Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Upper Deck

The journey starts at a lettered stop. It might be a 'J' or a 'B'. Standing, waiting, watching for the right bus to pull up, music on my head phones provides a soundtrack to the moment. The large red beast lumbers up to the curb, stops with a loud wheeze and hisses as the back doors open. Passengers pour out. Students huddle in clumps, collecting their friends like a magnet catching metal particles. An elderly lady with a shopping trolley shuffles away down the pavement. A young man who dismounted after her strides past, shooting her a look of disdain for having slowed his commuter pace.

The front doors pop open and I board, swiping my Oyster card over the yellow circle perched next to the driver in her enclosed plastic cavity. Feeling the push of people behind me I move along the aisle and up the steps to the second deck. I make a note to look up why 'Oyster' was chosen for the name of the travel pass for London but I suspect it has something to do with the oft misquoted 'The world is your oyster to be seized with sword in hand.' This little piece of plastic, topped up on a monthly basis, allows me access to any bus, underground or train within three zones. London may not be the world but it certainly is an experience best not restricted by an inability to get around.

There are so many ways to traverse this city and as I take the front most seat on the right on that brilliant, swaying top deck, I know that this is my favourite. Surrounded by high windows and not crowded by standing commuters in the aisle, the upper deck lifts the horizon and gives me so much to gaze upon. The trees lining the route rise out of the concrete and jut out over the road in perfect bus-shaped angles. In the summer the stray branches trying to grow will slap against the buses windows. A battle of growth and travel. Try as they might the buses keep coming by and the trees finally give up and stretch upwards instead of out.

From the front seat the bus always feels like it might tip. When it turns the corner the sway and pull of gravity and inertia moves through me. Like a roller coaster ride past old architecture. I watch the people walking below as much as I watch for gargoyles, green men and decorative leaf in the stone of the buildings we pass. The anticipation builds as we pull forward, through the towering concrete, brick and stone. Around a mini-round about and through a few more intersections before Westminster Abbey looms to the right. Behind it sits the Houses of Parliament and as the bus loops around the park opposite both these great sites I watch the bustle of tourists in the street below. They pose around the park's statues, the abbey's towering walls and the Parliament building's formidable gates. Throngs of bodies, of people from all over the world, here to see one of the greatest capitals.

The bus pulls up the road, heading to Trafalgar Square. The crowds push up and down the street on either side, heading to one monumental site from another. The changing of the guard is captured by dozens of tourists aiming their cameras over and through the mass of people who have stopped to watch. Student groups look around with awe or boredom as volunteers and teachers do their best to keep them together. Young mothers push strollers side-by-side, children hanging off of them or running ahead. In amongst it all Londoners fight against the flow, maintaining the pace of one who is no longer dazzled by the scenery around them and just wants to get to their next meeting.

In front of me the great column which supports the beloved Nelson rises up out of Trafalgar Square. This is when I know that riding on that top deck is one of my favourite things in life because whenever I know my journey is near it's end, I feel a little disappointed. I wish it could have been just that much longer, with that much more traffic. But I have somewhere to be today so I have to get off.

Next time, I tell myself, I'll just get on a bus for the sake of it and go wherever it takes me. A journey for the sake of the journey, not about where I'm going, but about what I get to see on the way.

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