Idlewild is a Phoenix

Idlewild - Everything Ever Written Album Cover

The Scottish rock band Idlewild — my favorite band since I found them in FIFA 2003 — awoke from a six year slumber last Monday with the release of its latest album, Everything Ever Written.

I’ve listened to Everything Ever Written for a week now and the melodic range that Idlewild showed off in this album is unmatched in any of its earlier albums. The extended range is a product of all these events that occurred during the hiatus: singer/songwriter Roddy Woomble’s venture into a solo folk career; guitarist Rod Jones’s own rock band, The Birthday Suit; and Luciano Rossi (keyboards) and Andrew Mitchell (bass) joining the core three of Woomble, Jones, and Colin Newton (drums).  The variety of melodies I heard in Everything Ever Written felt like I was investigating all of the emotional faculties of an individual person, from the triumphant state (“Nothing I Can Do About It”) to an energetic state (“On Another Planet”) to a contemplative one (“So Many Things to Decide” and “Utopia”), among others.

What unifies the disparate songs in Everything Ever Written is the sense that the band is content with where it’s at and the fun that they had recording each song. Seven of the 12 songs in the album end with the band just riffing for at least a minute; “(Use It) If You Can Use It” tops that list with a four minute finale of instrumentals. “All Things Different” spawned into a song after Jones messed around with a trumpet. There’s an eclectic, unpolished element to each song that will charm you, unless you’re the sternest of music snobs.

The other constant found in the album is that the trademark Woomble wordplay — it wouldn’t be an Idlewild album without it — is as sharp as ever as he tackles the themes of youth, reflection, and loneliness. “Radium Girl” begins with this amusing jumble: None of us can hope / none of us can know / none of us can know where you can hide it / you can hide it / but you’ve got no place to hide. But just wait until you hear Woomble bring up metaphysics in “Collect Yourself.”

Everything Ever Written may not please the fans holding out for the punk days of 100 Broken Windows or pop energy of The Remote Part, but Idlewild’s newest album marks a triumphant return. Idlewild reborn is a band at peace, happy to be here after the ride it’s been on the last 20 years — and now ready to strive for more.

—–

Tracklist:

[1] Collect Yourself
[2] Come On Ghost
[3] So Many Things to Decide
[4] Nothing I Can Do About It
[5] Every Little Means Trust
[6] (Use It) If You Can Use It
[7] Like A Clown
[8] On Another Planet
[9] All Things Different
[10] Radium Girl
[11] Left Like Roses
[12] Utopia

On a personal note, I’ve taken this album as an expression of the same contentment I’ve found with my current lot in life, even though I continue to work toward my long-term goal of landing in Los Angeles, Chicago, or Washington. I’ve grown up with Idlewild through the cacophony of middle school and high school (100 Broken Windows, The Remote Part, and “In Competition For The Worst Time”) and belatedly discovered the importance of the mellower Warnings/Promises and Post-Electric Blues when I moved out of the family home for college and then work. Idlewild seems to have a strange knack for making music that’s matched up with the maturing process in life, and I’m grateful for it.

A Collection of Observations from London

Some observations and moments from London that were too brief to turn into individual posts:

Londoners love their New York teams. The high number of Yankees hats I saw while walking around the city staggered me.

Among the other US sports teams I remember being represented: the Nets, the Blackhawks, the Bears, the Lightning (by people who spoke what sounded like a Scandinavian language), University of Michigan, the Carolina Panthers, the Bengals, the SF Giants.

Random humo(u)r on the District Line I: Seeing a Holmesdale Fanatics sticker on top of a door when I traveled from Wimbledon to Earl’s Court.

Random humo(u)r on the District Line II: A commuter’s choice of music took me back to middle school. As I stood beside him in front of a door, I could hear his loud music blaring through his earbuds. It was the Evanescence album Fallen, best known for “Bring Me to Life.” I heard that song in its entirety before I got off the train.

I went to the TARDIS that’s outside Earl’s Court Station. Didn’t bump into the Doctor or Clara.

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In weird coincidences: the paint scheme for the South West Trains out of Waterloo share the same paint scheme used on Southwest Airlines planes — dominant blue with orange, red, and yellow in supporting waves.

Tube advertisements for Las Vegas: “Go where your accent is an aphrodisiac.”

I wore four layers most days and still froze my butt off because of the wind, and yet I saw many women in skirts walking through the same the cold conditions like it was nothing. I’m not worthy.

