| Like it says in the subject line, so there I was, hanging out in Cambridge. After a long day of taking in the thirty-one or so universities and well renowned colleges (to include a really well to do Cambridge College of Cosmetology) where you are 5% smarter in the presence of one and 11% smarter if you can see two colleges at one time I decide to get a beer. Not your typical watered down 6.5% English swill but something with some bite. After searching through at least one pub I found a place that served Guinness. Irish Gatorade if you will. So I stroll in through the door of the Troubled Goat Pub and sit down at the bar. The bar keep comes over and quickly asks me if I am a Yank. So in my best Canadian accent I say no but of course for some reason she does not believe me. Troubled as I may have been, the others around me quickly look my way as if I walked straight out of a picture of old George Washington crossing the Delaware River. In my best defense I slowly retreat to the door and make my way out. Now with the Troubled Goat behind me I begin to feel my thirst draw at my soul. I zip up my American Flag jacket and straighten my NASCAR hat and head down the road in pursuit of a new watering hole.
No sooner do I take my first step I turn right and face the door of the Frazzled Wench Pub. You can probably feel my delight in only having to travel the distance it takes to roll out of bed to find another pub. I open the door and realize this may be my place. No sooner do my eyes adjust to the dim lighting and menthol flavored smoke do I hear on the tele the sounds of the Dukes of Hazard. Me and my Jacket are home. Without hesitation I make my way up to the bar and sit down on a cushion-less stool stained with the last hopes and desperations of the previous tenant. The Bar Keep quickly see's me and my jacket and asks me if I am Canadian. It was a Bar keep/patron match made in heaven. The kind of relationship where the only thing that matters is he knows what beer you are drinking. Of course it helps when the two types of beer on tap are Guinness cold and Guinness Warm. As a red blooded American I demand my Guinness in an ice cold mason jar. Presto, in front of me is a jar full of Guinness Cold with the imprint of a shamrock to boot in the head. This guy is good; most people attempt the shamrock and come up with a Picasso. After several three quid Guinness's I make my way to the loo. While in there wondering where the dark in Guinness goes while you piss it out I hear a commotion inside the pub. I quickly tap three times, zip up and make my way back to the bar.
It is apparent something grand has happened. The bar keep is tending to a small group of people huddled in the corner surrounding a man in a wheel chair. Not your typical wheel chair that you might find at a pawn shop or second hand medical supply store but something with flair. It had all the needs of an upgraded wheel chair, all weather tires, GPS, computer screen and a mouth piece to move here and there. For a second, I envied the lucky chap and his set of wheels almost to the point I wanted to throw myself into traffic in hopes to have something as nice as that. Regardless of the chair, it was obvious that he set the mood of his group and controlled their destiny for the night.
I throw myself back to my half filled mason jar with the eagerness of a young child visiting Disneyland for the first time. Only, as I continue to get older, Guinness consistently gets better as Disneyland only gets smaller and at thirty-six you eventually figure out that those are not real pirates on the boat ride. I continue the small talk with the bar keep. Why does English food suck? Why do English chicks have bad teeth? Do you still watch Benny Hill? All of these questions highly important in the American/Anglian relationship. I receive nothing but on the spot answers and in return I get the questions all Americans would salivate to answer. Why does the world love America? Does everyone have three guns? How cool is it to own a truck? I mean all the ways we live our lives and I get these questions. Even with my joy I am still struck with the constant chatter and laughter coming from the far corner of the wheeled mystery.
So in my curiosity I throw the question out to the bar keep. "Who is that man in the wheel chair?" Oh, that's Steve, he teaches classes about Colin Farrell and the other stars up at the college. "Interesting" I think to myself, "I wonder how many autographs' a job like that gets him." I finish off my beer and in the same motion wave to the bar keep to bring me another one. Suddenly I notice Steve making a move to the video juke box. Not knowing who he really is he makes three selections that make me proud to be human. Van Halen "Jump", A melodramatic tune by "Keane" and an all time pub favorite "Our House" by Madness. The house is really moving now. Steve grabs hold of his mouth piece and returns back to his shady corner. Now I am too interested not to go over and partake in some cross-pond discussions plus I may be able to score an autograph of some b-list English star. As I arrive my jaw hits the floor. We are not talking about some teacher of Hollywood stars but we are talking the pre-imminent scholar of astro-physics Stephen Hawking.
What are the chances of this? I mean me picking the stomping grounds of the author of A Brief History of Time, one of Carl Sagan's bong buddies. For Christ sake, he was on the Simpson's! He slowly puts down his drink and asks me where I got my jacket. This thing is paying off in more than one way tonight. I tell him it was custom made for me in the shoppette at Lackland AFB Texas. A one of a kind if you will. He asks to touch it and asks if it is real leather. (When I say he asks, he talks in this funny English accent robot voice.) I hesitate but the truth comes out, "no, leather was another 20 dollars and I really wanted to go to Chili's with that last 20 spot." He looks at me with a smile in his eye and says "I like your style". Apparently he had just watched The Big Lebowski because I picked up on the subtle reference. He asks me to sit down while one from his group fetches me a chair. I oblige in my excitement and take a seat.
We talk about our favorite pubs, soccer teams and favorite presidents in the last 4 years. Eventually the talk gets into the world of quantum physics, time travel and philosophy. Surprisingly I hold my own. "Tim" he says, what if that beer you drink today waters the fields of an African farmer tomorrow?" "Do you know that time travel is not a theory but reality?" I come back with answers that make him think in ways he never has before but it does not end there. Every time he asks a new question I follow it up with drunken science questions of my own. "What if god is a puppy?" What if I am really a bear and a bear is really me?" He is knocked off his feet so to speak. It is apparent by the look in his eyes I may be re-writing the laws of physics and proven scientific belief. Out of the blue he asks again where I got my jacket. I tell him the same story and he seems to just get depressed. I throw one possibility at him in hopes for a trade, the jacket for the wheels straight up. Several people in his group advise against it but apparently once he sets his mind to something it becomes law. We make the trade and I proceed to make a few runs around the room. The joy of Disneyland was coming back to me. Eventually we finish off our beers, say our goodbyes and head in opposite ways.
The last thing I remember seeing of Steve was his group carrying him down the road in his new jacket as I rolled down towards the on ramp. In the end I think he may have gotten the better of the deal. Now, I only have one American flag jacket at home and it took me 23 hours and seven charges to get back to my house in Bury St. Edmunds 25 miles away.