Hummingbird Bakery, and Screaming Strangers

Posted on
Apr 25, 2013
Posted in: City Guide, Food

To this day, I have fond memories of my English class senior year of high school.

Even though it was (ahem) a little while ago, I remember it acutely. Our teacher was a gentleman named Mr. Willems, who remains to this day one of the best instructors I’ve ever had. He was fond of cardigans and sweater vests, spoke French, and would occasionally make us popcorn or bring in cream puffs and show us film adaptations of whatever we were reading at the time.

He’d ask questions of the class, and when no hands would pop up, he’d say (often en français), “If there are not volunteers, there will be victims.”

A few years ago, when I learned of his death, I put my head down on my desk and cried.

He taught us many, many things, but above all, he taught us how to read.

I should clarify: most of us had been reading for a solid decade or so, but Mr. Willems taught us how to really read and enjoy books. How to scrutinize chapters, how to analyze characters, how to follow the arc of a story, and how to find the themes and symbolism therein.

Even now, I find themes and patterns everywhere. I search for them well beyond the pages of a book, in the every day happenings of my life.

If you read the blog regularly, the themes will pop out to you: Mortality. Travel. Romance. And the recurring motif of cupcakes.

Recently, I realized that I had one more thing to add to that list. I’m not sure what to make of it. It happens time and again, both during my travels, and at home:

I get yelled at by strangers. Like, a lot.

No, I mean, a lot.

To the point where I have almost started finding it funny. Almost.

Usually, I am yelled at by women. They tend to be middle-aged, or slightly younger. Often, they yell at me out of the blue, when a dozen or so other people have committed the same imaginary infraction they are accusing me of, or when I am simply trying to be nice.

There have been several this week.

One happened at a baseball game with friends. I’d gotten up to use the bathroom, and was returning to my seat. My friends politely stood to let me by.

“HEY LADY,” came a voice behind me. “SIT DOWN.”

I turned, my mouth half open in shock, at the drunk women seated behind me.

“Stand in between at bats,” she snapped.


Keep in mind, everyone in our row was standing. EVERYONE. But she yelled at me, and only me. Because that is how this theme plays out.

Two nights ago, I walked into a restaurant bathroom and opened the door to a stall. The woman inside had neglected to lock the door.

She screamed. Which was totally understandable.

She quickly slammed the door. On the other side of it, I frantically and repeatedly apologized.

“Ugh. IT’S FINE,” she replied, clearly annoyed. “I guess I didn’t lock it.”

“If it’s any consolation,” I said, “that happens to me all the time.”


Honestly, you’d think after the intimate moment we’d just shared, she’d have been a little more gracious. Lady, you cannot get mad at EVERYONE who sees your vagina. I bet you must be pissed off at half the western seaboard by now.

See? There I go getting nasty about it.

The thing is, these interactions upset me, and the pithy little comebacks that occur to me, much much later are some of the few things that make me feel better. I wish I could just ignore it when strangers yell at me. I really, really do. But instead I often find myself feeling terrible, and am occasionally inclined to cry.

But I think I’ve found a solution. It involves cupcakes. Obviously.

I discovered this when Rand and I were wandering down Portobello Road, through its eponymous market, on a particularly rainy Saturday in London.

It was miserable, but that didn’t seem to stop the crowds. We wove through scores of people, getting slowly drenched, when we came across Hummingbird Bakery. I’d had dozens of people recommend the chain to me (it has several locations throughout London), so we popped inside.

The bakery was magenta, and all kinds of adorable:

We stared at the cakes, asking a few questions. Red velvet and vanilla were their most popular flavors, and I opted for the latter (I almost always go for a simple vanilla cake, since I think it best represents what a bakery has to offer).

We walked back out into the bustling street, as content as two people in love and wielding cupcakes can be (i.e., very).

I pulled out my camera, and asked Rand to stop a moment, so I could a photo of him eating the confection. I took two photos – taking a total of 5 or so seconds – before the screaming began.


I turned and found a woman so close to my face that my eyes had trouble focusing on her. Her voice was shrill and proper, and rang in my ear. I took a step back so I could see her better. She wore an enormous fur coat and looked like a current-day Debbie Harry. (I later learned that she was the owner of the fur shop that sits adjacent to bakery.)

“YOU CAN’T EAT HERE,” she screeched. I paused, looking around. I was standing in the middle of a street that was closed to traffic. There were people milling about everywhere. Many of them had cupcakes.

