Monday, July 10, 2006

London Bombings Anniversary

Published July 10th, 2005 in the Star and Tribune
It must be an eye-opening experience, realizing that you don’t know how to walk home. The route that many Londoner’s keep in their heads is not of roads but of underground train lines. Each morning they enter a tunnel, and some minutes later they emerge, blinking, miles and miles across the city.
Yesterday around four in the afternoon, I emerged instead from my flat four blocks from one of the terrorist bomb explosions. As the sun came out over rain soaked central London, I could see streams of people walking north up our street from the King’s Cross Station area. I live near a busy road that is one of the main veins in and out of the city, and there were police in their bright day-glo yellow coats at every intersection. No longer teeming with the blackened, frightened faces that my roommate saw filing onto a bus that morning, swathed in silver emergency blankets, now the streets were filled with ordinary people. Many of them had no idea which streets to take home.
We had stayed in our flat all day, as advised by the police chief, and proceeded to navigate a flood of emails to and from all of our friends and family—our mobile phones, and even our landline, weren’t working. The neighbourhood was far from quiet, however, as sirens and the whir of helicopters continued throughout the day. I was quickly reminded of how I went through the very same process a few years ago in New York. No bodily harm? Check. Call mom and dad in Minneapolis? Check. Make sure all friends in London are ok? Check. Send mass email to everyone I know? Check. Watch the news? Check. Slowly make my way back, unaffected, into my regular life? Definitely more difficult.
We walked a bit east to the Angel neighbourhood—where another main road runs north all the way through outer London—and encountered a man who had printed off hundreds of maps of the area. He was handing them out to disoriented commuters. A simple act of kindness. We sat down at one of the few open cafĂ©’s, and watched London walk by. Again, the sidewalks were thick with people all travelling north. Waiting for a friend to arrive (she was stranded in the city for the evening and would be staying with us that night), memories New York again filled my thoughts. My roommate at the time had walked eight miles, including across the Brooklyn Bridge amidst thousands of frightened, ash-covered Americans, to get home. But here, people were calm. They were stoically walking their children home from school, grocery shopping, and talking on their mobile phones: men hauling heavy briefcases, and women suffering their office heels.
Soon we began to see buses running again—the ones headed south empty save a few, and the ones travelling north absolutely packed with steadfast commuters. This is a tough city, and it can’t be bothered to stop and listen to the voice of a hateful few. The wheels and gears of the machine that is London which had ground to a halt at 8:50am had started to creak to life again. The unaffected parts of the tube were running in time for the Friday morning commute. The unaffected people? Well, they just don’t exist. But now, at least, they know how to walk home.