Those of you who live in or around London can have a good chuckle at my mishap. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had this misadventure.
After purchasing my Oyster Card, the London equivalent of Boston’s Charlie Card (transportation computer chip card that you can put money on), I set out to find the Tube, or Underground, at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. Someone pointed the way. It wasn’t too difficult, as there were signs all over the place. The line leading into London proper is called the Piccadilly Line. I have always thought that this was a funny-sounding name. London has 13 different lines, which include the “Overground” as well, the “Docklands Light Rail” (DLR). There are also some faster trains, which are more expensive. The Oyster Card will pay for the Tube (Underground and Overground) and buses, but not the faster trains. One of these trains is called the Heathrow Express. Everyone was asking me why I wasn’t taking this train, which would get me into the center of London in twenty minutes. It costs one heck of a lot more, that’s why, and taking the Tube would be far more interesting, and the trip would take only an hour. I had plenty of time to kill. The world, in London, was mine.
I sat across from a woman who had also just left the airport. I assumed that she was headed home, because she seemed relaxed and wasn’t looking at a map or glancing out the window every time we came to a stop. She explained many things to me about the Tube, and we got into a friendly conversation. One thing I remember asking her was whether the stop announcements were accurate. These announcements were automated, as they are on Boston’s MBTA subways. The subway automated announcements are always messing up. “No,” she said, “they are always right on.”
But I didn’t ask her what “Mind the gap” meant. This was repeatedly announced at most stops. I assumed it meant to stand away from the edge of the platform when the tube arrived, so you wouldn’t get hit by it. They sometimes announce that in the Boston subways.
I was to find out otherwise.
It came time for my stop. Out I ran. Fast. Too fast. How was I to know?
I found out, then, what the “gap” was. Boom! Suddenly, I was down on the floor of the Tube station, my feet in the Tube, the rest of me on the concrete, my rolling suitcase god knows where.
This is what the “gap” is: It is a huge step. The step is either up or down. You never know, but the step is there, coming out of the Tube and onto the platform. Yes, I had fallen on a huge step–the gap. This is what Mind the Gap means.
WTF?! Why can’t they have them level? This is one of the true mysteries of London that I will never be able to solve.
Luckily, the kind woman with whom I had been speaking gently helped me up, explaining that I had attempted to get off at the wrong stop to begin with! Others helped as well, and I got settled back in. Two stops later was the correct stop. I got off very, very carefully, and proceeded to the Circle Line. From then on, I minded the gap very, very well.
Now, back home in the US, I’ve got a few bumps and bruises to remind me of the occasion. It’s been over a week now since I’ve been back, and the bumps are fading, but my memory of the London Tube, the way the system looks like spaghetti on a map, its cleanliness and efficiency, the smartly-dressed people that ride it, and most of all, the Gap, will stay with me for a long, long time.