London, England – Let’s say you’re lost. Let’s say you’re in a foreign country. Add in some rain. Throw in jet lag. Forget the map you’ve already checked. Do something most guys don’t do: ask directions. At least here they speak English, right? But it’s me with the funny accent.
“Oh, God,” one of the two men said as I asked if I could ask a question.
“Which way is Marble Arch Station?”
“Go back down that way. And don’t turn. It’s maybe 15 minutes.”
“Don’t turn,” I repeated, but they both had already crossed the intersection – without looking back at me, the poor lost soul on the rainy streets of Westminster.
Hyde Park Mansions, Cravens Road, Bishops Bridge, Sussex Gardens – the names swirled in my head as I looked again at the map. I’d unknowingly gone exactly the wrong way as I left the hotel in search of Oxford Street. I’d already made a trial run that morning down Edgware Road and was within two blocks of Oxford and all its shops, but it began sprinkling and I realized my umbrella was back in the hotel room. I turned back and vowed to take a different, more interesting route on my second attempt.
Bad idea – the one about taking the alternate route. Good idea – the one about the umbrella. But after almost an hour of trying to find Oxford and looking at Bishops Bridge rising into the air, where the hell was I?
Later, and after my question to the two gents, I found myself just as lost. A young man without an umbrella was trying to cross the street the same time I was. The traffic was endless. We both moved down the street to the intersection, and I asked, “Which way is Marble Arch Station?”
“The best way is to take the tube, it’s right down there,” and he pointed to an entry way to the London Underground a half block away. I followed him and we both ducked into the entrance and out of the rain. I bought a ticket, asking for the Edgware Road station, instantly giving up on the whole Oxford Street idea.
“Go down to Platform 1,” the lady behind the glass said. “Then take the circle and go to Edgware.” Little did she know I had already been going in circles. Asking directions even to Platform 1 I felt a fool. I stepped onto the subway car, the recording shouting, “Mind the gap!”
Within seconds I was gone – at least away from Lancaster Gate, which is where I was but didn’t know it. I asked the young girl sitting next to me for help. She got out her own map of the Tube and told me to get out at the next station and take the Central Line. “Queensway,” the conductor said over the PA system. Suddenly I was out of the car again as the young girl gave an open palm, side-to-side wave as if to say, “Whatever.” She was very helpful though. In fact, she had saved me.
I followed the signs to the Central Lines, green and yellow life lines that would take me back to where I began this crazy journey. The recording came on as I boarded, “This line is a circle line to Edgware Road,” the announcement declared with that distinctive British clip as I sat down and watched the Queensway tube sign disappear along the age-old brick walls outside the train windows.
“The next stop is Edgware Road,” I heard. I stepped out. There was the sign I’d been looking for so long: Way Out. Yes, the Way Out.
I slipped my tube ticket in the exit turnstile and the gates opened. I exited. Not bad. I emerged at street level and saw the hotel marquee within one block. It was pouring rain. But I had my umbrella and I was home. Safe.
When I next go to Oxford Street, I’ll walk.