When my husband Joe and I took a taxi from Heathrow to our hotel in London last month I was stunned by small cars – thousands of them. (We found the same true in France, Scotland and Ireland.) These matchboxes dashed around us going the wrong way. My first thought was that these people realized the importance of the price of gas and bought accordingly. Why do we refuse to do the same in the U.S.A.? My second thought I screamed to myself was, “We’re going to die making turns into oncoming traffic or circling roundabouts at warp speed.” I was never able to shake this feeling even when we were in motor coaches on tours and it was a tiny car trying to pass us on the wrong side.
The Tube, on the other hand, after I got the hang of it, was very cool. It was rational and reliable, except when one of the lines was down for repair. In 1970 I ventured onto the subway in New York and I’ve seen movies about it, but the scope of the London Underground staggered me.
And it wasn’t just the scope of the architecture. What an array of human beings enter the bowels of the earth to travel from one station to another! Every country was represented and the languages of the world abounded. Something more startling for me was hearing a group of black, brown, oriental, and white students speaking English identically with an English accent. I’ve heard multiple ethnic groups speak English in the U.S., but somehow London was different since they were all speaking the same language in a cadence very different from my own.
A multitude of colors wrapped each of these people especially in their headware. Baseball caps with red and yellow plastic flames on the sided jostled purple beanies. Yellow hard hats marched next to an occasional black beat duty helmet for police sergeants. Puffy slouchy hats vied with motorcycle helmets. Beautifully colored scarves wrapped the heads of Muslim women, although there was an occasional black religious headdress. Wool scarves, silk scarves, rain scarves, and even one holey pink net scarf matching holey pink net leotards.
The Tube took time, though people sped around on their way somewhere. We sat or stood in the train car. We stood or tried to walk past those who stood on the escalators from one level to another. We stood on the platform. All pure people watching time.
Therefore, I would choose to travel from one part of London to the other in the Underground because I had time to see, smell, hear and reflect on what I was seeing rather than craning my neck to see landmarks and toy cars whizzing by – and worrying about when the crash would occur.