This First Night In London
The other night a few friends and I snuck into one of those big lecture hall rooms at our university and hi jacked the ginormous screen and theater-like seats to watch films.
For some reason we watched an episode of Skins, the last episode of the first season actually.
I hadn't seen Skins since freshman year of highschool so it all brought back tons of memories, most of which involved me eating ice cream on the couch wishing I had grown up in london smoking hand rolled cigarettes and doing ecstacy with my friends. But another memory, a really crazy one came to mind. I said wow I have to write about it becaue i want someone to appreciate all of it.
So I'm seventeen. I'm best friends with this kid name Hudson who lives a few towns over. Hudson and I were the same age. He was best friends with this kid Johnny who lives right outside of New York City. We all loved clothes and we were really into shooting photos and seeing what was out there. I guess Hudson and Johnny knew eachother from years back. I had never met Johnny in real life, we had just known eachother from Instagram. He was a short boy, I think two years younger than us. Yeah he was fifteen at the time.
Hudson got this idea one day that we should go to London. I guess Johnny's cousin who was a bit older had a place there and there was an extra beddroom. For some reason, she invited three American boys to come crash on her couches for what ended up being our February break. My mom got me a flight for Christmas. Why in the world were our parents letting us do this. I still don't know. But all of this really did train me for the real world more than I could have ever asked for.
So fast forward, it's the week before February break. We were flying to London out of New York, so Hudson and I drove to Johnny's house a few days early and went into the city.
It was NYFW so all the fashion week parties were happening. We were sleeping on the floor of our friend Ryan Hall's dorm room. I had brought my suitcase to Ryan's and I would open it up every night and put my hoodies on the tile and sleep on top of them, covered by my coat and whatever blanket I could find in the dorm.
We went to a few fashion shows. I sat next to Tony Hawk at the VFILES show. I was a senior in high school and all my friends were kind of just going skiing over break or staying at home. But me, my best friend, and this fifteen year old kid from the internet were going to London.
I had never been. None of us had.
Twenty four hours before our flight we were on the floor watching Kanye perform The Life Of Pablo in Madison Square Garden for the first time ever.
The next morning we were at JFK airport and we got on the plane. We had gone out the night before and I had used my fake ID for one of the first times. It worked. Somehow. We got to the airport and I was still wearing my Fashion Week event like necklace things.
It was a long flight. We had a few meals and I remember sitting there thinking "what the hell are we going to do in London" meanwhile I was looking on the map to see where London was.
Johnny looked like he was twelve, he could have been my younger brother for all these people knew.
We got off the plane and made it to the street. We took one of those black English taxi cabs all the way to his cousin's place, which was outside of the city a bit, in this beautiful little town called Clapham Junction.
We got to his cousins, I wish I remembered her name, she was older and really welcoming. She made it very clear she was like the cool cousin, you know - encouraging us to go drink and try to get twelve year old looking Johnny into the pubs.
It wasn't long after we dropped our bags that we were back at the train trying to navigate this place. It was rather cold. I had my coat on and I remember still being chilly. We made it back to central London then found our way to SoHo. We just walked around the entire time.
We called his cousin and told her we weren't coming back for dinner, she had no issue with that. Luckily, we all had ID's that said we were like twenty two or something. No one ever questions an American ID overseas, so if the ID said we were 22, we were 22.
We went to a traditional english pub and had a beer. I have photos somewhere, I'll dig them up and post them some other time, they're on my other computer. I remember posting it on Facebook with the caption "How's February break back home" and all my friends at the time saying holy shit how did you get to LONDON.
So the real story starts here. I always make intros too long - you just need to be imagining it exactly how it is. Walking in my shoes. Around London, with a bunch of english money stuffed in your pocket not knowing what 50 pounds was because I was too young to realize it was basically the same as U.S Dollars.
But we had these unlimited bus and train passes, like we could go anywhere.
We got dinner in SoHo and went to this arcade place. We were in hope to find kids our age. It was a weekend night, Saturday I believe.
