Her hair is clipped up in the way women know will make them look professional five minutes after blow drying it half way. Her chatter swirls around the bored, slightly annoyed granddaughter, the stressed-out-but-having-fun-if-it-kills-her mother, and the grandmother blissfully unaware she seems to be the cause of the annoyance and stress.
She wears a name badge identifying her as the employee of a guided vacation service. During our London Eye adventure, she points out landmarks and snaps pictures for everyone like she’s the tour guide assigned to our entire capsule. I overhear her mention a Subway nearby and, as we exit our capsule, I ask her about the directions. She practically grabs my arm.
“I’m heading that way myself!” she says cheerily. “I’ll show you!”
We haven’t passed the people still in line before she confesses, “I just had to get away from my group! They’re driving me crazy!” and laughs long into the London sunshine.
She stands with me while I wolf down my sandwich, which is balanced on a stone wall because there are no tables available. All she wants is a large Coke and a cigarette.
I say aloud I don’t think I could do her job. I’m really thinking that gouging out my own eye with a steak knife sounds more appealing than taking ten complete strangers on vacation.
She asks me if she’d like South Asia. “I don’t like crowds,” she says suspiciously. “Or heat.”
“Maybe if you went with a good tour group,” I’m skeptical. “In the winter… As long as you don’t mind a little by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of adventuring.”
“Maybe if I went with a really good tour group,” she offers.
I’ve been disappointed before with how my favorite South Asian food comes out when I cook it in the US. It tends to taste like a little something’s missing and I think I’ve figured out what it is. Road dust. Don’t laugh, I’m serious. Road dust.
Picking out vegetables in the grocery store yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice how little road dust there was on the vegetables. Understandable, I guess, since these veggies hadn’t been pushed up and down streets on open, flatbed wagons.
For much of London and the US so far, I’ve been waiting for something to go wrong. Like the tickets I pre-bought for London attractions to be fake or my flights to be delayed or even someone to cut in front of me in the line at the grocery store. But everything has gone eerily smoothly. It’s unsettling.
And there’s no road dust anywhere.
I wish I could change my answer to that tour guide woman. I wish I could tell her, now, that I miss the road dust. And that when I say that, I don’t mean I miss having to clean my entire house every day or my fingernails being all black underneath an hour after I showered.
I’d tell her I miss the road dust that swirls when you fly by the seat of your pants.
The road dust collected on unexpected adventures aboard public transportation.
The road dust scattering around two strangers sharing a bonding moment over something crazy happening in the street.
The road dust wiped off of chai cups to welcome an unexpected guest.
The road dust tracked in by weary friends looking for a listening ear.
The road dust of a thousand things that seemed to go wrong before turning out to be surprisingly lovely.
The road dust on the vegetables that add a little extra yumminess to an otherwise perfectly good bowl of food.