I spent more money on Starbucks in London than I think I spent anywhere else. I must have had Starbucks once or twice every day. One time I got coffee, just a tall to keep the shakes at bay. I ended up finishing the drink at just the moment when Haley and I got to the Underground platform we needed to be on to be able to go wherever we were going. I did the typical just-finished-Starbucks routine. I tilted my head completely back at roughly a 90 degree angle and gulped. Then when my head returned to its usual position, I looked at the cup and shook it to make sure I’d gotten even the last drop of sweet, sweet caffeine. Once I was certain there was no more, I immediately looked to the nearest pillar.
It’s a talent you don’t even realize you have until it doesn’t work. As an American, I know where trash cans are supposed to be. They are by doors, tucked next to desks, under the sink, and, in large public areas, by pillars. Hardly anyone was on the platform, so it was really easy to see that there were no trashcans around. I told Haley to wait a sec and walked back into the atrium of sorts the separated the platform for trains going one way from the platform for trains going the other. Again, I found no trash cans. I even circled the stupid pillar like one would magically appear if I circled three times and sacrifice a virgin.
Nothing distresses the recently caffeinated like having to hold onto an empty coffee cup. What was I supposed to do with it? I just wanted to throw it away! But now I had to hold onto it for God only knows how long.
“Tube stations don’t have bins,” a heavily accent man piped up. He was a tourist friendly Londoner, the sort that get tangible joy out of helping the wayward Americans that stumble into their paths. I looked to him with a “Dear God, why not?” expression. My Americanness shined like red, white, and blue fireworks bursting continuously above my hand. Give a hoot. Don’t pollute! The man launched into a huge a marvelously interesting reason for why there were no bins. I struggled to understand him fully, but I nodded along wanting him to keep speaking. He told me that Ireland and England used to fight, which seemed vaguely familiar. Anyway, apparently the IRA would hide bums in the trash bins, and everyone was really scared, so the English government got rid of all of the trash bins in all public transportations stations. In fact, the only thing close to a bin is that mechanism where you can attach a clear bag to a rim, serving as sort of a faker bin.
I mean.,, a bum definitely wouldn’t be able to hide in that. I could see the government’s logic with that. I know bums can scare people, but getting rid of all of the trash cans? In fact, a country’s army using the homeless as weapons to scare people? It was so bizarre, and I knew I must have missed something, either by his accent or just culturally. I wasn’t sure which. I thank this guy for his answer anyway. He was so friendly looking and in an ironed suit. At worst, he thought he could mess with an American. I remained polite regardless.
Fast forward to two weeks later, during the night walk, but just before the candy bar incident with Papa Looker. I overhead Mama Kalmes talking to a group of students. If you want to talk about a guy who will stop people and inundate them with random trivia at length, this guy is lord of them all. I have no idea what spurred their conversation, but I definitely overheard Kalmes say:
“The IRA would hide bombs in the trash cans—”
And suddenly it all made sense. That old guy had NOT been talking about Irish BUMS. He’d been talking about Irish BOMBS. No wonder people were scared and the government took out all of the trash cans! People were getting blown up, not harassed. Judas Priest.
“Bombs,” I screamed, hitting Haley’s shoulder with the back of my hand. “That guy, he was talking about bombs.”
Of course, someone in the group yelled at me, essentially declaring, “Jesus Christ, you can’t just go around yelling, “Bombs!” in public. I felt a little bad, but mostly I was so relieved. It all made sense now. Bombs not bums.