We had no luck in finding new friends. But I had always wanted to go on one of those double decker busses. And the Tube. The tube is the train system in London, it's shaped like one big tube and it brings you anywhere you can imagine throughout Central and West/East London.
It had gotten rather late and we were getting on and off the tube at different stops. We went to Picadilly Circus, which, well, is like the Time Square of London. But it's a lot prettier. You've probably seen movies about it or something. Or movies where they walked around it.
It's not a circus. Just a place with a fountain and big LCD screens, like Time Square.
It was probably 8pm and we were rather tired at this point but I wanted to take the bus back home.
Little did I know, getting home was a lot harder than a bus ride.
To correctly get home from Picadilly, you take the Northern Line to Bakerloo where you take the Overground train to Clapham Junction then walk back to the apartment.
Tube to Train to Bus.
I think at one point I asked someone how to get back, and the only part I wanted to hear was "TAKE THE BUS".
So we looked it up and it said we needed to (at some point) take the N19 bus.
We ended up finding the N19 bus and we jumped on. It had to have been 10 at this point.
We rode it and rode it and rode it, sitting up top looking out the big screen window at London at night for the first time ever.
No one seemed to doubt my ways of getting back, although they sure should have.
We rode for about 20 minutes and Hudson finally was like
"We're definitely going the wrong way"
We asked the bus driver how to get to Clapham.
"Are you out of your mind!?" he said as he laughed a little in our face.
I could feel Johnny getting tired and slightly anxious, seeing that he was fifteen across the world very lost and very young looking.
"Get off at this next stop and find a tube, take it to Waterloo"
All of this made no sense to me but Hudson was writing it all down in his phone.
"This is Camden Town" the automated bus said as the doors opened.
"Let's go" Hudson said as he kind of pushed Johnny off the bus.
"C'monnnn guys, don't stress it" I said to them. "We're in London!"
We had always talked about wanting to go to London. We were finally there.
"What are we going to do? We have no clue where we are" Hudson said, slightly concerned as to how we were going to make it back to the couches we had reserved - 45 minutes away and late at night.
"No - come on. We're going to make friends. I see a bunch of people" I said as we walked towards a little store. I guess the first step was to go to a deli of some sort and wait for kids our age to come by and talk to them.
We did. We went to this little corner store thing. People in London call these "The Shop". It took me 3 trips back there over the course it the following year to pick up on that.
We were in "the shop" and there were these older looking kids, college looking, who were buying whiskey at the counter.
They had deep London accents. I was intruiged.
They got their whiskey and went outside for a smoke.
Johnny and Hudson were buying candy with the coins they collected after dinner. I had made it outside and sparked conversation.
"Hey - we're really lost" I said to the kids.
"Woah! Are you like.... American!?" the kid asked me. Jesus I had never been asked that before.
"Yeah, the three of us are, we're incredibly lost and don't really have any friends out here" I told them.
This one kid in a Supreme hat opened his box of cigarettes and pointed it at me, kind of like how people do with swords in movies before they kill someone.
"Want a blem?" the other kid asked.
"Charlie, they don't call it blem, they c-" the kid was saying when I cut him off
"Sure, I'll take one" I said as I reached in and grabbed one from his un branded cigarette pack.
I thought to myself - if I smoke this with them - being one of the first cigarettes I've ever smoked, they owe me like five minutes of their time. Cigarettes take five minutes, right? In the movies they do, so I lit one and said
"Chris. I'm Chris. That's Johnny and Hudson. We just came from New York".
The kid who handed me the cigarette shook my hand "Charlie"
"I'm Lloyd" the first one I approached said. "You're Chris, those are your friends, you're from New York, and you guys are really fuckin' lost" he said as the three of them chuckled a bit.
"W-w-hhere even are we?" I asked my new friends.
"West London. Right by Uni"
"By what??" I asked.
"Uni. Like university"
Oh, duh, college. That took me a minute to understand.
I could see Johnny and Hudson staying inside the store listening to me. They kept making signals like "GET US A FUCKING WAY HOME" only with their hands and not with capital letters.
