Down the tube

I took my first London Underground trip in about three months this morning, having become a Brit Back In Water for a couple of days. I was always a bit of a bus-catching man when I actually lived here, so rush hour on the tube still comes as a bit of a shock to the system. Despite all my moaning about the New York subway, any length of time spent on the tube makes you realise that the London system has just as many foibles and inadequacies. In particular:

• It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than to make your way down a tube platform which contains more than, say, five people. Getting off the Victoria line and making your way to the District & Circle line is turned into an epic marathon that requires the packing of emergency rations such as Kendal Mint Cake, just in case you don’t make it before nightfall.

• The Subway Barger has a distant cousin in Tubethumper, the all-elbows woman who insists on forcing her way on to the train through a crowd of ten or so people all attempting to make their way off.

• A 6ft 2 person requires a qualification in advanced yoga to be able to stand wedged up against a tube train door, given the impossibly small nature of the carriages.

• Travelling on the Underground without an Oystercard requires a budget only marginally lower than NASA’s expenditure on the space shuttle programme. Particularly when the currency of your bank account has as much value in the external world as Monopoly money.

• You always need a ticket to get out of the tube, as well as to get in. Forgetting that crucial fact tends not to go down a treat with the five hundred or so people behind you desperately clamouring to get out of the station. It’s particularly galling given my rant about Oystercard Unreadiness Syndrome a few months ago.

Of course, the tube’s still got plenty of things going for it, notably the fact that there are maps everywhere you look, rather than one per carriage in New York (if you’re lucky). And there’s a train every minute or so in rush hour, rather than once in a blue moon on the subway.

Despite all its faults, you can’t help but love the tube (and marvel at the sheer engineering effort that its creation must have taken). I plumped for the subway when asked to pick between it and the tube in an interview that appeared in New York’s Metro yesterday. Now I’m feeling guilty that I’ve forsaken my former solid transport friend for my new more glamorous (but terminally impunctual) New York companion.

I’m sure the guilt will fade when I’ve had to sell a kidney in order to make a journey a couple of stops away this evening.

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