So many runners in shorts and thin long-sleeve shirts passed me as I walked through windy and rainy London, and they didn’t look bothered by the weather. I’m not worthy.

Sainsbury’s Local >>> Tesco Express. I’m glad Palace picked the right supermarket to shove into Selhurst Park.

As tweeted out on 22 February: The Tube spoiled me. I’d arrive at the station and my waits for a train ranged from nil to three minutes tops. Even on the weekends. Those eight minute waits for the subway at New York City will take some getting used to again.

I am addicted to Lucozade Sport. It got to the point where I went through three bottles of orange Lucozade Sport at Heathrow while waiting to board my flight back to the States.

I also drank a fourth bottle of orange Lucozade Sport during said flight back to the States.

Please bring Lucozade Sport to America.

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One of my favorite moments on the Tube: watching two buddies my age, one black and the other white, laughing and eating their McDonald’s dinners after a day of work.

I didn’t see as many people with earbuds on when I was on the Tube or walking around, as I do when I’m in New York. I like that. The city is crowded and busy, but on an individual level, no one is trying to isolate him/herself with the earbuds. If anything, they’re all reading their free copy of the Evening Standard.

I was going to buy copies of The Guardian and The Mirror, but forgot about all that when my hotel provided free copies of The Times. The Sunday broadsheets are bigger in the UK than they are in the USA.

I bought a tin of biscuits (cookies) from Fortnum and Mason, a department store by Piccadilly Circus that holds a Royal Charter. The tin of biscuits I bought are what I would call chocolate chip cookies. Fortnum and Mason brands them as “chocolate pearl biscuits.”

Some tour company advertised Orlando as a vacation destination at the St. James Tube Station. The pictures they chose to represent Orlando depressed me: one photo was of the go-karts from Fun Spot and the other was an airboat ride. Those poor Londoners who get suckered into visiting Orlando…

I tweeted out that Harrods is a real life Celadon City Department Store. Menswear, Womenswear, Perfume, an art gallery with works by Dali, an ice cream parlo(u)r, a few restaurants, a massive food gallery (salads, deli, fish, desserts, meat, etc. all packed in a room), tea and pastries, books, Harrods gift store… the list goes on and on and on.

How professional is the dress code for Harrods employees? The employees at Harrods wear name tags that show their first name and surname. My company doesn’t even provide me business cards.

Harrods is so big that there is a concierge who provides directions and maps to wayward shoppers. Macy’s on 34th Street has got nothing on Harrods.

I ate a Cornetto in honor of the Cornetto Trilogy of films by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They’re better than Drumsticks. Please bring them to America.

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The receptionist who checked me in at the hotel asked where in the United States I arrived from. When he found out it was Connecticut, he told me that he lived there for a few months because he has family there. I asked for the town and it turned out to be the one I drive to for church. The world operates in weird ways.

The Piccadilly Circus video advertisement building is smaller than I thought it’d be.

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I should have gone to St. Paul’s Cathedral instead of the London Eye, but at least I saw St. Paul’s Cathedral while on the London Eye.

I didn’t go to Baker Street, but I saw the façade on Gower Street that the BBC Sherlock uses for 221B Baker Street. Eat at the Speedy’s Café next door for cheap, plentiful, and delicious food.

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King’s Cross, St. Pancras, Victoria, Waterloo, and Paddington Stations impressed me with how pretty, organized, and clean they are, despite the bustle of thousands of commuters rushing in and out each day. Then again, I have low standards with Penn Station.

Yes, I went to Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross. An eastern European kid and I acted as each other’s photographers because we were in line without a friend. The scarf thing is kind of silly, but it’s great that the station acknowledges the Potter series with this simple display.

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The anti-Napoleon sentiment attached to many public structures is amusing. Waterloo Bridge, Waterloo Station, Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column. They all add to the immortalization of Napoleon in a weird way.

Aero bars are addicting. I’ll take the chocolate-filled bars over the mint-filled ones, though. Please bring them to America.

The woman at the Hampton Court Palace ticket counter kept a straight face when she explained to me, a 20-something, that I could meet King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I tried to get her to break with a smirk, but she kept going like they were still alive. What a top pro.

Liberty should be a store in ‘Murica.

I couldn’t develop the accent in my week there, but it’s become easy for me to say “Queue” instead of “Line” and “Way Out” instead of “Exit.”

