>It’s no news that I hate commuting. I realise now just how lucky I’ve been in the past when it has come to the whole commuting… thing.
In Vancouver, I lived just a seven minute walk to the office (nine on the way back, it was uphill home). In Korea, the furthest I lived from the school was at most a ten minute walk (and I eventually moved even closer – it took longer to take the elevator up six stories than it did for me to walk to the school). Even in London, although I have had to go through commuting hell a few times, I’ve also been lucky enough to live within walking distance to work twice now (helps that I’ve moved five times and changed jobs four times).
I’m hard pressed to say what the worst commute was. From Blackheath (Greenwich) to Fulham was not fun. Hackney to Richmond was not fun. The Late Bus of Evilness was not fun (especially once school was back in session).
My current commute is middling to fair. I can take the dreaded District Line (why does it crawl along like that!) from Southfields to Tower Hill. At least there are no changes. Or I can take the overground from Earlsfield to Waterloo, then the Jubilee Line from Waterloo to London Bridge. That second option is pretty fast and I actually walk more than I train (which is cool).
Usually the train is fine. Today I did see a woman pick something out of her ear and then stick that same finger in her mouth. Which may be one of the more disgusting things I’ve ever seen on the train. And I usually don’t get a seat and the train is really cramped from Earlsfield to Clapham Junction… but the journey is all of five minutes so I don’t mind.
Something happened on the trip today that got me thinking a bit. I mean, other than the disgusting woman. We were delayed rolling into London Bridge, due to “a problem at the London Bridge station”. Usually these sorts of delays get my dander up (especially if I’m running late – and today I was running late) but the calm, smooth voice of the driver actually helped me relax. He sounded vaguely like James Earl Jones and I kept expecting him to add “babies” to the end of his announcements. So I was fairly relaxed about the situation but usually I would have been in a wee knot about running late. No one likes being trapped in the underground.
You never know what “a problem” at the station could be. I’ve heard announcements about left luggage, idiots effing around with the emergency button, heart attacks, leaves on the tracks, bodies on the tracks, signal failure, etc, etc. And you know the scary part? None of those register any differently for me as a commuter. One would think that as a fellow human being I would be more understanding about a heart attack than a signal failure, but as a commuter I can’t believe anyone would be so inconsiderate as to have a heart attack on the train and mess up my journey.
But today I saw “the problem” at London Bridge station. Someone was down. Lying on the station floor wrapped in a blanket with medics and staff trying to shield her body from those going by. Someone was shining a light in her eyes, looking for a response.
It wasn’t her response I saw… it was the response of the commuters around her. Some were openly gawking and others, like me, were having a look but continuing on, trying not to stare. I was concerned for her, but knew I couldn’t help and didn’t want to turn into an accident vulture. I try to not rubberneck when there’s an accident on the motorway either.
But the majority of people were completely oblivious. They didn’t even look. They just powerwalked their way past the prone woman and the medics surrounding her and pushed their way up the escalators. They never noticed.
Which got me thinking.
It’s hard here, sometimes. In London. You end up lost in a sea of humanity that you rub up against but rarely actually touch. Disconnected, disjointed and often discontent, people have trouble reaching out to others. A side effect of having no personal space when you commute; you push people away as much as you can to find room to breathe.
I hope that woman is alright. I hope that if something like that happens to me, someone will reach out. I hope I don’t forget to reach out to others. To connect. To stay connected. To never forget that behind each person on my commute is a story I can’t even begin to construct. I hope to remain human in a city that erodes humanity.