Monday, July 31, 2006

Sweating on the Tube

After enjoying the high life of the business class lounge, I boarded British Airways flight 114 to fly business class to London overnight. Once settled into my seat, I was handed a glass of champagne. Although I had already consumed several drinks in the lounge, I find it hard to resist champagne! After takeoff I rested my weary and by now somewhat inebriated head on a cloth pillowcase, pulled my blanket up under my chin, and slept soundly for nearly 5 hours in the “cocooned environment with award-winning armchair style seat that converts into a 6-foot fully flat bed.” At daybreak I was awakened to croissants and fresh fruit for breakfast. (I turned down the bacon roll.) The coffee was terrible, so I traded it for tea which was fantastic.

Once we landed and I got through customs, I collected my luggage and headed for the London Underground. The last time I was in London, the station was right there at Heathrow Airport. However, due to construction, one must now take a shuttle bus to the Hattan Cross station. I loaded my luggage onto the bus for the quick 5-minute ride. At Hattan Cross I got my Oyster card (weekly travel pass) and set off for the hotel via the tube (subway). I was pleased with myself for getting all I’d need for an 8-day trip into a rolling suit bag and my backpack-style laptop carrier. Both those bags were pretty full, granted, but there were only two of them. Very practical for traveling on the tube.

I had plotted a route that required only 2 changes on the Underground before switching to the Docklands Light Rail, the train went closest to my hotel in the Docklands on the far East side of London. Feeling confident and enthusiastic, I took the Piccadilly Line to the Jubillee Line, which promptly announced a power outage as soon as I reached the platform. Bad omen. Back I went to the Piccadilly Line via the very long underground passageway at that transfer point. I reboarded the Piccadilly line, going back 4 stops in the direction I had just come, so I could change to the District line. Up to this point I had been lucky enough to find lifts (elevators) so I could avoid lugging the rolling suit bag up and down stairs when changing trains. However, the District line had no lifts, and no escalators either. By now this trip was no longer fun. I rode the hot, unventilated District train for a very long way, then changed to the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) and in the process had to negotiate more stairs. Now, the DLR has about 5 different routes. I needed a Lewiston train which, wouldn’t you know it, wasn’t running that day! To get it, I was advised to take any train at all to the Westferry stop, then CHANGE AGAIN to the Lewiston train. In case you've lost count by now -- I know I did -- I'll summarize it for you: counting the shuttle bus, I transferred SEVEN TIMES in all, and spent over 2.5 hours on trains that were not air conditioned on one of the hottest days of the summer!

My husband asked me why I didn’t just bail out of the whole effort and take a cab. In hindsight, that’s what I should have done. But I had forgotten to get cash at Heathrow and wasn’t sure how easily I could find an ATM up on the street. Since I was unfamiliar with the neighborhoods where I was changing trains, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to hail a cab even if I was successful in getting cash. On the other hand, I was confident about my abilities to negotiate the London Underground, having been in London twice before. I figured it was best to stick with what I knew.

By the time I was checked into the hotel, my clothes were soaked with sweat. I peeled them off and jumped immediately into the shower. Afterwards, I thought about the lovely business class lounge and flight, followed by the muggy and sweltering trains with their power outages. What a contrast! A verse from the New Testament (Philippians 4:12) popped into my head. The Apostle Paul says, “I know both how to be abased and how to abound…” I guess I can say a hearty amen to that!

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
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