When I visited the National Gallery, a strike by modernization workers closed half of the museum — the half I wanted to see — in what’s probably one big attempt to get me to fly back and visit next year. (I’m working on it…)

Listen to a homily delivered in an English accent: check.

My friend and I went to a tea time at the Orangery in Kensington Palace. This was my first time drinking hot tea, and since I didn’t know what to do, I ordered a regular Palace afternoon tea, dumped sugar in it, and turned it into hot sweet tea. I still got a bit of the South in me, y’all.

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Those Exit signs in London are precious. The images look like it’s depicting a spy running to escape.

Among the runners and bicyclists passing me, kids playing basketball and skateboarding, and people talking to each other while staring out into the Thames at Bishop’s Park in West London, I snapped the saddest park bench I’ve ever seen.

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Remember: Mind the Gap.

*Edited for a lot of typos after I hit “publish.” Good job, me.

A Theatrical Trip to Dagenham (4 Feb 2015)

After watching James McAvoy star in the hilarious, but grim, The Ruling Class the night before, I sought a pick-me-up. What better way to lift the spirits than with the story of a victorious underdog?

At all the Tube stations I used, I saw posters for Made in Dagenham, the musical based on the 1968 strike by female sewing machinists at the Ford Motor plant in Dagenham, an east suburb of London. The sewing machinists, who produced seat covers for the Ford Cortina, walked away from the factory floor when Ford managers inflicted a 15% pay disparity between the men and the women in the factory — by simply grading the sewing machinists’ jobs as “less skilled” than the ones held by their male counterparts. This strike ultimately paved the way for Parliament to pass the Equal Pay Act of 1970.

What you just read is more than what I knew about Made in Dagenham before I decided to see it. I knew of Dagenham because of the League Two club Dagenham and Redbridge. I knew that the musical starred Gemma Arterton, whom I knew best as Fields, an MI6 agent and Bond Girl in Quantum of Solace. (That scene still gives me nightmares. Why did I see it in the cinema?) The Daggers and the thought of seeing Ms. Arterton on stage and washing my brain of that scene got me to consider the musical, but an offer from the Evening Standard made it financially feasible for me to attend.

Once again: newspapers are still useful and my God, the exchange rate for the U.S. Dollar to the Pound Sterling is a killer.

So I found myself seated at the center of London’s Adelphi Theatre on a Wednesday afternoon as an out-of-place, lone, male millennial surrounded by retirees, couples on an early date, and millennials who have friends in tow because they aren’t foreigners like me. I sat next to Sonia, a retiree/choral singer in her 60s who looked like she was in her 50s. Before the musical began, she coaxed out of me why I abandoned journalism for engineering and all my concerns of finding a job/career that would allow me to be a present parent if I get married and have kids. It was odd to have the script flipped and be the one to provide answers instead of questions, but it was a good check on my priorities.

By the intermission, Sonia and I developed a rapport to where we talked about how the strike for fair pay ran in parallel with the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. She then brought up the point that World War II told women they didn’t have to be confined to homemaking. While the men were drafted into battle, it was the women who dominated the home front and produced the goods used by the soldiers. The musical would later make this point; I smiled at Sonia’s foresight when it happened.

The musical is fast paced, especially since I lacked the historical context surrounding Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Secretary of State of Employment Barbara Castle. On the other hand, I understood the family-work dynamics that Arterton’s character, Rita O’Grady, dealt with. The opening scene introduces Rita, a sewing machinist, mother of two children, and wife to Ford assembler Eddie O’Grady (Adrian Der Gregorian) getting the other three occupants of the home ready for school/work. Rita may not know it yet, but the audience saw the potential she has when she marshaled everyone out the door before she went to work. Arterton’s portrayal of Rita’s evolution into a leader was impressive. Rita starts as a content worker and mother, but Arterton immersed herself in the fragile confidence Rita had when she became the reluctant figurehead. When Rita seeks inspiration for her climactic speech, Arterton made that inspiration tangible to me through her tearful pleas over the future of Rita’s daughter.

