I was just barely 15 when I had the incredible opportunity to spend a month in London. I stayed in a small flat with Sarah and Stuart, my parents wonderful, gracious, and hospitable friends. After a few days of intensive “how-to-sucessfully-maneuver-public-transportation” training, I was released into the city on my own. The morning of my first lone day in the city, I woke up excited. I did not know exactly what kind of excitement was in store for me, however.
“I’m in London, baby!” I exclaimed, as I checked my bag once more to make sure I had my trusty tourist map book (at the risk of sounding old, this was before the days that smart phones became commodities). I stepped out into the dreary, but typical-of-London, day, feeling invincible. The whole world was at my feet. I spent the day meandering around, window shopping, double-decker bus riding, and basically just livin’ the life. The day passed quickly; before long, the sun was setting, and it was time to go home. The bus I need to take was the 225 — which I still know five years later, because I had been exceptionally anal about remembering it. I confidently walked to the bus stop, musing to myself at my successful first day alone in London. In my mind I was practically a native. All I had left to do was master the accent.
Without even having to read the destination on the front, I boarded the massive red double-decker, contented and a bit too reflective. Such blithe and happy thoughts so filled my mind that I rode the bus for an hour and a half before I realized that I wasn’t recognizing any of the names of the stops. There was no recognizable landmarks, which was unfortunate because until this night, I based my navigation tactics around them entirely. The bus pulled up to the curb. I stood up, took a very deep breath, and stepped onto the poorly lit city street. I didn’t know where on God’s green earth I was, so I pulled out my maps, and my worst fears were confirmed: I had been traveling in the exact opposite direction.
This foreign land was nothing like the beautiful London I had been exploring all day. It was dark, and run down. I stood there, alone, thinking this was the worst this already-out-of-hand situation could be. However, it seemed like only a minor hiccup in comparison to the realization that there was no reverse direction bus stop directly across the street. (In hindsight, it could have been worse. I could have peed my pants out of fear, in addition to all of this.) I called Sarah to ask her to tell my parents not to miss me too much, that my sister can have all my clothes … just kidding. I actually called her, and let her know I wouldn’t be home for a little while longer. The thought of death had yet to cross my mind. I flipped the phone shut. I watched the backlight dim after a few seconds, and then turn off completely. What a beautiful and tragic metaphor of my life.
I crossed the street and began playing the treacherous game of hide-and-seek with that spiteful bus stop. The street I turned onto was long and straight, so I could see down it for quite some way; There was no illuminated public transport sign anywhere in sight. Somehow (although it really shouldn’t surprise you by now), in the midst of this search, I became even more hopelessly lost – as I now did not even know where the original bus stop was.
I frantically began to flip through the maps, as if a GPS signal would magically appear in my exact location. My heart began to speed up, and the alley ways seemed to be pressing in closer and closer, wanting to swallow me up forever. On the bright side, I like to think that I would have made a delicious meal. In a haze, I sat down on a bench along the street. The hour hand on Big Ben was steadily ticking towards twelve, and I still had no way of finding my way back home.
Then suddenly, a (dreamy…) British accent broke the silence, asking if I was lost. I forced my eyes to open, and looked up at the owner of this voice. He was probably in his late twenties, with light hair and a scruffy face. He was tall, and wore a vibrantly colored pair of Nikes. On his face, he wore a friendly smile.
He pointed to my map book that I had thrown down out of frustration onto the bench beside me. “Are you lost?” he said again before I was able to muster up a nod. I tried to explain my situation, while fighting the overwhelming urge not to burst into tears right there. He cracked a smile as he asked if I would like for him to show me to the bus station. Despite what my mother had taught me about trusting strangers, I realized that either way, I was lost in London at night. I had already come to terms with the fact that I probably wouldn’t make it out of this night alive, so I nodded, accepting his help.
We walked in silence for about a block before he inquired after what I was doing here. I briefly explained to him my idiocy, and he laughed. “When I saw you sitting alone on that bench,” he admitted, “I knew that you weren’t supposed to be here.” Dang-straight, sir.
We turned the corner and my heart skipped a beat when I saw the bus stop. I closed my eyes, pinched my arm as hard as I could, and opened my eyes again. It was real! I began gushing “thank you’s,” and “are-you-really-a-human-because-I’m-convinced-you’re-an-angel-God-sent-to-save-my-life’s”.
“Like I said,” he responded unfazed by my overabundance of words, “you weren’t supposed to be here.”
That sweet stranger waited with me until the 225 (it was traveling in the right direction this time – I checked) bus pulled up to the curb. We shook hands, and I thanked him one last time. I made it back home that night … and by that, I mean early morning.
And that is, my friends, the #1 reason why you don’t let your 15 year old go to London.
(Disclaimer: this is the only reason. I had a phenomenal, life changing experience. Despite the near death experiences, the pros still outweigh the cons. Everyone should travel abroad on their own.)
Platform 9 3/4! A highlight of my trip.