The Day I Learned the Tube

The alarm on my phone went off at 6:30 am, but I had already been awake for fifteen minutes. I debated hitting the snooze button enabling me to remain in the large, warm bed for another ten minutes, but I knew I had to be at Kings Cross before 9:30 and I would need to pick up breakfast on the way. Reluctantly, I turned the alarm off and rolled out of bed.

I was ready within an hour. I carefully checked each room of the flat and made sure I hadn’t left anything behind. I took one last look at the living room. That’s where I had watched the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who. I smiled wistfully and turned to leave grabbing my bags on the way out. I locked the flat, took the elevator to the second floor and dropped the key in the mailbox for Flat 6. As I closed the door to the apartment building behind me, I felt a pang of sadness. It’s always sad to leave a place. Even if it’s a place where you haven’t spent a great deal of time.

The DLR station was across the street. I made my way up the ramp toward the ExCel Centre and swiped my Oyster card on the way to the platform. This was going to be child’s play. All I had to do was reverse my route from two days ago. DLR to West Ham, West Ham to Kings Cross via the Hammersmith and City line. The DLR came within seven minutes and I was off.

West Ham was four stops away. As I sat with my luggage against my knees, I thought back to the year I spent in New York City. The subway had been quite daunting at first, but by the end of the year, I could navigate to almost anywhere with ease. I began to feel that the London Tube was an even easier system to learn. Everything was well signed and clear. The train arrived at West Ham and I made my way to the platform to pick up the Hammersmith and City line towards Hammersmith. Eleven stops and I would be enjoying a cup of tea and a crumpet at Kings Cross while I waited for my 9:30 train to Durham.

I looked at the electronic sign which displayed approaching trains and became suspicious when I didn’t see the train I needed. Then I heard the announcement, the harbinger of a morning of stress and improvisation.
“Passengers, please be advised that  due to engineering work, the Hammersmith and City line is closed between Moorgate and Barking.”

I closed my eyes and sighed a deep breath. This was not going to be easy. I desperately looked on the Tube map to try to figure out an alternate route. The Jubilee Line was also closed between Waterloo and Finchley for engineering work. In my panic, I had no idea what to do. I went back up the stairs and wandered back to the DLR. Perhaps I could backtrack. It was only 7:45 and if I went back to Canning Town, maybe I could take another DLR line to…closures on the DLR as well. I checked the app I had downloaded on my phone and the poor think had no idea what to do with itself. I had seen no attendants to ask for advice. I imagined being stuck at West Ham for the rest of my life, wandering aimlessly between platforms in some sort of British equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. Lost forevermore. As my panic began to rise, I heard a voice behind me.

“Excuse me, is this the right side for Stratford?”

It was an older man, short and heavy, with a  rough accent. I nodded. I could at least help someone else out.

“Thanks,” he replied. I took a chance.

“I’m trying to get to Kings Cross but with all of these line closures I’m not sure how to do it,” I explained.

“Let’s see then,” he smiled and turned to the Tube map. “Alright, what you want to do is take the Jubilee Line to London Bridge and then take the Northern Line up to Kings Cross. It’s the long way around but it’s probably the best way.”

“Okay, thank you so much,” I replied. I was truly grateful.

I walked as quickly as I could to the Jubilee Line platform. I had been there five minutes before but thought it wouldn’t get me where I needed to be seeing as there were also closures there. I checked my app. The closure was after London Bridge and service on the Northern Line was delayed slightly, but there were no closures. The train arrived in three minutes and I boarded the Jubilee Line towards Waterloo.

London Bridge was the sixth stop. I began to relax. I had a plan and it was only 8:00 am. I would still have time to grab breakfast and…

“Please be advised that the Northern Line is closed at London Bridge and Waterloo due to signal failure at Kennington.”

Really? I thought. Now someone is just having me on. Can they really be closing every conceivable route to Kings Cross? I whipped out my phone and not for the first time felt a great relief that I had gone with a smart phone. This time I ignored trip planner and let my New York subway sense (not unlike Spiderman’s spidey sense) guide me. At Waterloo I could pick up the Bakerloo Line to Baker Street and then the Hammersmith and City Line to Kings Cross. No wait. Bakerloo to Picadilly Circus. Then the Picadilly Line to Kings Cross. I had so far not heard of any closings on either of those lines and it would cut out two stops. We approached London Bridge and I watched anxiously as passengers disembarked. No turning back now. I was on to Plan C and I was sticking with it.

I arrived at Waterloo and followed the signs to Bakerloo northbound. The train would arrive in three minutes. It was now 8:30. I had an hour to make my train, I concluded, barring further interference from closures and delays, I would most likely still be able to grab breakfast and eat on the train. As I waited, I looked at the map of the line. It stopped at Baker Street. I so wanted to go there; to see 221B and walk around downtown London. Despite the anxiety, I was honestly having a good time. This was problem solving at its most practical. It required logic and improvisation, two skills the Great Detective possessed and praised. I wished I had a later train. I would go up to Baker Street and spend some time there. Then I would wander around downtown London. Despite not seeing most of the city, I felt more at home there than in Durham. I enjoyed the rivers of people, the infrastructure, and the energy. It was more familiar and more comforting. It was the same feeling I get when I’m in New York.

The train arrived, slightly delayed, but it arrived. Three stops would place me in Picadilly Circus. Then four stops and I would finally be at Kings Cross. When I got to the platform to pick up the Picadilly Line however, the electronic readout was not encouraging. The train was held. I glanced at the clock. It couldn’t be 8:40 already! I thought incredulously. I couldn’t have been travelling for over an hour before I even began travelling! It was no lie. The train finally arrived at 8:42 and I was finally on a train that would stop at Kings Cross.

I disembarked and made my way quickly to the centre of the station where there were large screens with the trains and platforms. I looked at them all and finally found the 9:30 to Newcastle. It was on time but the platform wasn’t posted yet. I turned and saw a coffee shop. I went in and grabbed a cheese and mushroom Panini, fruit salad, and water. When I went back out to look at the boards, I noticed the time. It had just turned 9:00. Not only had I made it in time, but I had made it in plenty of time.


I relaxed allowing my shoulders to finally rest below my ears. The London Underground, I thought, it’s a piece of piss, really

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