But like I said earlier, this is a pick-me-up; it’s not all gloom. The light-hearted way that the musical satirizes sexism, politics, and the worst of America — the ruthless manner some businessmen seek profits and national hubris — was a delight. The sewing machinists showed more guile than the male Ford leadership they competed against, while Castle was shown to be the brains behind the incompetent Wilson. The characterization of U.S. Ford executive/nemesis Tooley (I see what they did there) as a Southern maverick borrowed too much from Bush and felt anachronistic, but Steve Furst nailed the bravado required for the character. Lyricist Richard Thomas, composer David Arnold, and director Rupert Goold found the right amount of upbeat humor to turn the serious story of the 1968 strike into a fun and inspiring musical — without diluting the pains needed to get equal pay for both sexes.

England: the cast, crew, and production techs for Made in Dagenham put in a great shift when I saw it. Go see their work before the factory inside the Adelphi closes on April 11, 2015.

———-

I caved in and did the stage door thing for the first time after the Wednesday evening performance and met Ms. Arterton. (Carpe diem, YOLO, etc.) She was so kind to me and the other six people there.

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A New Appreciation for Scotland

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I conquered a bit of American policy while I was in London two weeks ago. I ate haggis.

For the uninitiated and naïve, haggis is a traditional Scottish dish that is served with mashed potatoes and bashed neeps (boiled rutabaga). The actual haggis itself consists of sheep heart, sheep lungs, onions, oats, and spices all minced and encased in a sheep stomach, shaped into a giant meatball, and cooked.

OK, stop and take a deep breath. Don’t be alarmed and disgusted by what you just read. Haggis can be viewed as a spruced-up sausage; those animal organs that shock people when they first hear about haggis are also tossed in the sausage you ate with your eggs for breakfast and in the hot dog you topped with mustard and relish for lunch. However, the United States has banned the import of haggis because the meat contains sheep lungs, an ingredient deemed illegal by the government.

I don’t remember how I learned about this delicacy, but it’s been on my bucket list since high school. So when I completed the preparations for the trip to London, I made a Friday night dinner reservation for Boisdale of Belgravia, a Scottish restaurant just west of Victoria Station. According to the online menu, this restaurant served up a Roast MacSween Haggis — MacSween is the Hillshire Farm of haggis, apparently — served with the mashed potatoes, bashed neeps, and a shot of Glenfiddich scotch aged 15 years to pour on the haggis.

When my friend and I arrived at Boisdale, we expected a lively bar atmosphere at the restaurant. Instead, we found ourselves inside a dimly-lit restaurant more suited for business meetings and dinner dates: the other diners took the smart casual dress code seriously and luckily we did, too, for the sake of blending in. The host sat the two of us down in a tiny table for two against the wall, just to the right of the stage where musicians played live jazz and in front of a larger table for four at the corner of the room. (The live band would later cover “Sweet Home Alabama” to my chagrin and the delight of everyone else in the restaurant, because I can’t get away from the South.)

Our waitress was a Portuguese woman named Nadine, who seamlessly transitioned from being the consummate pro and taking orders to becoming a friend that the two of us knew for years, trading jokes and sarcastic barbs with us while we waited for the chefs to finish cooking the two haggis dishes for us. The United Kingdom eschews the American tradition of tipping the wait staff in favor of a built-in service charge, but her wit and humo(u)r were certainly worthy of a 20+% tip.

After an hour of waiting, the moment of truth arrived: the beautiful brown mound of MacSween haggis seated atop of the mashed potatoes and neeps and flooded with gravy. Nadine told us to cut the haggis in half first. When the casing opened, the minced meat didn’t spill out, but it looked like the ground beef served with rice in Filipino dishes. After the haggis was cut in half, we were supposed to pour the Glenfiddich over the exposed sheep meat. As a skeptic, I kept one half of the haggis dry and let the other half absorb the scotch.

Good thing I did that, because the plain haggis was delicious on its own. It had a soft texture that still packed a hearty taste with each bite. The plain haggis was delicious when combined with the potatoes, neeps, and gravy. At this point, it was like eating a regular Filipino meat and potatoes dinner. However, the scotch overwhelmed the taste of the haggis when just a fraction of alcohol was poured into the meat.

Yuck.

I mixed the scotch half of the haggis with itself, some of the mashed potatoes, and neeps to disperse the scotch and dilute the taste of the alcohol. I gave the remainder of my shot of Glenfiddich to my friend and went back to enjoying the haggis with the potatoes, meeps, and gravy. In the case of this legendary Scottish dish, the simpler it is, the better it tastes.

