London: Havoc in Parliament, Scotland Yard and the Murdoch Empire.
As if they didn’t have enough to worry about, England now has American drivers on its roads. Call it collateral damage from World War Z – the movie I’m working on here.
I’ve been given a car to take me to and from our multiple English locations. Not a car and driver, as has been the case on previous UK movies, but in the new fiscal reality I’ve only been able to swing what our deal memos refer to as a “self-drive.”
A birdseye view of London would resemble a black widow spider’s web: no pattern, no shape, a tangle of threads that bend, then end on a drunken whim. I was told that the last American publicist who tried driving here showed up at work every day with a new dent in his car. More recently one of our American technicians, having done the torturous tour thru Central London to Elstree Studios only once, simply abandoned his car on the lot and has been getting rides to and from set with the electrical department ever since.
Driving in London is not a sport for the faint of heart.
I’ve driven in cities all over the world – even right hand drive (with stick shift!) in places like South Africa, Malta and New Zealand. No place scares me more than London. It’s not the slalom around buses and bicyclists, nor even (well, maybe a little) two-way streets the width of a bowling lane that allow parking on both sides.
My fear of driving in London is getting lost: never finding my way back to Nicola’s flat in Shepherds Bush and being forever stuck on a roundabout with no exit.The maze of roundabouts here must have been designed by Lewis Carroll.
Outside the city are the motorways: the M1, M4, M25…
Let’s take the M25 for example - which I had to take to Longcross Studios the first week of work. On day 2, I overshot one turn, somehow wound up back on the M25 and drove 20 minutes before I could find a place to turn around. The M25 goes in a circle around the city – like the highway loop around DC. But if you miss your exit in DC, you can get off at the next exit. There are no exits on the M25, just options that lead to other motorways – all of which seem to be spaced 10-15 miles apart.
Out of this chaos has come a deep and, dare I say, profound relationship.
I call her Lily. I don’t know her real name. She is, you may have guessed, the voice on my GPS. In confident, posh tones – like a sympathetic dominatrix – she tells me what to do and I do it. And like most women telling a guy what to do, she is always right but often obtuse.
“Sharp right at the roundabout, then take 3rd exit.”
One, two… wait, was that an exit? Damn I’ve taken the 4th exit, which leads me onto the M1 which will take me miles out of my way. Lily neither scolds nor corrects (as American GPS systems do: “recalculating”). She merely tells me, “continue straight” and 15 miles later has me turn around.
She is not a good judge of distance. “Right turn coming up,” as I’m already making the right turn. “In a quarter mile, turn left.” “Left turn coming up” and I’ve already passed it.
I’m a big fan of quiet time in a car. But Lily can go for long stretches without the need to talk to me. And when she does interrupt my driving daydreams, it’s always to tell me something important. “Right at the roundabout; take 3rd exit.”
One, two… yikes! Why didn’t you say I only had 30 feet to cross three lanes of traffic to exit left???
“Exit coming up.”
She won’t engage in argument and she doesn’t respond to my temper tantrums. Lily is doing more than teaching me how to get around London: she’s making me a better man. I’m learning how to listen, observe and use my intuition. I think she’s teaching me how to understand women.
“Straight on at the roundabout, then slight left.”
Lily, you sure know how to sweet-talk a guy.
Do you have dinner plans?