London Calling: The First Stretch

Emily Passey

The “Jazz” food court in Concourse C of the O’Hare airport displays a plaster statue of suit-clad jazz musicians and Ella croons over the hum of busy people stopping for a bite before making their way somewhere else.
It’s pretty grimy, but I thought I had found a haven, and after thinking a little more about how this haven reminded me of Monday nights in the LU Underground Coffeehouse and the people I love but left in Appleton, I was ready to think about my destination and my trip.
Airports are, in a word, singular. There is a myriad of places one can go to or come from, as well as a myriad of people who make their homes in these places or visit them.
I always feel insufficient when I stop in a big hub like Chicago or, more often, Minneapolis, because I am most usually traveling somewhere small and nondescript, i.e. Home (which is always small and nondescript when you’re 20).
But today I get to be among those select hundreds of thousands (millions? I don’t know, I don’t do numbers) who are traveling to a real Destination.
Lawrentians have been making this same trek, albeit from differing locations across the country/world, to experience one of the Lawrence Differences, the London Centre, since 1970. I wonder what Lawrentians of a different generation experienced in London, as I wonder what I will.
An “overnight” flight, during the course of which one loses an entire night, ends at 6:30 a.m. As we prepared to land, a lowdown of the intricacies of entering London Heathrow played on the individual screens, informing us that any connection takes 50-60 minutes to make in Heathrow – ANY.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to believe it, so I just got off the plane and started walking (after looking at the map, it didn’t look like it would be too far to the Immigration queue). I slowed my pace after the first three tunnels.
It didn’t take 50 minutes, but Immigration isn’t the end of it. After clearing the border, one walks further for Customs (which one walks right past anyway) and then even further, through the baggage claim after claiming bags, following the signs for the Underground, literally underground and into a new maze of slightly more claustrophobic tunnels for about 15 more minutes.
Just a note, there are people coming the other direction (from the Underground, train or another terminal) so if you have luggage, expect to be regularly, and discourteously, crammed against a wall.
Finally it was the Underground (down escalator plus two suitcases made for quite a time), a short walk, and the centre.
However harrowing the journey, I arrived. My compatriots trickled in at various times during the day, and we all swapped travel stories of annoying neighbors, change upgrades, films watched and food eaten.
After arriving, we stared blankly for 24 hours, slept a little, and then on Saturday, seven of us embarked on our first adventure.
On a whim, after finding Westminster Bridge and facing the thick, cold, Thames-scented wind, we flipped through our still-pristine mini “A to Z” books (a really good map, by the way) and decided to walk all the way back to the centre, which is like walking from the LU campus all the way past the mall, but with curves, crowds and cobblestones.
This was our second journey, and it got me thinking about how London is a destination, but is made up of possible journeys and destinations. The city itself spans more than the distance between Oshkosh and Green Bay. Something like 7.5 million people live here. But if you think about it, there are probably more like 11 or 12 million including the visitors, the daily in-and-out of people by plane, train, foot and bus.
You cannot walk down the street without seeing a few people rolling suitcases, or hearing people speaking languages of which you cannot even guess the continent of origin (at last estimate, 300 languages are spoken by elementary-level children in London).
So, to get back to a query I put forth a few paragraphs before, as a Lawrentian, I already feel tremendously small.
Our journey here from Appleton is sort of comparable to the millions of journeys made daily by immigrants, businesspeople, journalists, tourists, students, families and friends. If the journey was harrowing for us Lawrence Londoners, imagine that of the refugees, desperate immigrants, and aspiring anythings that make it here.
In a sense, we can’t feel insignificant; we are just a small part of a giant group.