I took my time eating the haggis and savored every bite, but I still yearn for it now that I’m back in the States. I want to try haggis as a dish on its own again and then expand its use to compliment rice, pasta, and other foods already in a typical European/American palette. The United States and the United Kingdom have a longstanding Special Relationship. It’s time that the two take that relationship to the next level, beyond politics, defense, and the English language. It’s time that the two share a meal of this Scottish beef and help America rediscover the truth: haggis is one fine piece of cuisine.

Dream(liner)s Do Come True

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A United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner made a dream of mine come true when I flew from Houston to London Heathrow a week and a half ago: an extra inch of legroom in my economy seat.

On the 787, the seat pitch — the distance from any point on your seat to the same point on the seat in front of/behind yours — is 32 inches. When I fly within the United States, I’m usually on a 737, where the seat pitch is 31 inches. That one inch difference follows a general principle of optimization that is taught in college engineering courses: the smallest reduction or addition has a large impact. My lower legs finally had the breathing room to extend past the black laptop backpack I put under the seat in front of me.

But then luck struck when my flight was barely filled to a quarter of the Dreamliner’s capacity: the pilot went on the intercom to ask the flight attendants to cease boarding and close the door. No one else was seated in my center row when I heard those words.

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My eyes widened as I looked to the row to my right, where my friend also sat alone.

We each had a whole row to ourselves for a nine-hour flight. We each had first class seating for the price of an economy ticket.

I rushed to move my backpack from under the seat in front of me to under the seat to my left, extended my legs at full stretch to my left, and smiled through the entire take-off. The airline provided lasagna, salad, a roll, and a quiche that tasted like a brownie for a delicious dinner — it’s so nice that it takes an international flight to relive the 90s business practice of including a meal in the fare — before the lights dimmed to near darkness around 10 pm. I had two options: sleep or watch a movie for free on the screen in front of me. I chose to make the 787 my personal movie theater and watch The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel was a good film, but I didn’t think it reached the level of hype that award season placed on it. However, the prison escape scene is one of my favorite sequences in any film I’ve seen and it was good to see finally Ralph Fiennes in a non-Voldemort light.

One of my worries before this flight was using the restroom on the 787. Men’s public restrooms make it easy to worry about that, but the 787 exceeded expectations by remaining clean the entire flight. (It helped that the flight wasn’t sold out.) The lighting in the restroom was a little funky, with a standard light splashed with some green light in between. I forgot to brush my teeth (sorry, Mom!), but I fell asleep after a bathroom trip around 1 am.

Around 7 am, the lighting in the airplane switched from black to a sunrise yellow to wake everyone up. The lighting in the plane and the natural lighting of the sun through the windows made it easy to acclimate to jumping six hours ahead, but the surprise of being given a breakfast roll and fruit — TWO meals — finished charging me up for the first day in London.

I thought I would lose my mind on the nine-hour red eye to London, but the space, comfort, cleanliness, and amenities of the 787 made it one of the most enjoyable and easiest flights I’ve had. I sleep easily compared to everyone else I know, but the plane was quiet the entire ride thanks to its two General Electric GEnx engines. Now if there was only a way to convince the airlines to start using its roomy 787s for those cross country flights between the East and West coasts of the United States…

The Lifts

[All of the writing on this site is self-indulgent, but the following takes the cake.]

LONDON—When you are at a restaurant, treat your wait staff well. Doing so is apparently one of the quickest ways to my heart.

This brief story begins not in a fine dining establishment, but in a descending elevator (for an out-of-the-loop visitor like me, a “lift”) of a central London hotel at 0720. I was heading down from the fourth floor of the hotel to the breakfast buffet on the ground floor when the elevator ground to a halt on the third floor. The elevator door opened to reveal a woman with long brown hair dressed in a blue blouse, black slacks, and black flats standing outside.

“Hey!” she said as she stepped in the elevator.

“Hey!” I said with the most chipper tone I could muster. I found her pretty. Her enthusiasm and American accent shook me out of my silent morning indifference and piqued my interest.

As I returned the greeting, I saw a middle aged Filipino man in a white business shirt and black slacks running toward the elevator. With her back to the elevator, she didn’t see him approaching; the “do the right thing” section of my brain triggered my right arm to block the door from closing.

The man walked in and the attention switched from me to him — they were coworkers. They talked about how they were both grabbing a big breakfast because the “schedule [for the day’s seminars at the hotel] didn’t talk much about a break.” Since they were both going to the buffet, they decided to grab breakfast together.

