My eyes crack open.
It's dark and I'm lying on something that's not my bed.
I see unfamiliar-looking bay windows and beyond it, night sky. Where the fuck--
Ah right, I'm in Glasgow, sleeping on Elaine's couch. Wonder what time it is. I fumble around on the coffee table for the cell phone Elaine's lent me and mash the buttons until it lights up.
Screen unapologetically says it's fucking 4:42am. I try going back to sleep, but jetlag doesn't get down like that. So fifteen minutes later I'm dressed and walking out of Elaine's front door with two cameras, a pack of smokes and my Glaswegian cell phone.
Elaine lives three miles outside of Central Glasgow, which seems walkable; three miles is about sixty New York blocks, basically the distance from my apartment in Chinatown to 57th Street, and at my usual pace of a block per minute I figure it'll take me an hour.
Kilmarnock Road is quiet and nearly empty, save for the occasional passing car and intermittent groups of drunk Scotspeople, both men and women, staggering out of pubs. I'm impressed at how unloud they are; when a liquored-up group leaves a bar in New York, they feel obligated to let the entire block know what a good time they're having.
One super-tall (like six-foot-five) African guy lurches past me, reeling drunk, doing his best to walk a straight line. He's only the third black person I've seen here; the other two, an African man and an African woman, both asked me for directions, in separate instances, on Buchanan Street during the daytime. I was surprised they'd asked me for directions because with my Asian face, I didn't think I resembled a local; perhaps it was the newsboy cap.
After remembering the Africans, it suddenly occurs to me that out of every place I've eaten in here, from a pub on Byres Road in the West End to a Wagamama's in the city center, I haven't seen a single Mexican person. Back home every place I eat (none of them Mexican restaurants, by the way) has a kitchen entirely staffed by Mexicans; Manhattan meals come courtesy of Latino labor. But here every cook I'd seen was white. I guess filling out job apps in Glasgow is not on your average Mexican's lista de tareas.
I ought to stop pondering race; it's so depressingly American of me.
Bob gives haircuts for three quid.
Perhaps if he charged more his
flyers'd be a little jazzier.
Glasgow? Man they should call this place Gas-Go!
Gas is only 88 cents a gallon here! That's--
Oh wait a sec...liters, pounds, huh...
My mistake, never mind.
After about 50 minutes of walking, I've passed all sorts of closed establishments: a pub called The Glaswegian, some type of concert hall or live music venue with a marquee, and a red building labeled Mr. T's Fast Food (so that's what happened to him, he moved here and opened up a restaurant) when I finally come across something that's actually open, a convenience store. Parked out front, a taxi with no driver. I head inside.
An older guy, the cabbie I assume, is chatting with the counterguy, who looks to be early 20s. Both are South Asian and speaking a language I can't identify; I wanna say it's Urdu. They both kind of nod to me when I walk in.
The place doesn't look very different from a convenience store in the 'States, except for two things: One, the amazing variety of potato chips, which I'll get to in another entry, and two, there's a glass Tim Horton's donut cabinet like they have in Canada. I desperately want to eat one--I loves me some Tim Horton's--but my keen eye for pastry-forensics tells me these donuts were made before I left JFK.
Instead I hit the coffee machine, pull a cup off the stack and tank up. I grab one of the styrene lids and hear a voice behind me say, in pretty good English:
"You have to put the lid on top, and press down." I turn my head. It's the cabbie. "Press down hard," he urges, stepping forward and reaching his hands out, as if to do it himself. Okay Number One you don't touch my coffee, Number Two I'm not sure why he's giving me coffee-capping advice, I either look retarded or like I come from a country where self-serve coffee is unheard of.
"Ah, thank you, I've got it," I say, snapping the lid on and holding it up so he can see I've done a capable job. I keep my tone friendly, even as I am tempted to challenge him to a donut-dating contest. The glazed there, time of creation? Oh yeah? How about the maple ones on the second tier, do you know when they were made? Because I can place it down to the hour, my friend!
"The coffee is very hot," he explains. I guess earlier he saw someone with an untight lid sloshing coffee and burning themselves, and it haunted him for weeks; here, now, is his chance to prevent another catastrophe. Nice guy. I smile at him and step to the counter.
"Tha'ull be one therty-faive," says the counterguy, strong Scottish accent. I fish through the unfamiliar coins to give him what I think is exact change, making eye contact to see if I've got it right. "That's faine," he says. I thank him and leave with my coffee, and they switch back to might-be-Urdu.
I'm closer to the city than I thought; just a block after leaving the convenience store I'm walking across a bridge spanning the River Clyde. Sun's starting to come up.
Shortly I'm in Glasgow proper. The first people I see are a gaggle of club kids hanging out in front of some nightclub called Cathouse, a second-story joint, black windows, red letters. I can't hear any music so it's either soundproof or they just closed. Either way I'm impressed, it's like 6am and these kids are just finishing up. And again I find myself surprised that they're rather quiet, they're laughing amongst themselves but they're not hollering curses or shrieking. I'd always heard Glasgow was a bit of a raucous town, but maybe New York and the douchebags that populate it are just more savage than I realized.
I'm getting hungry, so I start poking around sidestreets and looking at places that have signs in the window saying "Full Scottish Breakfast" with a price listed. Unfortunately every single one of them is closed. The only food-serving place I can find that's open is a friggin' McDonald's near the station.
Inside are more club kids apparently coming off a long night, and ranging in positions from vertical to horizontal. I wait my turn at the counter, then order a breakfast sandwich. The short blonde girl at the register counters with "You settin'?" Takes me a second to realize she's saying "sitting," i.e. staying.
"Yes," I say (belatedly realizing I've just squandered a prime opportunity to use "Aye." Next time).
The countergirl takes a few paces back to grab something, and continues a conversation she was having with the boy and girl working in the back. "I just despise [unintelligible]," says the girl that was in the back.
"Well I despise Amairicans," says the countergirl, loudly, which catches me off-guard. I'm not sure if she could tell from our brief interaction that I'm American and she's trying to be rude, or if she doesn't mind saying such things within earshot of others. Either way, a few seconds later she serves me my sandwich with a cheerful smile.
If she doesn't like Americans that's faine, but perhaps she's working in the wrong place? Or maybe she thinks McDonald's is Irish. Well, whatever.
I sit and eat, fully expecting the bagel the sandwich comes in to suck; I've only ever had good bagels in New York and Montreal, everywhere else's were shite. But surprisingly this one is quite good. I guess Glasgow's got similar water to New York and Montreal.
I polish off the sandwich as the sun rises higher. I didn't get to eat a Tim Horton's donut, but at least I had something torus-shaped. I wipe the grease off my mouth, dump the tray's contents in the trash, and this despicable American walks outside to see what a day in Glasgow will bring.
Up Next: Crew comes in