For my last day in London, since I had already hit the big tourist spots, I had lined up a medley of random London experiences I wanted to try. Of course Notting Hill was on the list, as was a proper English tea. I had tickets for a show at 7:45pm, an obscure Scottish production called Let the Right One In at the Apollo that promised thrills, and if everything worked out right, I could attend a Beatles Magical Mystery Walking Tour at 11:00am, which included a visit to the world famous Abbey Road in honor of my dear friend and Beatles fanatic, Frankie.
I got off to a later start than I had planned and then calamity struck. I, formerly the Queen of the Tube (read about that here ), got completely turned around on the Circle line, the one that was supposed to take me to Notting Hill. You would think if it was going in a circle, I could do no wrong, but as it turned out, the Circle line is not truly a circle. It zigs and zags and backtracks, making me think I was going the wrong way, when in reality I was doing just fine. I hopped on and off the Circle line a bunch of times to change directions before I finally realized what was happening. When I arrived at Notting Hill, the helpful directions on the website said “Follow the Crowd!” Except it was a Thursday, and the market is in full swing on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It was just me. Alone. With no crowd to follow. Needless to say, I wandered around Notting Hill for quite some time before I found my way and missed the Beatles Magical Mystery Walking Tour. But no matter…I could still get to Abbey Road, right?
After my proper English tea at Fortnum and Mason (thanks Sam!) and a side trip to M&M World London (my guilty pleasure), I found myself walking around Leicester Square at 5:00pm. The play didn’t start until 7:45pm, so I had roughly 2 ½ hours to fill. Using my trusty iPhone, I discovered the trip to Abbey Road by tube was only 30 minutes: I could fit it in!
The journey was hard. It was rush hour, and I was squished in with about 20 people in one small corner of the tube. It was about 1000 degrees and I, and everyone else, was dripping sweat. The intimacy I shared with this group of strangers made me think those dating services are missing out on a prime dating technique: cram a bunch of people into a small space, turn up the heat, and see what matches transpire.
At one point I had to leave the subway and transfer to a real train, which was confusing, but I did get a free bottle of water out of it (not sure why). Then my iPhone battery died, leaving me completely at the mercy of signs, which I don’t really trust, and with no way to check how I was doing on time. When I finally arrived at Abbey Road Station, I left all my anxieties behind and practically skipped up the steps. I was about to stand on a pivotal site in music history! Except…
There, at the top of the stairs, was a sign that said Abbey Road is not actually located at Abbey Road Station. No, it is miles back in the direction I came from at a station called St. John’s Wood.
Seriously? What marketing genius did that?
I had no time. But I had come all this way, and who knew when I’d get back to London again. Could I possibly still make it?
I ran back down the steps, took the train back to the subway, transferred to the right line, hopped off at St. John’s Wood, and rushed out onto the street, where a man promptly blocked my path.
MAN: Do you live in London?
ME: No. Where’s Abbey Road?
MAN: I am looking for someone to sign this petition. Do you live in England?
ME: No. Seriously, where is Abbey Road?
MAN: Where do you live?
ME: The US.
MAN: Oh, so you’re foreign!
ME: WHERE’S ABBEY ROAD?
The nice man gave me directions, but here’s the thing: Abbey Road is very far away from the station. As in, I had to run it. Now, I run all the time, but I’m not usually carrying a giant camera bag, several small bags with souvenirs I had purchased, and a half empty bag of M&Ms I had indulged in and now regretted. But I had come this far: there was no way I was going to miss out on Abbey Road.
So I ran, sweating even more, and finally came across the infamous Abbey Road, where people were blissfully risking being run over by staging their own version of the Beatles’ album cover in front of oncoming traffic. I took two pictures and spent two seconds soaking up the atmosphere of this historical site before sprinting back to the subway.
I was late to my play, but not by much. At a good moment, I was ushered into the auditorium in pitch blackness. I stumbled after the usher, hoping I wouldn’t lose her, when the lights came on. There on stage, hanging upside down from a tree, was a man with his throat cut while another man was collecting his blood in a container as it drained out. Let me just say that it was a hell of a way to walk into a play.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night. The play was scary (but very good), I ate too many M&Ms, and I was all revved up and dehydrated from my pilgrimage to Abbey Road.
I later found out that I was there one day before the 45th anniversary of the date that Beatles picture was taken, and that plus the fact that my friend Frankie was delighted I was there made the entire trip worth it.
Dedicated to Frankie: I never would have gone there if it weren’t for you!