10. Residential air-conditioning.
9. Talking to strangers. Let me clarify: talking to strangers does occur in the United Kingdom, but one of three factors must be present: (a) foreigners, (b) sexual tension, (c) alcohol. If you are on, say, a Tube car in the morning, you really have no excuse to talk to a stranger, and should either read something or look up, abstractedly, at the route map, as if you really need to read it again. Eye contact is not advised.
Once a visiting American friend of mine said, “Excuse me!” as she tried to get off the train. I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t even thought of that before.
8. Empty spaces. They have them outside London, too, but I don’t get to those so often.
7. Good guacamole. And fajitas. And mole sauce.
6. The self-righteous assurance you feel when you know, without a doubt, that one political party is The Bad Guy. Or is this a reason I don’t miss America?
5. That goofy sense of accomplishment you get when you drive across a state boundary.
4. Good book design. Hey, United Kingdom: what’s up with so many of your bestselling books being printed with big, ugly fonts that look like something from a 1990s website? It makes me think I’m in 8th grade again. I recently actually decided not to buy a book because the font was too irritating. And another thing: there’s a bizarre trend of stiff paperback covers that only open about a quarter-inch without bending. When you read these, there’s absolutely no possible way to avoid breaking the spine. What’s up with that? Why do you charge more for books if you’re so cheap about making them?
3. Being able to watch Comedy Central. Or, really, television in general. You may not know this, but all Comedy Central and NBC programming is blacked out in the United Kingdom. That means I have seen a combined total of zero Jon Stewart and Stephen T. Colbert programs since September 2010. Once it’s possible to track down these shows illegally, they’re out of the date and there is no longer much of a point. Keeping track of American life by reading from actual news sources has its advantages, but (especially with the New York Times now limiting free reading) there is no replacing the cable TV jokesters who somehow are more serious about American politics than most of our Congress.
A really good baseball experience combines at least three of the preceding items on this list: good Mexican food (albeit at London prices), the self-righteous assurance that one of the teams is The Bad Guy, and a big, empty, symmetrical geometric green space. Baseball also adds serious leisure time and chess-like strategy. It’s the sport for people who want to plan several moves ahead, while also chatting for hours on end with the friends sitting next to them rather than jumping up and down endlessly screaming like their underpants are full of ice cubes.
And I miss baseball. I only get to enjoy it about once a week, when somebody (preferably my Washington Nationals) plays an afternoon game on the East Coast, which is the only way a major-league ballgame starts before midnight in London Town. When good fortune strikes I listen on the radio, to DC’s admittedly spectacular broadcast team of Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler, who on an almost nightly basis have conversations like this:
Dave: Ross is at little league depth in right field.
Charlie: That’s how they played me in little league.
Dave: Are you disparaging your little league abilities, Charlie?
Charlie: That’s how they played me.
Dave: They didn’t just line everybody up across the infield?
Or Dave uttering gems like, “When was the last time the Nationals batted around in an inning? We’ll get our crack research staff on that… Charlie, look faster” or “We have signs around saying ‘Don’t feed the interns,’ kind of like at the zoo.” And then there’s the time when Dave found out Charlie was cheating on him.
So radio is a marvelous way to take in a ballgame, especially if the sun is just setting and you’ve got an upscale English ale on hand. But it’s nothing like being there.
Well, and friends and family and my birthday-boy father and stuff. Happy Independence Day!
A special thank-you to Nathan of the Washington Nationals Fan Forum for uploading the radio clip.