I noticed three culturally significant things during my second visit to London in early December ’80. I was there to interview Peter O’Toole for GQ magazine, but it was also quite the jarring moment when I awoke one morning to learn that John Lennon has been killed hours earlier in New York City.
One, I noticed how almost everyone using the up escalator in the London Underground always stands to the right to allow others to pass. The only ones who didn’t seem to understand this system, to go by a 40ish business-suited guy who was standing in front of me one day, were American tourists. Americans (pudgy couples in particular) love to stand and block escalators or travelators. Especially in airports and on New York subways. I’m into walking and stair-climbing, so every time I travel I’m constantly saying “sorry…excuse me”, over and over. Standing to the right is totally a British thing, or so it seemed at the time.
Two, for the first time in my life I heard my last name pronounced correctly, or at least in a richer, more tonally satisfying way than I myself had ever pronounced it. It’s an English name, of course, so no surprise that I experienced my “woke” moment when a British Airways attendant said “Mr. Wells?” He said it with a zesty, just-right emphasis on the “ell” sound. The best way I can describe his pronunciation is that he said it vigorously where I tend to use an “euhll” sound, and with an air of near-resignation. The British Airways guy made me feel proud of my heritage.
Three, I got into Bow Wow Wow. Their music was blasting at every party I attended. I bought a cassette that had a different, much better mix of “Louis Quatorze” than the one commonly played. And then I lost it.