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Postcards from London: Ticket to Ride

Airdate: February 21, 2013

            Public transportation in London is not cheap.  Fares increase as often as postage in the U.S., and for my first year of living here, it seemed I was always worried about running out of money on my Oyster card, the universal transportation pass for Londoners.

            As a student, however, I get a discount on an annual travelcard.  London is divided into 9 travel areas, called zones.  Zone One is the very center of town, where I live, and my university lies in Zone 4, so my travelcard lets me ride trains within these four zones, as well as buses in any zone

            I never knew what true freedom was until I got my travelcard.  Whereas last year I would often walk, sometimes up to an hour, just to avoid spending down my card, I now make a sport out of travelling as much as possible on this “free” pass, forgetting, of course, how much it cost in the first place.  I will now take a bus for only one stop—just because I can.  And I’ll play what I call the “travelcard game”—riding the train to the very edge of my allowed zone, then hopping on a bus for the rest of the journey—thus avoiding extra charges.  It’s fun.

            But recently my travelcard and I were separated after a fateful journey on a 106 bus.  I figured out that it must have flipped out of my pocket when I reached for my mittens, and I didn’t notice until I stood at a bus stop on my way home, fumbling through my empty pocket with disbelief and growing panic.  I called up the house where I had just been, hoping I’d perhaps dropped it there.  No luck.  But they were kind enough to offer me bus fare so that I could get home.  I boarded the 106, dropped my change in the tray, only to be told that I was 10 pence short.  Fares had apparently increased since I’d purchased my travelcard.  Desperately, I began asking fellow passengers if they had a spare coin—barely worth more than a dime.  No one responded.  Then a kind looking lady boarded the bus and sat behind me, gladly obliging my request and even giving me more than I actually needed.  Thank God for the kindness of strangers.

            But I was still without my travelcard, and I was determined to get it back.  I phoned the bus garage where the 106 retires each night.  Sorry, no one had turned in a travelcard enclosed in a very distinctive BBC London Oyster wallet.  I called again the next morning.  Then the next.  And this time, when I described the lost card and its container, the man asked me my name.  “Wendy Sherer,” I said, hopefully.  “University of Westminster?” he inquired.  My heart leapt, because I knew my student ID card was also in the wallet.  “Thank God!” I exclaimed.  “No,” he said, “my name’s Carl.”

            It was a chilly ride and a long walk down a grimy industrial street leading to the West Ham Bus Garage.  But nothing could contain my excitement for this reunion.  Arriving through the door where uniformed drivers were coming on and off their shifts, and quickly locating the lost property window, I was scarcely done introducing myself when the friendly man placed the wallet in my hand.  “You just made my day,” I told him, floating out the door with a spring in my step and a huge grin on my face, in search of another train, another turnstile, to welcome me and my free pass to London, which, after our brief separation, I now loved more than ever.

           — Wendy Sherer

    • Postcards from London: Ticket to Ride
    • Postcards from London: Ticket to Ride