Unlike SEPTA, the London Underground appears to care about its passengers’ body odors. A closer smell will reveal a strong underarm scent and warm coffee breath from a nearby passenger.
If you have to take the Tube anywhere during rush hour, there is an extremely cramped thread of discomfort going from passenger to passenger. In fact, that was Radiohead’s inspiration for “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box.” Not really. If they knew what taking the Tube was like, heading to a day job, it would probably call the song “Face Pushd Up Against Woman’s Breast for Five Minutes.” It sounds better than it is.
I decided to take the advice of my slightly-indigenous Londoner co-workers and ride the bus home from work one day. It was an opportunity to see the city above ground and veer from the constant tabloid newspaper gawking that had become habitual in the Tube. Besides, in this traveling state of looking to life for art and understanding, the unseen outside world was potentially so much more inspiring.
I could actually find a seat on the bus and gaze at the change from residential to metropolitan landscape without an overhead announcement system repeating “mind the gap” six times in six seconds. Who needs that racket when you can see where you’re going? Thirty minutes into my ride back home from work, I couldn’t believe I was already so close to home. I recognized the area by its sandwich shops, the wide sidewalks and visible size of collegians. This is it. I got off the bus and suddenly realized that I was really far from home.
So, I walked around for 45 minutes in the Bermuda Triangle of Islington, unable to locate a trusty Tube stop. The one way of transportation I knew I understood. But I naively made it a point to figure my own way, even if I was briskly walking with no sense of direction, so it didn’t look like I was disoriented.
There was no sense of worry, no sense of panic in my step – even though I was lost. Really, it was no different from my entire experience in London thus far.
One month in, the opportunity to feel true bewilderment and build from nothing has passed. My neighborhood is familiar, the Tube is familiar, the food is familiar, the people are more familiar. We’re familiar with being lost and restless and trying to find little moments to return to from, while we unconsciously reform. My soul wanders, if it ever does, and the meandering is fine.
Undeniably, there has been a shift in perspective to stagnation, guilt, comfort, in weather, friendships, expectations, and there’s been a slowly building sense of belonging.
Chris Zakorchemny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.