They were the first people to introduce you to London properly. Their shiny black cabs roamed the streets like traveling encyclopedias holding all of London past and present in the back of their seats.
Theirs was not the London of fastidious politeness and reserve as cool as the weather. Nor was it the Anglophile paradise of queens and outdated customs--the London that had been so off-putting, so full of its own importance as it was, the one that brought out the Chicana militant in you. (Their history is great yes, but so is yours. You will not bow down to them, not their conquests, not their customs.)
But the cabs, now there was the real London. The place where the drivers talked streets and politics and watching the telly over a few beers after work. In the back of their cabs, you learned about the best places to eat--Indian food, traditional English fare, French steak frites--as well as the best sights to see. You learned about the day to day life of the average Londoner--work, pub, home--and the affability you wouldn't necessarily find in a New York taxi.
You learned of their love of Stonehenge documentaries, their mental tug-of-war of selling or not selling their Spanish villa, their thoughts on race and class consciousness, and their master's thesis on sacred spaces--non-religious mass graves of 19th bishop's prostitutes where people still go to mourn the lost. You heard about their grandchildren and their trips to America. They drew you a map with their words of neighborhoods and beliefs and everyday life.
These are the stories you don't read about in guidebooks, the London that is made of grit and good cheap beer and honest work, the one that doesn't really care about the Queen or the national religion, only a good conversation and a job done well.
As you found your way through London from one taxi to the next, you relish the feeling of cracking the thin surface of antiquated Anglophilia as you would the shell of a soft-boiled egg so you could scoop out the fleshy center, savor the heart of this city.
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