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May 6, 2008
Audrie Osterman

Riding the tube is a test of faith in humanity.

After all, it takes up to two hours to get ready to board an airplane, but doesn’t that make everyone feel safe?

The security checkpoints in airports are annoying. It’s kind of disgusting to have to walk barefoot through the metal detector, and it’s annoying to have to throw out your water battle. But it assures the passengers that there’s NO WAY anyone’s getting a bomb on that plane. And that’s why people still fly them.

For the London metro system – the “tube” – things are a little different.

First off, nobody’s walking barefoot through there. That’s even more disgusting than at the airport, and if no one’s asking you to (they aren’t), you’re not going to.

Second, bag check? Nope. Bring whatever you feel like onto the tube. A baseball bat? A kitchen sink? A tree? Not a problem. If you really needed to transport an elephant underground, you could probably work something out. I never saw anyone try to bring a weapon onto the Tube, but I am certain it could be done. There are no checkpoints, no searches, no metal detectors.

You wouldn’t imagine then, if you didn’t know, that the Tube was violently bombed just a few years back. It was tragic, and I know whoever did it must not have had a problem getting the bombs onto the trains. Even now, after that disaster, there’s nothing stopping someone from doing it again. Why isn’t London putting in the same security measures that airports have?

Because people still ride.

I haven’t yet figured out why airports experienced such a decline in ticket sales after September 11, 2001, but three years after the London bombings, I can’t get a seat on the Tube. Perhaps it’s something about being in the air that makes people think there’s a chance they’d be able to get off that train, above ground and far, far away if they sensed danger. But something tells me they couldn’t.

When I was a little girl, my dad told me that every time people left their homes, they were taking a risk. That when they walked out the door, they were putting trust in the rest of humanity to take care of them. But he said people take that risk to lead a real, full life, because a life holed up in your house because you’re afraid of the world isn’t much of a life. And I remember that every time I want to complain about how something bad could happen to me. If I wanted to, I could have just stayed at home.

But it’s hard to believe these millions of Tube riders can still find it in their hearts to leave their homes, get on the public transportation system and trust each other. All people have seen that trust violated too many times, and you’d think on the Tube, the memories would be too strong.

Maybe it’s the trust, or maybe it’s convenience.

Perhaps they don’t trust each other at all. Perhaps they tell themselves to “forget” the transgressions from the past, because riding the Tube makes life so much more simple. And cheap. And the city of London doesn’t change a thing, because the people still seem to trust the system.

And it won’t change, either. Not until trains are running empty and the hollow underground echoes. It’s an interesting case study in human habit.

Planes, trains – it’s all personal safety, and to the rest of society, it’s all a matter of trust.

March 8, 2008
Audrie Osterman
Photo by Tim Street
Brompton, just down the street from our hotel, where the group ate lunch Saturday.

Saturday was an exciting day, but also one of the longest days I’ve ever had. Because of the time change, Friday and Saturday rolled into one long day, not giving us a chance to sleep, shower or brush our teeth in between. Our plane took off Friday evening, and when we arrived, it was Saturday morning in England (about 8 a.m.). A bus ride (about an hour) followed the plane ride.

We arrived at the Hotel Ibis in southwest London at around 11 a.m. Since we couldn’t check in yet, we stored our luggage and went to explore and find lunch. My group and I had a hard time finding a place that was open before noon, so to pass the time, we actually ended up in one of the most American places you could find — Starbucks. We sat in the Starbucks for about a half hour, and then we finally went to do something European.

To deal with the fatigue (since we were all pretty slaphappy) Colin Dugdale made up a song: It goes (sorry, I don’t know how to describe the tune): E-N, E-N-G, E-N-G-L-A-N-D, England (clap, clap), baby. We sang the song to cheer up our day when we were tired. A song for Normandy is now in the works.

After our lunch, we took a four-hour bus tour of the sites of London. We saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Tower of London. The only downside was how tired we were – by the time I got onto the bus I had been awake for 25 hours, so a lot of us had trouble staying awake during the stops. I’m glad we managed to fit all those in even if we were exhausted. I’d hate to say I’d gone to London and not seen Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and some of the other landmarks we saw.

London is a fun city. I’m a fan of the tube (we have a three-day pass) and I want to make sure I get on a double-decker bus before I leave. We noticed that nobody talks on their cell phones on the street (I haven’t seen a single person – maybe they don’t have the them?) and there’s no trash cans anywhere. A lot of are having problems with our phone cards, so if you were expecting to hear from us and haven’t, that’s probably why.

Needless to say, most of us called it a night early.