love it, too, and you want to help them see it the way you see it.
It saddens me (sadden? more like a horrible gaping ache in my gut) so much to think that I leave in a week (but don't get me wrong; I'm ridiculously excited to see all of the people I've missed so much back in the U.S.!!!!), and that the next time I'm in London, it will be as a "visitor." People tell me that Brighton is lovely, and that I'll have a great time there; I know that if I feel for it even a sixteenth of the attachment I feel for London, I'll be happy. And please, please come visit me there (you can have my bed; I'll sleep on the couch). Let me show you another city that I know I'll love, and if you stay long enough, let's hop on a train 40 minutes north to my first great love.