Across Paternoster Square from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a public “lav”. That’s where I happened to be when an elegantly dressed British businessman bustled in and approached the restroom attendant. “Could you clean me off, mate? A pigeon has gone and mucked all over me.”
Apparently pigeon droppings on men’s suits were not an uncommon occurrence here; the attendant responded, “Twenty pence.” The businessman impatiently agreed to the price for emergency cleaning, saying “Yeah, yeah. Filthy beasts.”
One can plan a visit to a major attraction like St. Paul’s, or the Tower of Pisa, or Zion National Park, but you can’t make advance arrangements for moments like that. They just happen, and those chance encounters are bonuses that enrich the fund of memories, as in “We’ll always have Paris — and that funny waiter.” Here’s that story…
Our friend Chris Plutte was living in Paris; he took Sally and me to a restaurant called Le Gamin. The waiter had a dry sense of humor; he enjoyed acting the part of a stereotypically rude Parisian. We’d ask for something, like more water, and he’d huff “non”… and then would smile and get it for us.
After the meal, Chris wanted coffee, and told the waiter to bring the “special coffee” for madame. He returned a couple of minutes later with a cup and saucer; as the waiter started to place it in front of Sally, he pretended to stumble. The cup and saucer clattered, and for a split second it looked like she would get showered with hot coffee… but the cup was empty. We all laughed, and the waiter was pleased that his little joke had worked again, for what must have been the thousandth time he had pulled it on someone.
Here’s another travel experience that had nothing to do with the scenery: While waiting for a ferry boat on Ambergris Caye in Belize, a guy in a ragged T-shirt and swimming trunks struck up a conversation. Well, it was more of a monologue, really — he went on at length about how great it was to live in Belize with its natural beauty, fantastic dive spots, friendly people, etc.
He told us that he had sold all his belongings back in the States but had no regrets, because he was loving the life he’d made here in Belize. I asked him how long he’d been living here. “A week,” he said.
Several hours later we were in the vicinity of that same ferry dock in San Pedro Town again. As we were wandering by a beach bar ironically called Amigos del Mar, we heard two guys snarling at each other: “Go away.” “No, you go away.” “Yeah? Let’s see you make me.” It went on in that vein; as we passed, we noticed that one of the combatants was the guy who had moved here from the U.S. a week ago.
Every trip seems to have memorable street scenes like that, but for now I’ll conclude with an experience in New York City that had figurative and literal resonance for me.
In the massive subway station under Times Square I heard what was, for me, an unmistakable sound: A guy was playing a saw with a violin bow. My dad had played the saw, although not nearly as well as this old black man in the subway. I put some cash in the street musician’s tip container, partly in appreciation for bringing back a memory of my childhood, even though I was many miles (and many years) away from home.