I am no stranger to long, torturous commutes- I live next to NYC. So when I had four hours to kill commuting to Gatwick Airport in London, which was only an hour away, I was excited. It was going to be easy.
Wrong. It was not fun, or easy, or exciting…
I was staying with my friend at his friend’s apartment in Clapham Common, London. I left his apartment at 1:30 pm, extremely early for what was supposed to be a one hour commute to my 5:50 pm flight.
We walked to the tube station, which was oddly empty. A big sign was plastered over the entrance. My friend walked up to it, shaking his head.
“It’s closed for maintenance” he said.
“What?” I ran over to the sign. The tube was closed just for that day.
“You could take the bus, it’s no problem,” he said. I nodded my head, not saying anything. I always pictured subways as having one, nice, easy to navigate route, while bus routes are always going which way and that, left then right then left, never really making sense. But I had no choice. We walked over to the bus stop, and he read the signs.
“Yeah, I think this will take you to the train that gets you to the airport.” He said. You think?
We said goodbye, and I was left alone. The bus was supposed to come in 15 minutes time. The minutes ticked, each second made me more apprehensive. I have four hours to get there, and it only takes an hour, I’ll be fine. Convincing myself was not working.
The bus finally arrived. I sighed a breath of relief that the whole city must have heard. I waddled onto the bus with a blonde girl in front of me.
“Does this go to Clapham Junction?” She said to the bus driver. That was my stop. I was glad that I had someone to follow off of the bus when it got there.
“No,” the bus driver said.
I froze. What do you mean no? I stared at both of them for a moment, and decided to get off of the bus with the girl.
I turned to her.
“I’m going there too!” I said. I felt so relieved. She was British as well, so she probably knew how to get around London as I (sort of) knew how to get around Manhattan.
We walked down the street to a different bus station together, that she said would probably be the right one. I told her I was studying abroad in Copenhagen for the semester, and was in London for the week. She was extremely friendly and I was so happy to have found someone to travel to the bus with.
We waited for the London Overground replacement bus (because of the tube maintenance). A few minutes later we got on, and were off to Clapham Junction (supposedly). It was about 2:30 at this point, so I still had about three hours until my flight actually left.
I relaxed on the bus and looked at the streets of London. It reminded me a bit of Long Island (we were in the suburbs), houses, parks, small towns. However, I was excited to be heading to the airport to go back to Copenhagen.
A half an hour later, the girl came up to me.
“We’re going the wrong way,” she said with a straight face.
“What” I said, hoping to have heard her wrong, hoping my brain was playing a cruel joke and would say, just kidding!
“The bus is going the wrong way. We should have gotten on the bus going the other way, on the other side of the street.” I stared, dumbfounded. As if these streets weren’t confusing enough with cars going in the opposite direction that I was used to. To confirm, she asked the bus driver.
“Does this go to Clapham Junction?”
“No, you should have gotten onto the bus on the other side. Get off at the next stop and cross the street and wait for the next bus.” I bit my lip. It’s alright, I still have 2 ½ hours.
We got off the bus at a random stop and crossed the street. She Googled something on her iPhone, and found a time table for the bus we needed to take.
“It should be here in 5 minutes,” she said.
Perfect. I’ll still have some time to spare! I tried not to look at my phone, otherwise I would be counting the seconds until the 5 minutes was up. A bus came 3 minutes later that wasn’t ours. Two minutes after that, another bus came that wasn’t ours. Buses are usually a minute or two late, I said to myself, trying to keep calm.
Ten minutes pass. Then 15 minutes.
“It should be coming any moment,” she said. Two hours is plenty of time, I thought. I still had a 40 minute bus ride and a 20 minute train ride before I was even in the airport, however.
The bus finally showed up after we had waited a total of 18 minutes. I jumped on. C’mon, c’mon, let’s go bus driver. I had never missed a flight before and wasn’t planning on this being my first.
About 30 minutes into the ride, the girl turned to me.
“There’s a 3:54 train or a 4:09 train you can take to get to Gatwick Airport. The 4:09 train will get you there at 5 pm.” Five pm was cutting it close. I would have to be one of those “sorry ‘scuse me” people sprinting through the airport, hair in their face, spit flying through the air, carrying their shoes, knocking people into the side of the wall while shouting, “sorry, ‘scuse me, sorry, move it.” If that’s what it had to come down to, then…
No. I was making the 3:54 train.
“We’re almost there. You’ll be at platform 9,” the girl said. A moment later, the bus pulled over at Clapham Junction. It was 3:46 p.m. I jumped off, shouting goodbye to the girl who helped me get there, and sprinted into the train station. I ran to one of the machines and bought a £10.80 ticket. I then sprinted to platform 9 with 5 minutes to spare.
It was the wrong platform. It was partially my fault for not double checking, but my mind was racing and I couldn’t think. I looked at the list of the platforms and stops on the wall and it was actually platform “lucky number” 13. I then sprinted to it.
It was closed. There was a large sign hanging over the tracks that said to relocate to platform 15. I felt like I was playing musical chairs with these platforms.
I sprinted to platform 15 with one minute to spare. I waltzed onto the train, feeling all macho that I had made it (but mostly out of breath). I made it to Gatwick at 4:45 pm. I had one hour to get through security, check in, and find my gate.
There was an extremely long line at security (of course!). When I got to it, I put my bag through, only to have the security woman take my contact solution, the one I had no problem getting through security with in NY (they would run a test on it or something) and the kind of solution that they do not make in Denmark.
Thankfully, I made it to flight with 8 minutes to spare. Sadly, I had turned into one of those “‘scuse me, sorry” people at the airport, but I had no choice. I sat down in my seat, strapped my seat belt on, and the plane was off. Next time, I’m going to get to the airport in London 20 hours early.