#1: The Underground
Even crushed against his brother in the Tube the average Englishman pretends desperately that he is alone. – Germaine Greer
It should be a grand total of zero percent surprise that I included the Underground on my list, even though it’s placement as #1 isn’t necessarily related to how amazing I find it to be relative to the others (I mean, it is fantastic, as all Londoners well know, even though we grumble about it). The reality is that I think that the London public transportation system, while perhaps not the most efficient in Europe, is certainly one of the best. The buses are timely and as speedy as London traffic allows, the DLR and Overground compliment the Underground system, the trains run on time, and the tube itself is a huge cultural experience. I found myself a few days ago sitting in a portion of the compartment with Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian, African, and European descended people. All in about twelve seats. The Tube is a perfect microcosm of English people and their sensibilities.
Never mind that rush hour puts commuters in far closer contact than anyone prefers. Heck, these people hardly hug, but when you ride the Central or Northern… or ANY Line between 8:00 and 9:30am any weekday, you’re going to get friendlier with your neighbors than you do with most intimate contacts. You’ll even get friendly with their bags, though completely inadvertently. Despite this, no one speaks, everyone averts their eyes, which means that nobody sees anyone, and everyone goes to a happy place until the doors slide open and the change of positions allows one to breathe a sigh of relief. Talking on a busy tube is the ultimate morning faux pas, speaking of those. It’s a charming moment: with my headphones in, I’m in my own world, pressed together with the rest of London, and I’m happy for it.
The reality is that the Tube is the oldest in the world, and for all it’s faults, it’s still one of the greatest. Being able to spend a year in a city, and really never need a car, is an amazing feat. I walked so much, and saw so many interesting things and people, and to have spent the year in traffic, in a car or cab, would have really been a missed opportunity. I lament not having that as part of my life anymore, but I’m glad I had the chance to see how amazing public transportation can be.