“YOU CAN’T EAT HERE,” she yelled, again, inches from my face (interestingly, I realize now, I wasn’t even the one eating the cupcake. Rand was). “That’s a restaurant,” she said, pointing back to the bakery, “THIS IS A SHOP!”

I wanted to point out that it was actually the middle of the road, but instead I just shrugged and said, “Okay,” and wandered off, taking a bite of my cupcake. This seemed to catch her off guard, as she huffed for a moment and then walked back into her shop.

Later, the absurdity of our exchange hit me full force. The woman in the fur coat had come running out of her shop, into crowds of people milling about, and stopped to yell at me, and no one else, for pausing a moment in front of her establishment. She yelled that I couldn’t eat in the middle of the street (an absurd request) and I wasn’t even eating.

But when it happened, it barely rattled me. And then I realized why: I was about to eat a cupcake. The cake turned out to be only decent (Rand’s was far better), moist but a little bland, and in desperate need of some salt to give the flavor height.

Still, even this mediocre dessert brought me solace. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond of them. With all the crazy, with all the yelling and anger in the world, it’s nice to encounter a bit of sweetness.

I don’t get why strangers yell at me. I’ve tried analyzing it without much success (and dear Mr. Willems is no longer around to offer ideas). I doubt I’ll ever figure it out. It just seems to be one of the common recurrences of my life.

Fortunately, so are cupcakes.

Thank goodness my life is full of sweetness.

Leave a Comment

  • Haters. 🙂

  • Josima Luchsinger

    Geraldine, Im so sorry! This happens to me ALOT. I’ve been living in Madrid for the past year, and the whole paperwork and legal stuff has been enourmous amounts of filtering the crap advice from the real advice. Also, people seem to think that they can tell me what to do, at all times: “go THIS way” (when huge crowds are going either way), or “You have to do such paperwork” and when I counter this with information given before, they’ll scream stuff like “YOU BRING IT COS I TOLD YOU TO BRING IT, GOT IT.?”. And yeah, even if my spanish is perfect (bilingual childhood), people still see the need to scream at me when and if THEY don’t understand me. Wish I had a cupcake for every time that happened… 🙁

  • When strangers are mean to me, I try to tell myself their behavior says more about them than it does about me. That is my mantra in those situations. It helps…sometimes. BOTTOM LINE…some people are just born with a nasty gene. You’re lucky you weren’t. Love your blog. It is the cupcake to my day! Makes me laugh every time.

    • Everywhereist

      Thanks, Eden! I do wish I was born with the “don’t let it get to you” gene, which Rand has in spades.

      • Philip

        I have the “buy another cupcake and smear it on her shop window” gene. Also known as the “you started it” gene. I blame it on five older sisters.

  • Kristina Cline

    Wow, I think I would have a hard time with all the screaming. But then again, I seem to be a magnet for passive-aggressive folk. At least with screaming you know exactly what people are mad about.

  • We should all carry a cupcake for such occasions 🙂

  • Anisa

    What does Rand do when all of this yelling is going on?
    Don’t let all the assholes out there get you down. I think the way you handle yourself
    when these encounters happen is amazing.

  • Eliz

    I really admire you for handling all of these situations so deftly 🙂 I know I simmer/boil/broil? (sometimes all three) for hours over similar incidents. Some people are just plain poopy.

  • Hi Geraldine, I love your posts; they’re a nice sprinkle of spice on my morning coffee.

    I almost choked on my coffee while reading this one 🙂

    Next time you get yelled at, you should yell back in a string of random languages!

  • Jen

    Wow. Maybe it’s just my nice, midwestern upbringing, but I don’t think I would ever yell at someone in any of those situations. Or, it could just be I tend to take the passive-agressive route, haha.

    I have found that ice cream can also work wonders in situations like that. A local place serves wedding cake concrete that is pretty much the best thing ever. Ice cream + cake = amazingness. Its often not even on the menu, so you just have to be in the know to get it.

    • Everywhereist

      Jen – I will put aside the fact that I have gone more than 30 years on this earth having never heard of wedding cake concrete (um, HOW IS THAT A THING THAT I HAVE NEVER HAD?), and say simply: girl, I hear you. I, too, would never yell in these situations. I’m guessing I’m just a crazy magnet.

