Luke’s Europe Trip: Dispatch #1 (London: Your Guide To Leaving The City $150 Richer Than When You Came!)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

* Disclaimer: hereby takes no responsibility for your imprisonment or diplomatic incident you cause as a result of mimicking any of the following actions described in this article.

As a writer I think I’ve acquired some questionable thought patterns. Where my mind used to say, “That’s illegal, so don’t do it.” It now says, “Do it. If you get arrested in a foreign country, it’ll be a great story and you’ll have something to write about other than the hostel’s relaxed atmosphere.”

Being mostly ignorant of England’s laws, I’m not exactly sure as to the legality or illegality of what I did. I started to lean towards illegal when the first Brit I approached told me, “You can’t do that! It’s a criminal offense to do that! Especially don’t do it in front of the poppers (British for police).”

But I think this guy was being a bit of a worry-wort. Or as the British say, an old fuddy duddy. I think what I was doing could fall into a moral or legal gray area than an actual criminal offense. Everyone else I approached was either apathetically uninterested in what I was offering, or enthusiastically hailed me as a hero. In any case, what I did earned me some serious poundage.

Let’s be clear. I was not “________” (insert whatever lewd act you have been thinking I was doing here).

Here’s what actually happened.

I always arrive at airports hours too early because I am paranoid that some unforeseen event (like the second coming of Christ or some other biblical event) will delay me. So before flying to London I had plenty of time to browse the duty-free store in the Guatemala City airport. Though I myself am a non-smoker, I was surprised to see cartons of cigarettes being sold for $10 a carton. I vaguely remembered a British guy complaining once about how outrageously expensive cigarettes are in U.K.

Faster than the London bridge came falling down, my mind arrived at an idea: Purchase five ridiculously cheap cartons of cigarettes and then sell them on the streets of London for a huge markup.

So I sold cigarettes. When I arrived in London, I came not as a tourist, but as a cigarette peddler. As I walked the famous streets, checking out the sites, I kept my eye out for smokers. Like a drug dealer looking for clients, I sized up everyone I walked past wondering. Is he a smoker? Is she a smoker? Are they smokers? Should I offer them cartons of cigarettes?

Perhaps the saying should go: When in Rome, do as the Romans; When in London, sell cigarettes and make a bundle of cash.

Selling cigarettes soon became more than just a way to offset costs. It was a reason to start up conversations with strangers. A way to socialize. I became, “The Cigarette Guy,” off-loading cigarettes that cost $8 in London for $4 a pack. Enthusiastic addicts everywhere wanted in on it.

By the early evening I had sold all of my cigarettes. As I handed over my last eight packs in exchange for 30 pounds, I felt a bit sad. I was no longer L’homme Avec Les Cigarettes, but just another tourist in London. I began to crave cigarettes. I wanted more. Not to smoke. I had become an cigarette sales addict.

I write this the morning after a 40-hour stint in London. In a half-hour I need to figure out how to get to the airport where I will fly to Prague. I just Googled the price of cigarettes in Prague, and unfortunately for me (but fortunate for the country’s thrifty addicts), they go for far less than in London. So as I go onwards, L’homme Avec Les Cigarettes will remain behind me. But I will be as interested as anyone to find out what will mark Prague as memorable.

© 2021