"Where are you going with all that Whiskey" I asked them.
As this kid flicked his cigarette (it hadn't been nearly five minutes) he said "There's a party in one of the uni houses tonight. It's just down the road a bit" and he pointed down the street to his left. Cars kept driving by us going the wrong way. Well, for London it was the right way, but in my mind I kept thinking they'd all crash.
"You guys should join us, there's enough Whiskey for all of us, and the little one doesn't look like he can drink, but they'll love to see us walk in with some Americans. C'mon" Charlie said.
I looked into the shop and Johnny and Hudson gave me this look of "ABSOLUTELY NOT" only with their hands and not with capital letters.
"Yea, we'd love to, I we have nothing to do tonight anyways" I said to them.
I looked at them in the store and kind of shrugged my shoulders, giving them one of those "sorry not sorry let's go we're in London" looks.
And we went. We had three new friends. Charlie, Lloyd, the other London guy who didn't talk much but went on to tell me he loved American films and Martin Scorsese.
It was about a ten minute walk. They opened the maps app on their phone and showed us how far we were - and we were far. Like a true hour from where we needed to be. But if we're going to be lost and tired why not be lost and tired and drunk and have new friends?
Hudson and Johnny hated me for the duration of the walk. But in my mind, when else are we going to experience this.
We were no longer in like the popular part of London, like there weren't bright lights or any crazy signs. We were like on a college campus kind of. I kind of forget what it all looked like because it was quite a bit ago and it was dark and I spent most of the walk just looking around and trying to understand what they were saying through their accents.
We were in true London they told me. Not any of the "tourist shit we had seen earlier". This was where the real london kids hung out.
Of course a big part of me was like wow we're going to get drugged and killed and Johnny's cousin will never find us then the USA will come looking for us and I'll never get to go to the Supreme London store and my mom will be super pissed at me for dying and stuff, but the other part of me was like wow when else are we going to get this experience. What's the worst that could happen, bad party we say bye and we leave? Not like anyone is going to get mad we left !
We walked up to this house. It was a traditional looking college-esque house, but London style. A few kids were outside smoking cigarettes.
The three we were with greeted the guys outside, they all cheered as our new found friends flashed the big bottle of Whiskey.
"Who are your little friends?" they asked Charlie.
"Oh! They're American" he said.
Now THAT raised some interested eyebrows.
The three guys instantly got excited. They introduced themselves to us.
"I'm chris, that's hudson, and this is johnny our little brother"
No one thought twice about how none of us look alike, they were just pumped American kids showed up to their party in the middle of nowhere London.
They walked us through the house. There was like 60 people there. College looking kids rolling cigarettes, smoking cigarettes, drinking, singing, you name it. I'm pretty sure some people were snorting something out of an english dollar, but that wasn't my expertise so I left it alone.
The guy out front owned the place. He walked us through all of it. He introduced us to as many people as he could, the rest he said he hadn't met yet.
"In London we love partying. Since the drinking age is 16 we all start at 14 so by the time you're 18 you've mastered it and by the time you're 22 you're bored of it. C'mon let's drink" he said to me.
The house was beautiful. Not similar to much that I've ever seen, very uniquely English.
That thought went through my mind : when else are we going to get this opportunity.
I talkeded to people, new people. And talked and talked and talked. Mainly about how 24 hours earlier I was next to Kanye listening to his new album and mainly about what America was like.
Everyone kept rolling cigarettes, so eventually some girls offered to show me how to roll.
I learned, but quickly forgot. They were rolling new ones every five minutes it didn't matter. After a while they just master the art. You'll be talking to a girl and she'll have a foam filter in between her teeth mid conversation pinching tobacco out of a colored bag in her palm.
It was a pretty true rule in casual settings, if you smoke with someone you're guarenteed a three minute small talk conversation with them. It's just up to you to make it go further than that afterwards.
