A couple of weeks ago those who oversee the London Tube tried something new; overnight service on a couple of lines. This came as a surprise to me. I figured that a city the size of London would routinely offer 24-hour subway service, in fact I thought that many years ago when I sure could have used it. But no.
There are many things that I can be accused of being, but a world traveler is not among them. I’m a homebody through and through. Yet in 1979 I ventured out of my comfort zone and traveled to Britain and France.
Upon returning to London from a few days in Paris my train arrived late. This was caused by adverse conditions on the English Channel that grounded the hovercraft. We were shuffled on buses (coaches) like cattle to the regular ferry-port, which was held up waiting for us. Once across the channel the connecting train to London was also held back to accommodate us.
But upon arriving in London, and facing the long tube ride to where I was staying, I was shocked to find the subway system was closed. This is London, I thought, a big cosmopolitan city that shuts down its subway system at night puzzled me. During WWII the stations remained open all night to provide shelter during the blitz, but trains did not run.
Two options were available to me: stay in a coffee shop until the trains started rolling again, or take a taxi. Being tired I took a taxi, but that was no easy feat either. Outside the train station a man was organizing taxi cabs, he asked me where I was headed and explained to me that there might be a problem. I knew the distance was significant and thought drivers would be eager for the fare. When I told him this he said that would normally be true as I was going out near Heathrow Airport. But at this time of night there are no flights, so the diver would have to return to the city empty.
Another thing I can’t be accused of is having a head for business. My response was something along the lines of So what. I was only concerned with getting to Middlesex, what happened after that was of little or no concern to me. Somehow the driver felt I should compensate him for the empty return, he wanted to make a deal. Rather than spend the rest of the night sipping putrid coffee, I agreed to pay him a stipend above the fare, and off we went. I still rankles all these years later.