Monday, September 03, 2007

Notes From The Underground

PREVIOUSLY: The Harry Potter Experience


The world is my oyster, proclaimed Shakespeare, but that was because he didn’t have to travel via the Underground, or the Tube, as the locals affectionately call it. And by affectionate, I am referring to the feeling one has for that relative that comes to every family get-together and causes fights, eats all the food and brings no presents; the one you wish you could invite to your mother-in-law’s parties.

Well, Shakes wouldn’t be able to get around London these days without a pre-paid fare card called the ‘Oyster card.’ Any one-way fare within a zone was £4. With an Oyster card, it is £1.50, but you have to shell out a one-time, refundable £3 deposit for the card. Easy enough decision, as any Asian can tell you. If you don’t understand the math, pull a nearby Asian aside and they will be able to assist you. We’re very helpful.

On day 7, we had decided to take the tube to check out the Notting Hill area, sort of a dry-run for our return trip to Heathrow, since we’ve previously decided not to take a taxi to avoid getting killed by the nefarious, you know, currency exchange rate, which right now is at about £1 to $2.

The trip started easy enough. After being in London several days, we had reached a level of comfort that allowed us to expertly count out foreign coins, bravely explore neighborhoods and confidently pee into bushes when we couldn’t find the loo.

We boldly went to a ticket counter and got ourselves Oyster cards, loading it up with £3 pounds each, enough to get to Notting Hill Gate station from our station, Tottenham Court Road, and back.

We quickly arrived at Notting Hill and spent a couple of hours in the area, shopping and exploring the pretty neighborhoods so that when we come back later that evening, we know which houses to break into. Shopping and casing out homes are two of my favorite hobbies, next to knitting.

Then disaster strikes. First, on our trip back, my Oyster card wouldn’t let me in at Notting Hill Gate station, even though there should be enough fare left. After several tries, I went to a ticket agent who took my card and told me that I didn’t swipe my card when I left Tottenham Court Road (I did, I swear) and now I am short. But my ticket agent, a nice young woman, after reviewing the activity on the card, decided to fix the situation by reloading my card with £1.50 so I can enter. Problem solved, Brian and I entered the station.

However, when we arrived back at Tottenham Court, Brian's card wouldn't let him get out. We thought, well, the ticket agent here can fix this. Boy, we were wrong.

The agent, an older dude, told us that the balance on the card was negative £1. After arguing with the agent about how we had loaded enough cash for our little round trip, he accused Brian of following someone in and not touching the entry gate reader with his card, even though we both did.

First of all, we were obviously tourists due to our expertly coordinated outfits, and since we took the effort to buy the damn card and then asking for help, wouldn’t you think we were on the up-and-up? Plus, if he reviewed the history of the card like the woman at Notting Hill did, he would’ve come to the same conclusion as she did, that this was an unfortunate mix-up.

But the old guy wouldn’t budge. The vein in Brian’s neck was just about ready to bust. But seeing as we weren’t getting anywhere, Brian paid the damn £1. That should’ve been the end of the story, but oh-ho, we found that he still couldn’t get out. We went back to the old guy who told us that the reason was that now the balance was £0 and we had to pay another £1.50 just to get out. We were outraged! We threw hissy fits! But apparently the old guy was immune to our gay super powers so we begrudgingly paid the extra £1.50.

All in all, Brian paid £5.50 for the trip, which pissed us off, especially since the old dude could’ve fixed it, if he so wished.

After we had calmed down, back at the hotel, we discussed how this could’ve happened to us, since we made sure to touch our cards to the reader. We concluded that the first entry gate had a faulty reader and didn’t trigger our cards. We also remembered that this entry didn’t close after every person passed, remaining open. Of course, we didn’t think anything of it then, but in hindsight, we should’ve paid attention to that oddity.

Mystery of the Blimey Oyster Card solved.

Gentle reader, I pray that you don’t encounter this old guy at the Tottenham Court Road station, whom I didn't summon by uttering Voldemort's jinxed name. I pray that if you travel to London, you have better luck than us with the Oyster card.

NEXT: The Final London Post. Mystery Location!

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