  • Ruth

    Trust me, actually thinking of something to say in the moment and saying it is not always that satisfying. Once a flipped off a guy because he didn’t stop for me in the crosswalk, and he pulled over and started yelling obscenities at me. Long story short things escalated and I ended up running off shrieking “YOU HAVE MURDER IN YOUR HEART!!”

    The moral of the story appears to be “don’t fight crazy with crazy” but might also be “Ruth will get right up in your grill about pedestrian safety.”

    • Everywhereist

      See, Ruth? THIS is why I love you.

      I am so remembering the “murder in your heart” line.

    • Jerusha

      No offense Geraldine, but Ruth, your comment is the best part of this whole post. I can’t stop laughing! I’m gonna use that line someday. It’s so worth repeating.

  • What can I say, you stand out in a crowd!

  • It’s true. Sometimes the only way I can console myself from living in a dreary gray city is the plethora of available cupcakes. I have to say, though- red velvet all the way.

  • Molly

    I got yelled all the time when we lived in London.

    I remember being screamed at for bumping into a woman while walking past her in a basically empty hallway at King’s Cross. In my defense: I was having an insulin reaction (I’m a diabetic) and wasn’t really paying attention. Also in my defense: She equally bumped into me! And given her outburst, I think its safe to assume she wasn’t having some sort of medical emergency.

    Anyway, I think Brits just enjoy being pissed off sometimes. It builds character, or something.

    • Everywhereist

      Oh, good heavens. I’m glad that you are okay. That sounds entirely horrifying.

      • Molly

        Eh, it’s part of my charm: sometimes I wander around tube stations like a half-drunk.

        I actually think the woman was rather taken aback because I didn’t respond at all — I just blinked at her and kept going. Yelling back usually fuels the fire/validates the crazies.

  • I love your blog. Not in the drunk, annoying, “I love you, you’re the best friend ever, seriously!” kind of way. More in the “I turn to you because you can make the crap in life seem a whole lot funnier” type. I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. I’m sure you have awards up the ying-yang, but I had to nominate bloggers I truly enjoy … and you’re definitely up there with the bestest.

    Thanks for making the crap funny.

  • Sounds like you handle it pretty well. I’d like to say that I’m like you or any of the nice folks above that take that kind of stuff in stride but alas, I’m a New Yorker and being salty seems to be in my blood (much to the occasional chagrin of my nice, Midwestern boyfriend). I’d like to say that I have some kind of Dorothy Parkesque rejoinder for when someone is rude, but mainly I just end up saying something like “UP YOURS!” to a lady who honked at me when she CLEARLY wasn’t paying attention and almost sideswiped me with her car or an icy “Change your tone” to an overzealous flight attendant who was super aggressive about telling me to sit down while I was helping an old lady put her suitcase up in the overhead compartment, which confused me because we hadn’t even taken off yet and she wasn’t making any attempt to help the old woman.

    • Everywhereist

      First off: telling someone to change their tone is awesome, and you are lovely for helping that woman with her bag.

      Secondly: Did I give the impression that I take stuff in stride? I NEVER take stuff in stride, unless ruminating on something for waaay too long and sometimes crying or venting on my blog counts as “taking it in stride.”

      But the cupcake did help me keep calm. Seriously.

  • If I could scream in your face, I would.

    Well, let me clarify…

    I’d scream… “I F***ING LOVE YOU!” but not in a weird, lesbian creepy way.

    There will always be haters and self-doubt, but you seriously rock and are my role model.

    And hey, if it wasn’t for stupid people you’d have nothing to write about. 🙂

  • Sheri

    well, technically, the drunk woman at the baseball game had a point–it’s considered good baseball etiquiette to leave or return to your seat between at bats at the very least, if not between innings (i wait at the top of the stairs of my section so as not to block anyone’s view). some of the ushers at safeco even have signs to that effect, asking people to wait (although only in the most expensive seats, which has always been a “hmm” to me–do those of us in the cheap seats not deserve the same consideration? but i digress). baseball is one of those games where every pitch *could* lead to something happening, so that’s the logic behind the etiquette. nevertheless, yelling at you was unwarranted–i would have simply muttered a snarky comment under my breath ;-).

    i wholeheartedly agree with cupcakes as the antidote to all this yelling however!

  • That’s an unfortunate trend in your life.

    I had a Chinese lady in NYC come scream something in Chinese in my face, but to be fair, she was screaming at everyone. I also accidentally opened the door on someone in the bathroom at Uwajimaya in Seattle’s Chinatown and had another lady get all pissed off at me for daring to open what seemed to be a free stall. Then I got to listen to her huffing in irritation for the next minute or two while she finished up.

