A day in London without the tube

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Our perception of time is strongly linked to our memories. The more I experience things, the more I feel I have grown as a person and spent more time on this planet. The London tube sort of takes away that experience of traveling on foot or on a bus and seeing the city. I feel this way partly because I use the same line everyday, and probably see the same people. However, no one really looks at each other on the tube, and it's usually me reading a book or listening to heavy metal to drown out the harsh sound of the central line, gazing aimlessly outside the windows as I bob my head to the blast beats. On a bus, I have a window into life on the road and very different sorts of people on the bus itself. On foot it is even more interesting, seeing other people wheeze through into the hustle-bustle.

I live in a small town called Ashford. I will skip the boring details, but I have to travel to London weekly, to attend in-person lectures for my bachelors in Pharmacology at QMUL. I could have skipped lectures on the 3rd of March 2022. I did not partly because I am a massive idiot and partly because I thought I could just use the bus with ease. I forgot buses would have to handle the extra pressure and take more time. There was something else I noticed throughout the strike. London without a tube is just like a person without a personality. The tube almost defines London for me now. Yes you do have your parks, old timely buildings, a funny blue bridge - but you get them in other cities as well. Well maybe not the blue bridge but the tube just is like the icing on the cake. The nebulousness of the network, hot airtight carriages, the busy stations and the noise. It's like a whole city underneath the main city. I saw a stream of people as I sat on the bus today. It almost felt as if half of these people live in the tube.

I take the bus regularly in Ashford. One thing is common between buses in a town and the city. They are always late and always on time when you are late. I feel this is an unwritten rule. Today was a bad day, but I traveled on buses in London before the lockdown. It has the same exact timing phenomenon. People on the bus seem to be a lot more varied in London. It's always different kinds of characters that get on the buses. The drivers are bit more jerky, but I blame the city's insufferable traffic for that. In the town, the drivers are slower and sober. It's always the same kind of people on the bus. Usually its: a couple of elderly ladies and gents; a teenage boy almost as if diving into his phone; a teenage girl clearly in their rebel phase with gothic kind of makeup; a handful of children making irritable noises incessantly as their guardians bang their heads regretting not using a condom and a few doctors here and there (the bus line I use has a hospital at one end).

The tube however does not give a chance to glance at people. Partly because I am scared to make eye contact, and partly because everyone is looking down on their phones or reading a book. But there's always similar kinds of people. The bookish ones deep and lost in their texts (this is me), the bobbing their head ones to trap beats, the staring blankly at the window ones, the creep undressing their victim with sheer power of their eyes, the couple making out near the door (it specially hurts during Valentine week) and sometimes an elderly couple. It's always old people coupled on tubes. Always. Always restores my faith in love.

Despite all the new experiences (I did not want to) I'd rather have a mundane journey, because you could only observe so much and experience the difference. The routes will be same, and sooner or later the person on the buses will be same. There will be some other stereotype I will find, and my window into the world will soon be replaced by another book. London traffic will kill me before any of that happens. It's so much faster on the tube! But I do feel, now I would take a bus on and off and hopefully not because of a strike. Sometimes, I will need my window into the world in my journey and the buses dawned in red will be ready just late by half an hour.