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So, I got a publishing job recently, and so far, I’ve learned how to get out of the building (on my first day, I had to ask someone), where to find the vending machine, and that by the time you get an email saying that this month’s free book is available in the atrium, you’re probably already too late.
By virtue of my new job, I am also one of the 800 million—at least, it seems like it—privileged London dwellers who experience the daily delights of either the bus, train, or tube in order to get to work—in my case, all three. That hour-and-a-bit journey there and back has inspired this post, in which I dissect my observations of the London commute.
First, what is it with the rush in rush hour? Why is everyone in such a hurry anyway? Are we all late? We can’t all be that in love with our jobs, can we? I’m not one of those people who stand on the left side of the escalator, but neither am I one who barrels down it, knocking over the elderly in order to shove myself onto an already crowded tube. Maybe you do love your job, fair enough, but in a culture where it’s not okay to talk to strangers, it’s somehow okay to press yourself against said strangers in order to fit onto a train, never mind that there’s another one coming in just one minute…? How do we reconcile that? I won’t talk to you, but I’ll stick my face in your armpit so I can get to work a minute earlier. It seems that the average London commuter applies situational ethics to the otherwise strict laws of personal space.
We could all chill out, myself included. I often find myself walking briskly and navigating in twists and turns around slow people because everyone else is. It’s only when I think about it that I slow down, which helps me squeeze a bit more enjoyment out of the necessary slog of life. Hey, I like my job, but I’m fine with not getting there before 9:30.
Now, the bus. Why do people get angry at the bus driver when they forget their Oyster card, or wallet, or whatever it is that’s crucial to getting around in society? Maybe that’s why everyone’s in sprint mode once they get to the tube station—someone stood arguing with the bus driver for 15 minutes about how they should be let on the bus when they have no credit, no ticket and no money, and now we really are all late for work. That’s why you knocked that lady over and wriggled onto the train, your rucksack getting stuck in the doors, delaying the train anyway.
The commuting culture doesn’t waste time, physically or mentally. We’ve made it onto the train, just barely, and wrenched our rucksack out of the door, and now we are either too bored or too busy to just stand there, so we fill our minutes with entertainment or, funnily enough, work on the way to work. The other day I had a seat on the train—a miracle—in that group of six seats, the three facing three set-up. I was in the middle, surrounded by five men, and every man sat there with his phone out. I almost got out my phone to take a picture but I probably would’ve had to stand up to get them all in it. I changed my mind, deeming it slightly creepy. Besides, someone would’ve stolen my seat.
When you get on tomorrow’s commute, put your newspaper down for a second and look around the carriage. Is there anyone without headphones, a phone, a newspaper, a book, a Kindle, an iPad, a laptop, or a magazine? Does that person who just sits and watches the world go by (ok, darkness, if they’re on the tube) exist anymore, or have we all developed fidgety hands and a restless mind?
Here’s a challenge. Pick a day when you’re not late, when the emails can wait until you get to the office. I dare you to walk at a normal pace. I dare you to leave the newspaper on the dwindling stack, to ignore your buzzing phone, to keep the headphones in your bag. I dare you to give up Angry Birds for one day.
You might be bored out of your mind, but maybe you’ll start the day a little less rushed, and notice something new.
Go on, I dare you.
Shannon Evans, originally from Florida, moved to London in December 2011. A lover of culture and language, she blogs at Litro about her observations of British culture in her column 'English Lessons from an American' and interviews various people in publishing and the media for 'Litro Meets'. She has been published in The Bradenton Herald and in Changing London magazine. Her favourite book is Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.