I met so many cool girls. Girls from all over England. Girls who were studying fashion and art and all these crazy things I had never thought of before. Girls who had wild stories of their own of them going to 3 day raves when they were 16 and staying out for weeks on end without going home. It just seemed so real.
Johnny and Hudson were having fun, too. They were glad we were being safe, and in their eyes we'd get home eventually. But we were seventeen, Johnny fifteen. I promised we'd get back where we needed to go. We'd figure it out. Worst case we sleep on the couch here at the party and take the ten trains and busses to the cousin's in the morning to change.
We kept telling everyone Johnny was our brother because a bunch of people kept asking how the small American boy found out about the party. The only photo I could find was of this kid screaming about how cool it was that Hudson sounded American. I don't think Hudson found it as cool as the other guy did.
They loved us.
They were fascinated by us. As we were with them.
"What is America like?" everyone kept asking.
I didn't really know how to respond. I mean, good, I guess? There's school shootings and a corrupt political system and college costs $60,000 a year to go to and if you don't have the money you go anyways and pay when you're older like yeah America is beautiful.
We kept getting offered drugs. Like it was casual there. We said no, partially because I knew i'd never get to the cousin's house if we started doing the real London partying, and partially because I've never done drugs.
It was just like an episode of Skins.
Each room had a different uniquely florescent color light and each floor of the house played a different tune.
One floor was London Grime Music, the other was house music, leading up to the top floor of just intense ambient music.
The staircases were full of people, some looked our age some a bit older. I walked into every room of the house to meet as many people as possible.
"We party all night long, like this will go until 9am tomorrow" one girl said to me in a slight shout over the music as we danced near the stairs.
"ALL NIGHT?" I asked her. Jheeeze. The only parties i really went to in high school ended at like midnght. She just told me "All night!"
I got a lot of people's instagram accounts just in case I needed advice where to go out later in the week.
People were head over heels with the fact that we were American and just showed up at this random uni party moderately far from Central london.
All I could think about was the bus driver laughing at us when we showed him where we needed to go.
I knew we'd get back eventually.
We danced for a while and drank anything that someone seemed to have offered me. When else was I going to do this? My friends are alone in their rooms on xbox in Massachusetts and I'm in the middle of actually no where with no parents and no rules doing whatever the fuck I want for a week. Of course I'm going to drink what you hand me.
It was just like an episode of Skins
Like that's all I could think about - I kept imagining turning the corner and the cast was going to be in the other room.
One girl told me that the Skins campus where they filmed it wasn't far from where we were.
At that point im like holy fuck I'm so far from my bed in Massachusetts.
Most kids would be full panic mode. Like kids from my high school wouldn't even believed that story if I told it to them the day I got back. People that I grew up with just don't go random places and trust random people they meet buying whiskey type thing.
But the important thing we learned at a young age is to take risks, and so as much as you possibly can. That's the only way to meet people and to grow socially and expand your horizons. You know?
As it became like 2 or 3 in the morning, my phone was fully dead and Hudson and Johnny were getting tired.
Turns out the trains weren't even running and there was just about no way to get home other than to take a black cab.
"Fuck it, we're doing that, i'll pay for it" very tired and very jet lagged Jonny said.
Luckily, one of our new friends at the party house had the number of an all night cab service.
At 3:30am, just about 20 hours after we got on a plane from JFK to London, we got in a black cab.
I think after we told them where we were going it was time to sleep.
We woke up right outside the cousin's house and we very quietly made our way into the apartment and to our respected couches.
We got back at like 4:30, it was a full hour or so ride.
I slept in my coat, smelling of Whiskey, hand rolled cigarettes, and West London.
"See guys, this was far more fun than if we just took the correct train home six hours ago" I said with a slight laugh in my voice as we all lay down and stare at the ceiling.
"Shut up and go to bed, we have an entire week ahead of us" Hudson said.
We all sat back a bit. At this point I was like wow we can take over the entire world if we really ever needed to. I let out a big sigh of relief, partially trying to overcome my ginormous jetlag and my absurd hunger.
"I fucking love london"