a blog of intensely low readership

05 October, 2005

The Wrong Direction

I have to give a speech tomorrow where I tell a story from my life. So I thought I'd share with my extensive reader base the story I plan to tell (in roughly the same way as I intend to tell it). And here it is:

A year and a half ago I spent a semester abroad in London with my girlfriend Jodi. The trip itself was quite costly, and while the fee paid covered the vast majority of our expenses (food, shelter, tuition, and several side trips), we were responsible for any incidental expenses. So we were told that anywhere from $1500 - $4500 is a good amount to have tucked away for the nearly four months we'd be in Europe.

Unfortunately, after all was said and done, we each found ourselves on a plane bound to England with only around $1000 each in our proverbial pockets. So this is a story about frugality.

We did quite well. We managed to get ourselves to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales for a weekend each, check out Bath, Stonehenge, Cambridge, and even spend a weekend in sunny Brighton on the shore of the English channel. We saw Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, went to half a dozen castles, and this doesn't even count all of the experiences we had in London. We managed this by budgeting almost all of our money on entrance fees and (only when necessary) travel. We kept our travel costs down by adopting the following policy:

  1. If our destination was within an hour or so walk, it was walking we did

  2. If transportation was necessary, it was either via the Underground or bus (depending on our time constraints)

In order to be London peds, we needed to become quite familiar with the general geography of London. Unfortunately, London streets are not very conducive to familiarity. The roads are a spider web of twists and turns, frequent name changes, and non-perpendicular structure. So we needed a map. Two maps. And by the end of our trip, both of them were nearly worn to bits. But we became very familiar with our new home, and frequently (when in central London) didn't need a map at all. Sometimes we didn't even bring our map with us. Once in a while this led to trouble. So this is also a story about overconfidence.

One evening we decided to check out a movie. Of course, we scoured the listings for the most inexpensive movie, and it happened to be quite a ways away. So we needed transportation. And we took the bus because it was the least expensive method (only £1 each way). And by habit, misfortune, or conceit, we left our trusty map behind.

Using our honed bus-schedule-reading skills, we arrived at the cinema in plenty of time. The show was enjoyable, and at 11 PM we found ourselves standing outside the Clapham Picture House under a light drizzle. The bus stop was directly across the street from the cinema, but things were not as simple as hopping on the first bus to stop by and heading home. There are hundreds of different bus routes in London, so you have to very carefully study the schedule to determine the proper double-decker for your journey. We concurred that bus 37 was our ticket home, and patiently awaited its arrival.

Fifteen minutes passed, and still no bus 37. Twenty minutes passed, and we continued to wait. As we lingered, bus N37 passed by several times, and we began to wonder: perhaps that is our bus? Maybe the N was a new addition and the schedule we were looking at was outdated. Or maybe the N just didn't matter at all... But we continued to wait. This couldn't be the case. We knew better than to lightly hop on a bus that we thought was correct. One needs to be certain of these things, especially when the routes are so varied and numerous.

But it was cold, and slightly rainly, and our impatience overcame our caution. We hopped on N37. After double-checking the routes, we had concluded that N37 was probably the correct bus, and either way we weren't willing to wait any longer.

Things were going well. We saw familiar buildings from our trip down to the cinema, and generally had that feeling that we were headed in the right direction. We then came to a roundabout that was very familiar, only this time something unexpected happened. We continued round the roundabout a bit rounder than before, and then began to head off in a new direction that we weren't as familiar with.

But it was getting late, and a combination of the novelty of sitting in the front row of the second story of a famous London double-decker bus and the late hour (by now it was nearing midnight) doused our suspicion over this unexpected turn. Perhaps N37 took a slightly different route, but nonetheless was still headed back to central London, we speculated.

The bus continued onward, and as more and more people gradually seeped out its doors we became increasingly apprehensive over our current situation. It was nearing 12:30 AM, and by all reckoning we were heading further and further from our cozy hostel, and the bus was nearly empty.

Then, just as the last person on our bus departed, the bus suddenly lurched forward about 10 feet and abruptly stopped. Everything was quiet for a few seconds, and Jodi and I just looked at each other, mouthes agape. The lights went out. And the bus engine died.

We weren't sure what the procedure was in this situation. No one had made a last call or otherwise informed us that the bus was now done with its route. Dumbfounded, we decided to descend the stairs and see if perhaps the bus driver could be of some assistance.

At this point I was remembering the sign that I read many times as I entered a London bus. "Do not speak to driver." Surely this would qualify as an extenuating circumstance, and the driver would give us some tips on what was happening. Nope. The driver sat their, eating his corned beef sandwich and reading the Times, completely ignoring us. We were again dumbfounded, so we sat down and waited. After the bus driver had finished his snack and reading, he mumbled something to us about how the bus would turn around and head back the way it came. Fifteen minutes later, we were back on the road, on our way home to central London.

It wasn't until about 2:00 AM that morning that we arrived back at our hostel, completely exhausted both mentally and physically. But we did learn that evening that frugality and presumption could lead to undesirable ends. That certainly didn't stop us from enjoying our semester (or from continuing to watch the budget). But we were a little more careful from then on!

Cheers. -r

posted by Mr. Ryan-Head at 10:25 PM


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