Have a cigarette… or pretend to have one at least. That is my best advice for going out in the city of London. All clubs have a designated smoking area that is congregated by some of the most interesting people around. Social smokers are just that – social. Take advantage of this. While dancing and partaking in activities that were deemed illegal just a short flight ago are fantastic things to do, you can do them anywhere. Only in London, or any city for that matter, can you have a conversation with a native of said city in the city itself. Learn their opinions and views on not only their country, but yours as well. Not to mention that they can usually direct you to some places that you would never discover otherwise.
Here’s an example: The first night that I went out I headed outside originally because one can only attempt to keep in rhythm with a terrible DJ (and there’s loads of them here) for so long. While I don’t smoke personally, I stumbled upon this little technique rather early on in my college career. Some great kindling for conversation is, “God this DJ sucks.” or “(expletive) weather, man,” works well too. (The English hate their weather.) Stepping outside, I start chatting with a man of an advanced age who I learned was a soon-to-be grandfather who was stepping out of ‘the game.’ When I asked what game he was referring to, his eyes grew somber, he pulled hard on his cigarette and said, “Listen to me man, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of. I did them when I was young and I stepped away for a while but they have a way of pulling you back. But I did what I did for my kids. I’m a father and a grandfather now. I can’t keep (expletive) doing this (expletive), man.”
Most people at this point would finagle their way out of such a strange conversation but I delve into it. I love this stuff. I keep the words flowing easily, sipping on my pint as he reaches for more and more cigarettes. A couple more minutes of banter are interrupted by two young men, slightly older than myself, who offer full handshakes and friendly hugs to the man, whose chosen alias is Dave by the way. He preferred to leave his real name out of it.
At this stage, I had my doubts about Dave. He was an old guy at a club frequented by people mostly in their twenties and was chain-smoking outside. But his relationship with the bouncers and the way that he waved people inside foregoing the queue and cover charge lent his tale some validity.
The remaining young man turned to me and offered me a cigarette but I courteously declined. I tell him a joke, we exchange names, and a German couple attempts to coax me into what would have been an assuredly strange night judging from their repetitive comments about my beautiful blue eyes. We eventually shrug them off and he turns back to me with the following sentence. “Hey man, you seem like a nice guy. I just want to give you a heads up. Whatever he tells you, don’t repeat it in there. He’s a (expletive) Tony Soprano around these parts. There’ll be trouble if you start telling everybody who you met and what he said.”
My brain makes a quick mental note to cut my smile. “Of course, man. He told me he’s a grandfather now and leaving it all anyway. You got my word.” We shake hands and Dave comes back telling the kid to stop harassing me, he buys me a pint and we continue our conversation about the city and its inhabitants every time we get sick of the DJ.
Kevin Mann can be reached at [email protected]