London Calling: The Tube

“Welcome to the UK.  May I have your passport, please?” asked the customs official in a proper accent.  Now you’re talking my language!  No more of this bonjourno or ciao crap!

After a question or two and a stamp of the passport, I had officially become a visitor of the UK.  And man, with less than an hour had been spent, my outlook was already on the up and up!

To be honest though, everybody had talked the place up at work, telling me where to go, what to see, and how to get there!  “Oh, you can take the Tube anywhere,” mentioned my boss.  “It’s easy!  They’re all over the place…”  Wait, the Tube?  What’s a Tube?

***

My topcoat and parted hairline cloaked any traces of my foreign status as I walked down the steps to this supposed “Tube,” though it looked a lot like a subway if you asked me (FYI, they have funny names for a lot of their stuff over there).  The British have a tendency to be much more presentable in their fashion, at least in public.  And the girls like to do themselves up big time, especially on a Friday night!  Like, “holy cow, you must’ve spent hours in front of the mirror putting on make-up,” style of done up!

And get this… one even talked to me!  Schya, I know.  Kind of a big deal, right?!

I’ll never forget the look she gave me, that layer of glittered makeup, the precisely drawn-on eyebrows, her crispy, blond hair caked in product, the hair spray stinging the nostrils.  As I looked at her, there was but one thought that consumed my mind… “Man, I hope nobody lights a cigarette nearby!”

She turned her head, expecting her two friends walking next to her.  Instead, there was me.  Out comes a shrill gasp.  Taken aback, her eyes widen and mouth hangs agape.  “Ohae, Christ!”

Quickly, she scurries past me and finds her girlfriends.  No matter.  I had Tubes to ride, places to be.

Friday nights on the Tube can be a little tight as well.  For better or worse the skinny cabs of the Piccadilly line force you to get cozy with your fellow commuters.

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At least their seats are more like couches.  Before being packed in like a can of sardines, I found an open spot on one and got comfortable.

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A few crackles on the Tube intercom brought the patrons to attention.  I remained calm, having heard these types of official announcements many a time riding the DC Metro.  “Attention green line passengers,” the voice would usually say in a succinct manner.  “The elevators at the Mount Vernon Square Station are currently out of operation.  Maintenance will be conducted on Sunday, from 6 AM to 8 PM.  I braced myself for something similar, more professional and proper, of course, as is the British custom.

“Why ello dere,” mentioned the operator.  Wait a minute, is the operator a 15-year-old boy?  A slight paused commenced before the young lad continued with his official, important, Tube-sponsored announcement.  “Well… you might be wonderin’ why when you try to go north at the Wimbledon station, they keep on makin’ you go south.”

…No, not really, but yes, continue.

“Well, dats because… and actually, you’ll probably hear about this on the news lata…”

Go on…

“…But the power cables… they fell down.  They’re layin’ down on the tracks… all of em’.  Another long pause commenced.

 “The last time this has happened has been… why, since before I can even rememba…”

And that was it.  That was the entire announcement.  I sat back and took a deep breath.  What the hell was that?

So yea, I guess you could say there are some interesting characters on Tube.  I mean, get a load of this guy with his kazoo keyboard, trying to be the next Ed Sheeren or something!

Honestly though, he wasn’t too far off!  His style was enigmatic, a collaborative combination of instruments classified as juvenile, yet captivating.  The patrons couldn’t help but engulf themselves in his interpretation of the classic tune, “Jingle Bells,” especially the lady across from me!  She acted like she was annoyed, as did I, burying her face into her phone and everything.  Her eventual toe tapping gave away the façade.

But his musical endeavors didn’t come without consequence.  Stop after stop, new passengers boarded, greeted by his siren song.  And one by one, they stayed and listened, put under a soporific-like spell the minute they entered the Tube.

The lady across from me… she took it the hardest.  Struck by his soothing voice and her phone forever removed from her face, she lost herself, her eyes fading, unwilling to move from her spot on the couch… not for the end of the world—

“Oh my God!”  Her rising face and deep gasp said it all.  Precious seconds spent in a blissful existence of song and dance were no more—this was her stop!

She shot up and made a break for the exit, minding the gap the furthest thing from her mind.  “She’ll never make it,” I thought to myself as I watched the doors come to a swift close in front of her face.  “They’re moving too fast.  She’s doomed, her entire day—ruined!  How will she ever get off—”

Wham!  The doors slammed, separated only by mere inches.  Without missing a beat, the music man shoved his foot in the middle, right in the nick of time.  “Jingle bells, jingle bells,” he continued… but the doors were relentless—determined to shut, no matter the casualties.  They opened once again, only to shut on his delicate foot with twice the force.  Unfortunately, a Tube entertainer’s salary doesn’t always provide for adequate footwear.

This music man was undeterred, however; his commuters deserved better than this.  In a courageous display of might, he took another step, wedging his body between the doors.  Sacrificing his body, the lady stepped past before either could be crushed.  “Jingle all the way…”

Pop!  The doors slammed into each other.  On one side, the lady walked her way to luxury, never to acknowledge her savior, ever again.  On the other side, the music man stood, stoic and un-phased at the fact that he was nearly decapitated.  “Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh, hey!”  He sends me a wink and a smile, needing no praise for performing his civic duty.  He knows I’ve enjoyed his performance; my stupid grin gives it away.  I reward him abundantly with a pocket full of pounds.

***

It’s getting late, and even in London’s prestigious Trafalgar Square, the underground corridors can become a bit sketchy, let alone tricky to navigate, especially for a foreigner like myself.  At such a late hour, the usual commuters tend to vacate, leaving the unsavory to populate the Tube’s tunnels.

I walk alone, eyeing the end of a corridor that looks to be the exit near my hotel, at least one can only hope.  To my left sit two homeless kids, their belongings spread out across the ground.  A line of a brownish/green substance lays on top of an open piece of cigarette paper.  OPSEC ringing, I surge forward, not willing to stick around and find out what type of herb they were using.

The boy begins to speak.  “It’s Lokke,” I imagine he says.  I can’t quite understand though, nor do I try to.  Just pretend like he wasn’t talking to you.  Works every time.

“It’s Loke!” He says again, louder this time, and more legible.  Still, my mind is races, survival instincts overcoming.  Ignore him.  Keep walking, and whatever you do, don’t stop.  The exit’s only—

“IT’S LOCKED YOU BLOODY BLOKE!”  I freeze, coming to a realization.  Ahh, this exit must be locked!

I turn to address the lad.  “Oh.  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.  The exit is locked you say?”  I thank him for the friendly suggestion and turn back.

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“You know, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this ‘Tube’ thing,” I thought to myself as I emerged from the depths of the underground a block away from my hotel.  “It’s a shame I only have a day to spend here.  I was really starting to feel at home in the UK.  It’s sort of like I was a natural…”

…A native.

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