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And to top it off... 

There are a couple of bum things about living in Florida. I know that we enjoy a lovely climate, low taxes and some other pleasantries that don't pole vault to mind just at this moment. But dammit, we don't get to wear hats.

Sure, some guys wear backwards ballcaps, a fashion statement that says, "I cain't tell whar mah face is." Then there are the little white suburban boys who wear woolen touks in the dead of summer to emulate their favorite rap stars. Heat-induced rain damage has made them forget that their icons probably live someplace where it snows and not here on the surface of the sun. These two types wear hats, it's true. And they look like idiots. Normal people know that you could pressure cook your brains (a delicacy in France) just by wearing a ventilated skullcap out in the Florida sun. I know people wear them, but more for sunblock than for appearance. It's depressing to see substance put so frequently before style that style seems to have gotten its feelings hurt and moved away from here for good.

Another downside of Florida living is tourists. They meander so slowly and stupidly you have to check their heads for where the frontal lobe incision was made. Their desire for attractions and themed restaurants is why tourist districts often look like graveyards for giant pinball machines. Actually, though, I kind of like them. They provide a petty reason to sulk and bitch, thus allowing us all to live in a perpetual state of pissy adolescence, which I enjoy completely.

The good thing about living here is going on vacation. Then you get to be the tourist. You get to be the one who cripples foot traffic like a human hair clog and asks, "What time is the 7:30 show?" And you get a hat.

Making head way

Well, I got a hat. It is Absolutely Fabulous, which is fair since I got it very near Holland Park where Patsy and Edina live. It's a black straw bell-shaped hat, nice looking but comfortable in the heat. I had to travel to one of the world's dreariest climates to find perfect summer headgear.

It was worth it. As I wandered one of London's more touristy areas -- near Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament -- I started noticing tons of women in hats. Serious hats. Hats you don't see away from the polo stands or outside Audrey Hepburn movies. I even started to notice men walking around in bowlers, carrying umbrellas, guys who looked like the father in "Mary Poppins," a look I never imagined anyone outside a sepia photograph ever wore. I figured my chic new accessory had magnetized me to the advanced hat crowd. I had no idea I was about to be catapulted into the hat stratosphere.

Stopping at Victoria Embankment Garden, I asked a police officer the name of the beautiful but unmarked building he was guarding. It was a hotel, he said and, unsolicited, he offered that shortly Queen Elizabeth would be passing by in her car, if I'd like to see her.

Bingo. That's why the hat crowd was popping up everywhere. And it could only have been my hat that made him offer me this information. The hat conveyed the message, "Wearer deserves to be in the company of royals." I did the only thing a proper American tourist could do. I got a bagful of McDonald's and stood there eating fries, waiting on the queen.

Crowning achievement

Only a small handful of lucky peasants had the skinny on Miss Lizzie's whereabouts. She was going to be in the courtyard to make a speech and unveil a war-memorial statue, activities that the hat crowd, about 200 of them, had paid for bleacher seats to witness. The peasants would get to see her for free. It's a wonder the hat crowd has any money at all, when they don't even know how to get a freebie when one is available.

Queenie arrived, preceded by what looked like an overgrown Tonka tank. She looked bigger in person than she does on TV and about 100 years older. This is actually a good thing. Elizabeth never had what you'd call a girlish face; in fact, if a 76-year-old can be said to have finally grown into their looks, it's her. She went through all the motions she was supposed to, wearing a flowered skirt, mint-colored jacket and, most important, a fuschia hat that you probably could have seen from the Florida turnpike.

"I've lived in London my whole life and I've never seen the queen. You're here for a week and you see her." I was to hear this several times over the next few days. What can I say? It was beginner's luck. I was under the impression she was out there all the time, opening malls, christening boats, making public-service announcements, kind of the way Mickey Mouse presides over Disney World by hanging around in the street.

It was cool for someone from the ultimate tourist locale to have the ultimate tourist experience halfway around the world. Now when people say, "Pussy cat pussy cat, where have you been?," I can answer without hesitation, "I've been to London to visit the queen." The only reason she didn't say "hi" and chat for a while was, I'm sure, because I had the superior hat. You know how queens are.

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