It was a long late-October night in London decades ago, and my brother Gary and I (pictured above, snapped by our traveling companion, and my lifelong friend Elena Seibert) were talking in our shared room at a shabby Bayswater hotel—but a step up from a B&B—going over the events of the past 20 hours or so, from a boozy lunch at Baltimore’s now-gone, but remembered, Zingaro Italian restaurant to an uneventful flight to a trip to the British Museum and then dinner at a very good Indian spot. It was about one a.m. and I said to Gary, “I’m wired, man! Let’s hit some after-hours joints!” He replied that I was nuts, which was true, since I conked out two minutes later.
I woke the next morning, barely refreshed, and went downstairs to see about getting some coffee. The proprietor, or manager, was a cartoonish grump, and he was still annoyed with me from the previous day when, after ordering a bottle of lager, which was warm, as was the custom in many establishments then, I asked for some ice. “Why would you ruin a perfectly good beer,” came his curled-lip snarl, and when I countered that I liked beverages cold, he shook his head in disgust. We spent a few days there, and the guy, who was short, stoop-shouldered and bald, probably a World War II vet, finally took a shine to us—business is business—and bade us a muted farewell as we left for Heathrow for the short flight to Paris.
Although I’d been to Europe twice before, both times taking care of my oldest brother’s kids (and in more commodious accommodations), it was my first time in London, exciting for a journalist, with all the newspapers, magazines and newsstands, a real revelation, even if bordering on a busman’s holiday. While Gary was off at business meetings, I’d sit in a café, or bar, not knowing where to start with the six periodicals I’d purchased. A great problem to have, when you’re 29 and still expect to set the world on fire. I also went shopping, taking advantage of a very favorable dollar-pound ratio—which was fortuitous since while my finances had improved over the past year, I wasn’t loaded—and picked up a really smart blue jacket, with red lining, at Aquascutum on Regent St., a piece of clothing I believe is still in one of my closets to this day.
It wasn’t a long trip, a week maybe, but included several days in Paris, where I walked for miles and miles, mostly on the Left Bank (but of course) with occasional stops for espresso and later in the day, Pernod. My French was nil, usually not a problem, save for the Metro, and on one occasion I misread the name of my desired location, and wound up in the suburbs. That wasn’t charming. There were snazzy boutiques, and at one I picked up a black and gray checked coat, with a button-up collar, very 1966. I’ve been to Paris many times since, but the half-hour Gary and I spent at a Charles deGaulle Airport bar, on the way back to London, sticks with me. We were gabbing, drinking Kronenbourgs, when a familiar figure sat down a few stools away and downed three Jack Daniel’s on ice in quick succession, showing his skull ring as he lifted glass to mouth. Keith Richards, in anonymity. Gary and I respected his privacy, and just raised an eyebrow to each other to acknowledge an unspoken, “Holy cow!”
Look at the clues to figure out what year it is: The TED conference was founded; David Bowie was a pop star, not a black star; Virgin Atlantic makes its first flight; Caroline Polachek is born and Sam Peckinpah dies; Australian banks are deregulated; Indira Gandhi’s assassinated; Vanessa Williams is the first Miss America to resign; NYC’s Bernie Goetz becomes a famous vigilante; Clay Buchholz is born and Count Basie dies; the final episode of Captain Kangaroo airs; Shirley MacLaine wins Best Actress Oscar; Prince and the Revolution rule the world and the weather; and Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” is #4 on year’s Billboard charts.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955