Tuesday, May 06, 2008


The looniness with my car dealership continues. After all the confusion in trying to get the car in the first place, when they were a day late after no one in the dealership seemed to know what was going on, and then after I had to go in and re-do all the paperwork because the VIN on the paperwork didn't match the VIN on my car, my temporary tags have almost expired, so I called yesterday to see if maybe the real plates were in and they forgot to tell me. It turns out that they'd put the paperwork on hold until my check cleared and then forgot about it, and if I hadn't called, nothing ever would have happened. Meanwhile, I keep getting the "customer service" calls which are really about guilt-tripping me into giving them perfect marks on the customer service survey. Apparently, they get tortured and executed if they don't get perfect marks, and it will be all my fault if I complain about anything (even if I do have something to complain about).

On the other hand, I mentioned the lack of sleep last weekend when they started the renovation work at eight on a Sunday morning at the hotel. Well, I filled out the customer service survey they sent me and mentioned this. Yesterday, I got a phone call from the hotel manager, apologizing, and they're sending me a voucher for a free room upgrade next time I stay there. That's the hotel where the Browncoat Ball will be, so looks like I may have to have a room party (or pick up the tea house tradition) if I get a suite. So, the Omni Hotel really does know how to deal with follow-ups on customer service. They'd already done great things with stuff like the confirmation e-mail that contained all the necessary travel info.

I recently re-read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and that seems to be one of the books that I get more out of each time I read it. It's about a young man who stops to help an injured young woman who looks like a street person, and because of his involvement in her life, he loses his existence in the "real" world. To get his life back, he has to enter the mysterious underground world of London Below and complete a dangerous quest. That was one of the first urban fantasy books I found, one that made me start to believe that this weird little idea I had about magical stuff in a modern setting might possibly work. Since the first time I read it, I've done a lot more reading of folklore, and it really does seem like London Below is a sort of modern fairy society, with a lot of parallels to fairy lore, and what I like about it is that he doesn't beat you over the head with that idea. If you know the lore, you'll recognize it, but it's not all self-consciously, "Hey, look! This is what the fairy world might be like in modern times!"

But another reason I like this book is that I've had a bit of a London Below experience, or at least, one that reminds me of the book. It was on my second trip to England, in the fall of 2001. I was visiting a friend who lived in a suburb east of London and needed to get from Gatwick to the train station a few blocks from her house. At the airport, they gave me a train ticket and a list of which trains to take from which stations at which times, and I was off. I got the train from the airport into London, then was on the Tube to another station when the train came to a stop. After a few polite "we apologize for the inconvenience" announcements, they finally said that the line was closed from that point on, and they backed the train up to the Canary Wharf station and made everyone get off. I wasn't sure what to do next. I was studying the system map at the station when a guy came up to me and asked if I needed help.

I'm glad I hadn't yet read Neverwhere or I might have been a bit freaked out, because he was very much like what I imagine the Marquis de Carabas to be like, though without the shifty underside and the elaborate wardrobe. He had a very formal, courtly, old-fashioned manner while still being incredibly outgoing and friendly, and a bit of a Caribbean/West Indies accent. Of course, my initial instinct was "I can do it MYSELF," but I really wasn't sure how to get to the station I needed, and I didn't know the route of the train to know any other stations where it might stop. So, I showed the guy the print-out from the airport train station and explained where I needed to go. He said he'd take me where I needed to go. I hesitated, since he was a total stranger, and I was in an unfamiliar area of a major city in a foreign country, but then I was in an unfamiliar area of a major city in a foreign country, so that was when I needed help. He insisted that he was totally safe and turned to the other people he'd been talking with earlier and got them to vouch for him. They all really had seemed to know him, even though they were a pretty random cross-section of the population, and they did vouch for him.

And, for some odd reason, I did trust him. It was one of those times when that little voice in the back of my head told me that it was okay, so I agreed to let him lead me. However, I wouldn't let him carry my bags, as I'm not quite that trusting. Then I was off on a journey that involved the Docklands Light Rail, a walk through a neighborhood, a ride on what seemed to be an older Tube line (or maybe two -- it gets blurry), and then finally arrival at the train station after another walk through another neighborhood. It turned out to be very good that I'd agreed to let him guide me because I would never have found my way. The stations that appeared on the map to be contiguous were actually several blocks apart and barely marked. The walks between stations were through neighborhoods the likes of which I'd never seen. They weren't bad neighborhoods, but they were just neighborhoods, a part of London tourists would never see. To me, it was simultaneously Victorian-looking, like a place Dickens characters might have lived, and also that sort of timeless mid-century look, like the street they always show to represent 40s or 50s London on Doctor Who (though I know that's actually in Cardiff). "Normal" neighborhoods in my part of the world aren't that old, so that almost made it as good as a tourist destination for me. Meanwhile, this guy knew EVERYBODY we passed. He greeted them all by name and introduced me. It was like he was the unofficial mayor of that part of town.

Then we finally got to the Tube station, where again it was good that I had my guide because my ticket must have been out of the proper zone, as the gates wouldn't accept it. But my guide knew the station manager, and once he explained the situation, the manager opened the employee gate to let us through into the station. On the train, my guide again knew everyone. It wasn't just that he was being friendly to everyone and they were humoring him by smiling and nodding. He really knew them and knew things about them. He asked after their families and updated them on other people he knew. And then this really weird thing happened. Suddenly it wasn't like I was in the middle of an unfamiliar part of one of the world's major cities. It was more like I was in a small town where everyone knew everyone. I'd gone from London Above, where I was an anonymous tourist and all the city dwellers just moved past each other without seeing each other, to London Below, where everyone knew and cared about everyone else, where we were all part of a community that almost might have been invisible to the rest of the world.

When we got to my train station, he helped me find the right platform, then walked me right to it. Before he left, he told me he knew he needed to help me because he could tell I was a real lady since I didn't have pierced ears.

Um, okay. While I do like to think that I am a lady, if you've read my essay in the Judy Blume tribute book, you'll know that I don't have my ears pierced because I get eczema behind my ears sometimes (and I really don't like jewelry all that much). It's an odd reason to help someone, but hey, it worked out for me.

Anyway, when I read Neverwhere, I remembered that incident, and I could really relate to the way the main character felt when he got caught up in London Below. I also got a giggle during the Doctor Who episode where we learned that Torchwood was based in Canary Wharf because I figured that had to be why they stopped the train. Torchwood must have been up to something. And now I'm a little nervous about ever going back to London because it's possible that I owe the Marquis de Carabas a huge favor.

Now, I've got more virtual book tour stops with interviews that may (or may not) contain new info. Today I'm at Southern Comfort, I do a little Shop Talk with Laura Bowers, I pay a visit to Amanda Ashby, and I share some disreputable history with E. Lockhart.

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