No international romance story to inspire me to write a book about and make lots of money off of — Pounds please, not US Dollars — to pay off the student loans quicker.

The elevator event annoyed me a bit the rest of Friday, but by Saturday, I was over it. This was the day I’d finally attend my first Premier League at Selhurst Park to see my beloved Crystal Palace host Everton. I put on my Palace shirt, a gray sweater, and jeans and took the elevator down to the ground floor for the breakfast buffet. A big day required a big breakfast.

I got to the buffet and the host sat me at one of those tables for two in the center of the room. Seated at a table in front of me and facing me: the woman from the elevator. She looked like she just finished a run, wearing a black jacket, silver running shoes, and black athletic tights that said “Dude Girl” on them. Because I was over it, I took the seating as a funny coincidence.

I threw that perspective out the window when she ordered that tea.

Apparently she accidentally ordered a tea for the table from one waiter when she meant to get it to-go. When she tried to get it switched to a take-away tea with another waiter, the original waiter brought a tea kettle to the table. All the while, she was apologizing profusely and talking gently with the wait staff over her error.

That sold me on her. It’s the right thing to treat your wait staff with respect, but the great pains she took to apologize to both waiters repeatedly and thank them for straightening out her request jived with my Midwestern sensibilities.

She finished breakfast a couple minutes ahead of me and I figured that that would be the last time I’d ever see her. (What kind of business would pay for its employees to attend a conference or seminar and then let them stay the entire weekend?) And yet, when I arrived at the hotel lobby to take an elevator back to my room, one of the two elevators had its doors open and readied to ascend. She was in that elevator.

This was fate intervening, I tell you!

She saw that I also wanted to go up and held the door open for me. (She’s awesome.) The hotel elevators are secured from intruders by requiring the guests to scan their room’s key card on the control panel before they can choose which floor they want. When I stepped inside, I fumbled around my wallet trying to find my key card among the mess of dollars and notes. She stepped up and scanned her key card again to let me pick my floor. (She’s now perfect.)

The key card scanner

The key card scanner

I couldn’t resist staying silent anymore.

“So I think I met you yesterday in this elevator going down to breakfast,” I said.

She nodded a little and let me continue.

“Yeah, and I believe that was your coworker who ran in the elevator at the last moment?”

Breakthrough! She nodded and took control of the conversation.

“So where are you from?” she asked.

“I live and work in Connecticut at the moment,” I answered. This prompted her to show her edge.

“I’m from Seattle. So who are you rooting for in the Super Bowl?”

I didn’t break out into my typical rants against my current state because I was drunk on infatuation.

“I’ll root for Seattle because you’re from there,” I said, because I’m as smooth as a pebble in the river.

“Right choice!”

*Ding*

We came to a halt. The doomsday countdown known as the elevator ascending to the third floor reached zero.

I asked her for her name and provided mine in return as she exited the elevator. The last words I would from Taryn as she left the lift: “Have a nice day.”

And that’s the double-edged sword of travel: meeting people you’d never run into on a routine day, but then seeing those people disappear and go home as quickly as that initial encounter for the first time. This thing of seeing people for only a few hours at most is starting to wear on me (e.g.: the cool Kings fans I sat next to in LA), but it also helps me appreciate that I at least had the opportunity to know that they individually exist.

Best of all, an international experience like this inspired me to write a blog post about it for kicks and make exactly zero Pounds off it.

The Don of Grand Slams

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LONDON—While Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray dueled at Rod Laver Arena for the Australian Open Men’s Singles title on Sunday, I had my own championship moment at the site of a Grand Slam: I finally stepped foot in the hallowed Centre Court of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, home of the Wimbledon Championships.

To reach the AELTC by Tube, I took the District line to the Southfields station and then walked about a mile south along Wimbledon Park Road. Wimbledon Park Road is a fitting path to the AELTC; the tranquility and vintage architecture along this road is a perfect companion to the traditions, formality, and quietness (if you sit in the stands) that help define Wimbledon as the most proper of the Grand Slams. Older, colorful homes line the road adjacent to the southbound traffic, while brown apartments stand opposite of them. Runners pass me silently on the sidewalks; older-looking people take advantage of the dry morning and squeezed in a game of golf at a course across the street from the AELTC. The sight of green grass, green trees, blue skies, and the blinding glare of the sun make it easier to appreciate nature in suburban Wimbledon than in urban London. Unfortunately, the blustery wind that I encountered in London seemed to follow me south to Wimbledon. I was freezing by the time I reached the gates of the AELTC and retreated to its Wimbledon museum to escape the cold.