    I like cupcakes.

  • Sara

    Maybe you seem like an easy target to people, because you both have nice faces? I don’t want to go so far as to say I have a perma-scowl, but my normal face isn’t necessarily friendly. No one ever yells at me. My husband has a very open, friendly looking face and he gets this from the crazies more often.

  • Bran

    A few weeks ago, I decided to walk home from work (it was a gorgeous day outside). I made it half way home when an SUV drove by and a twenty-something guy in the back seat rolled down his window and shouted, “GET A MOPED!” I wasn’t bothered much by it initally, but it festered the rest of my walk home. Most annoying to me were the facts that the SUV actually slowed down so this guy could shout out the window, that he had to roll down his window to do so, and also that he was not a driver of the vehicle, but a lowly passenger. By the time I got home, I had wished that I shouted back, “GET A CAR, PASSENGER!”

  • I never met Mr. Willems, but have been blessed to know some similarly transformative teachers.

    You may have it nailed the universe’s motives in your cupcake analysis:

    The cake turned out to be only decent (Rand’s was far better), moist but a little bland, and in desperate need of some salt to give the flavor height.

    Life requires salt, and just enough salt to live is just okay. Bonus salt, bonus flavor.

  • Sheri

    I’m always tempted, in these situations, to respond in kind. When provoked, I have a wicked tongue and a mean streak a mile wide (but only when provoked, I say all that sugar I eat keeps me tempered with sweetness otherwise it might be ugly 😉 )…. but because I’m not really mean only provokably (is that a word?) mean, I know I would feel worse afterwards. After all, I have a conscience and I’m not crazy pants, like clearly yelling fur lady was.

    Instead I reach deep down into my memory for my favorite bumper sticker philosophy (I say, if it won’t fit on a bumper stickers, who needs it?) and it goes something like this…..

    “Don’t argue with crazy (or ignorant), they’ll just bring you down to their level and beat you with their experience”. – Somehow it always makes me feel better 🙂

  • In 2003, I turned down a job at this very same Hummingbird bakery in favor of a sales job at a gym.

    I still kick myself.

  • Cupcakes make everything better. Sometimes it’s cinematic; the background blurs and turns black with the only light hitting the cupcake in the foreground, making it glow as if from another world, beckoning you and keeping you spellbound. 🙂

    Forget the furry Fräulein – sounds too hopped-up to appreciate anything outside her window.

  • I am so, so glad to read this–now I know I’m not the only one.

    Although, I must say, here in Germany where I live, people see it as their CITIZENLY DUTY to yell at you for every little thing they perceive as a slight against them, or the system. Because they’ve never done anything wrong in their entire lives. Only you have. Of course.

    The story I like to tell is one I think you would appreciate: I was walking down an entirely normal, pedestrian street in a fairly boring neighborhood in the southern part of Berlin on my way to the subway from my office after work. Now, I tend to have fairly heavy steps and know it, but this had never been pointed out to me so…ahem…politely. Until now.

    A woman passing by me actually took the time to stop in her tracks to growl the German equivalent of “oh, your boots really do sound so horrible on the pavement” (trust me, it sounds worse in German, as I’m sure you’d be able to guess).

    After surviving millions of slights like these over my five years here (and often shedding a year later, as you do), I was proud of myself for finally having the guts to stand my ground (literally). I planted myself in the spot and as she kept on walking down the street away from me, expecting no reaction from meek little me I’m sure, shouted after her the German equivalent of, “you ugly pig, is your life so pathetic that you would actually make a special effort to address a stranger just to tell her her shoes are too loud?! Go home and [German expletive that sounds rather silly but is nevertheless insulting in German] yourself!”

    it was my shining moment.

    • Everywhereist

      She complained that your boots are too loud? Good heavens. People are nuts, Giulia. NUTS.

  • Kathy

    I have to say that “you have murder in your heart” is going into my stack of standard replies…that and, if there are no volunteers there will be victims, don’t know if I can say it in French though. I love your blog and now will go for a cupcake…..!

  • P

    Oh, thank goodness I’m not the only one to whom this happens!! I will have to try your cupcake solution next time someone yells at me for no reason. Thanks for your hilarity, Everywhereist. Love this blog.

  • Oh no you poor thing!!
    Next time try the red velvet……I still have dreams about those and I left London 5 years ago.

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