One Night in Cambridge
It is so that an evening can last forever, and a fleeting moment can reach eternity.
What the hell were three Americans doing in Cambridge, England, on Halloween night 2003, in a 572 year-old pub, surrounded by people dressed for the opera? Stopping the damn clock and having the time of their lives, that's what. It was my one night in Cambridge, guided by Charissa who was living and working there for a year. Her fiancée, my brother Dave, had been showing me around the megopolis of London for about a week, and we had one night in Cambridge to get some fresh air out of the big city.
The day in Cambridge was monumental. How could we have done so much in so little time? It still somewhat perplexes me. In our best bad-British accent, we walked around St. John's University, and other branches of the overall college, feeling like Harry Potter and crew. To minimize tourists roaming the halls and grounds, there is a students-only policy on campus. One should have a student ID in order to enter the grounds. However, if no one is checking the gate at that particular moment, you are "free" to pass through and do your best imitation of a Cambridge student. We found that wearing backpacks, looking scholastic, and quietly muttering to ourselves things like "paper... paper.. must write paper..." and "damn that professor Wigglesworth, assigning so much reading," kept us from being detected as outsiders. It was great to sneak a peak through old wood doors into a chapel, or walk through the hallway to an inner courtyard. Because it was late October, the leaves on the vines climbing up the brick walls has turned a deep burgundy red.
Having been in England for nearly a week, I was in jeopardy of being locked up for not having taken a formal afternoon tea. Cambridge seemed like the perfect place to experience this tradition, so we ducked into a tea shop. Many students were milling about sipping tea and munching on scones. Of course, we fit neatly into the scene. "Must study for exams..." When Charissa and Dave insisted I try clotted cream, I was somewhat skeptical. I enjoy trying new foods, but the idea of any dairy product having more body than it should wasn't instantly appealing. Turns out, they were spot on with their recommendation. We had a nice time of hot tea, tasty scones, and wonderfully sweet and smooth clotted cream. Ah, another moment of pausing and taking it all in.
Somewhere between the college and afternoon tea, we must have stopped back at the houses where we were staying, but I can't recall doing so. What I remember next was dinner at the famous Eagle. Fish, chips, beer, cozy settings, it was a memorable start to the evening. They even advertised mulled wine at the bar. When I asked for a glass they said they were temporarily out. Oh well. Another glass of cask ale never hurt anyone.
After the Eagle, we made our way to the other mandatory pub stop. The Pickerel turned out to be the last place to which we would venture on this brilliant (a word I heard about a million times during my week) day. We spotted an open table next to the bar and glowing tap handles. Perfect. We hardly had to leave our seat when getting the next pint. The ceiling was lined with wood beams and it felt like a cozy place into which one might expect a hobbit to wander. It comes in pints indeed. So there we were, three of us a long ways from home, but having the time of our lives. Pint after pint of smooth, sweet cask ale passed across our table. English beer is wonderfully drinkable stuff, with just the right balance of low carbonation, sweet malt, and hint of hops.
This liquid gold eventually loosened our lips even more than usual, and we swapped stories of passing through adolescence. One memorable moment was my brother's retelling of his "sex talk" with our dad while waxing the car. Dave's story intermixed the awkward exchange of words that has taken place along with the Karate Kid's "wax on, wax off" instruction from Mr. Miyagi. After so many pints, the story combined with the, you can imagine, visual gyrations of wax on, wax off, it was too much. Charissa was in hysterics. I was filming with my camera and it was all I could do to keep it focused on Dave. Few times in my life have I laughed so hard, so deeply, almost causing bodily pain. The night went on this like for a while. Near the end, even a drunk Aussie got into the mix. A man named Alan took a perch near us, and when we were leaving, actually kissed me on the cheek. Hey, after a day like that, it seemed par for the course.
How we walked the mile or two back to the house is kind of a foggy memory. I took a couple pictures and even a video clip. In the video, Charissa says something to the camera, and then takes off running out of sight. Dave laughs and starts after her. I stand for a moment in disbelief and wonder if we will ever make it home. Eventually, we did. I don't think I had much trouble falling asleep that night. I don't think any of us did. It was a brilliant, there's that word again, day, one which we will never forget, one which we hope to recreate over the years ahead. Hopefully my wife can be there next time! It was a moment that indeed reached eternity.