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By chance, I started at the end of the museum and ran into the Challenge Cup for the Gentlemen’s champion and the Plate for the Ladies’ champion. At first, the two items on display appear to be replicas, because there was no grandiose sign indicating that these were the actual trophies Djokovic and Petra Kvitova held in 2014. Each trophy sat atop a simple white rectangular pedestal enclosed by a tall glass column in the center of the room, and you had to read the information placards under the trophies to confirm their authenticity. I marveled at the understated manner in which the museum presented these iconic trophies and then reveled in knowing only 1-in. thick glass stood between me and the trophies that Sampras, Henin, and many more legends once held after conquering their opponent on Centre Court.

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I stepped outside into the cold at 1030 and found a diverse tour group. This group was a testament to how this top-heavy era of the ATP and WTA has brought in new fans over the last decade: an Irish mother, her husband, and their elementary school-aged son/wannabe tennis player; a man my age from India; a middle-aged Filipino couple; three American college students studying abroad in England; a young French couple; a middle-aged Canadian on his own; and me. Our tour guide looked like nobility: he wore a newsboy cap, a thick purple and green scarf, and a pea coat and slacks that looked like they were provided by Ralph Lauren. Even when Wimbledon is not in session, the people in the AELTC are stylish.

We started at Court No. 1, where the net was replaced by a heater along one of the baselines, which helped grow the grass to its proper height by the time the tournament begins in June. Our guide taught us how Court No. 1 is only used for play during Wimbledon and that the rest of the year is spent getting the grass to grow to its correct height. During the seeding period, nature threatens to intervene and derail growing process: pigeons show up and may eat the seeds and urban foxes occasionally stumble into Court No. 1. To combat these problems, the AELTC employs a hawk named Rufus to stand guard and swoop when necessary. The AELTC values Rufus as an employee, not an animal — he has his own picture ID.

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The tour continued to Henman Hill, the famed site named after English tennis player Tim Henman and home to thousands of grounds-access ticketholders who plop and picnic on the hill while watching Wimbledon matches on a giant screen installed in front of them. Except for the grass already there, the hill is bare outside of those two weeks that the tournament runs; decorative flowers and waterfalls aren’t added until the spring.

A short walk away from the top of Henman Hill is the grandstand seating for Court No. 18, which normally isn’t a big deal. At the AELTC, however, Court No. 18 is now notorious as the site where John Isner of the United States defeated Nicolas Mahut of France in the longest recorded match in tennis history, a marathon that spanned three days and clocked in an official time of nearly 12 hours of play. The two most amusing records also shattered by this marathon included each player serving more than 100 aces in the match and the number of games played—the fifth set alone finished 70-68, a score that most college basketball teams would envy. A plaque outside an entrance to Court No. 18 commemorates “The Longest Match Ever,” the ultimate example of the mental and physical strength exerted by a tennis player when s/he is on the court.

The wind continued to go strong at us while we were on top of Court No. 18, so thankfully the next major stop on the tour was the Interview Room. After some words from our tour guide about how the big players are always requested to sit with the media in here, he let us take our turn and sit behind the desk for our own press conference. Thankfully, no one began a question with “Talk about…” when I took my turn on the hot seat. (Aside: I deliberately wore a blue/white/yellow plaid shirt in lieu of all white to the tour in honor of AFC Wimbledon, the town’s blue/white/yellow-clad football club.)

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After nearly 1.5 hours of walking in the wind of Wimbledon, we finally made it to the most holy of all tennis stadiums: Centre Court at the AELTC. I remember nearly nothing of what the guide told us, because I marveled at how pristine the grass looked in winter and how the winning scores from the 2014 Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ finals stay on the two scoreboards until the 2015 Championships begin. The sun shined over the grass and gave it a golden glow that contrasted with the dark shadows in the stands created by the retractable roof hanging above us. Even without the net installed and on a cold, windy winter day, the sight of the sun shining only on the grass made me feel like I was attending a championship match on Centre Court.

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One day, I’ll make that a reality. For now, I’m content knowing that I’ve seen the famed Wimbledon grass with my own eyes.