After all, I have to admit, I enjoy living in London. Many of the things I ended up appreciating the most are those that newly arrived immigrants tend to despise at the time of initial impact. The bustle of the city gifts me with an anonymity that I happily live within, and while standing in line, day in and day out, on the escalators to reach that formicary that is the underground I am reminded of my place in the world. One in millions. No one in millions.
To meet a familiar face on the tube is an exceptional event. Even when you live on the same line and work the same hours. And that’s because on the eleven lines that intertwine themselves through two hundred and seventy or so stations, trains pass one after the other, in peak time, every forty five or so seconds and each train has a dozen or so mainly ventilated carriages inside of which hundreds of tired people cram themselves elbow to elbow, wet coat to wet coat, to be transported back and forth to wherever it is they are headed. Almost one and a half billion lives every year travelling north and south, east and west, crossing each other through eleven lines and two hundred and seventy or so stations every forty five or so seconds, but letting each other flow freely, avoiding contact at any cost in the hope of reaching the final destination without ever having their already fragile mental peace dented by the unwelcome thoughts of a stranger that has chosen to express him or herself out loud. Eyes down, earphones on, Candy Crush at hand. Safe from conversation. This I also like about London. We don’t have much to tell each other anyway.
Standard! Standard! Standard! You can hear the scream at every or almost every station.
Not even that bad of a newspaper for being free, with lots of pages, lots of pictures, lots of words. On my journeys from Zone 1 to Zone 2 I only have time to read two articles, so, when possible, the decision has to be made wisely. But it isn’t always possible, as peak time doesn’t allow for the paper to be open and readable, causing me to fold it between my legs with the thought in mind that in this place it is more important to be polite than to be informed. Fair enough.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Oyster Cards hit the automatic gates.
I had been told that the District line was the least reliable of all lines. To me it seems good enough, taking me more or less in time, more or less close to wherever it is I have to go. And in the rare case of an accident, a suicide, a homicide or any other obstacle that causes the slowing down of traffic, this cannot even be used as an excuse to be late, as each single line has its very own Twitter account. Transport For London has twenty-one different accounts, one for each of its services, with hundreds of tweets produced every day that recount in a live stream the smooth or not so smooth running of operations. I find it beautiful.
Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! Transport For London alerts me about disruptions, lets me know that everything is ok, and asks for forgiveness when an unfortunate event causes a deviation from expectation. Transport For London is my friend, somehow.
An orderly column of human beings takes shape on the escalators. A sign says “Stand on the right, please.” And on the right we stand, all of us, apart from those that have to reach their minimum number of daily steps before being psychologically punished by their never cheating FitBits. Then we get to the platform. Let people out before you jump in. Patience. Order. I like patience. I like order.
I realize that the pressure is not in the number of rules that have to be followed to fit in the system, but in the idea of not being good enough for this system. I have developed a mild tube anxiety. Take the priority seat: “For people who are disabled, pregnant or less able to stand”. It’s not as easy as it sounds. How pregnant does a pregnant woman have to be to take the place of a very old man? And how old does a person have to be to be considered old without getting offended for being considered old? I can’t possibly be the only one confronting these calculations, but, still, every time the whistling of the brakes announces the arrival to the next station I feel the cold sweat staining my shirt for the for the fear of new passengers expecting what is rightfully theirs without me knowing if it’s rightfully theirs or not. I made up an equation that I thought would be effective in deciding for me:
Priority = Pregnant Woman if Age of Old Person < (Age of Probable Death – 9 Months)
One could think that the simple solution is to just stand up and let anyone sit down. There couldn’t be a more dangerous mistake in the land of political correctness. What if I get up for a pregnant woman and then it turns out she is just fat? What if I get up for a fat woman knowing she is fat, letting her silently know that I think she is fat, fact of which she was not aware about? What if I get up to let any woman sit down out of politeness and then it turns out that that woman is a feminist and then she starts blaming me for being the unconscious actor of the patriarchal agenda for letting her take a seat just because she is a woman? What if I get up to let a man at the end of his twelve hour shift sit down instead of a woman because I am myself a feminist, presuming she is also a feminist and will appreciate the gesture but instead starts screaming in my face that she has been working for fourteen hours straight crunched on a laptop and doesn’t give a fuck about morals but at the same time the fact that I assumed that a man works longer and harder than her highlights how I am only coated with feminism on the outside while internally I still am nothing more than another disgusting actor in the patriarchal agenda, without adding that I only did it to impress her which makes all my ideals so contradictory I should just pull the emergency brakes and go lie down on the tracks to be chewed up by rabies infected rats?
Thump. Thump. Thump. My heart beats every time I ride the tube.