My London self is kind of an asshole, and I’m trying to work on that.
I’ve always been a bit sarcastic, a bit ruthless. I was mercilessly bullied in high school by a group of girls who turned on me for being rude to them one too many times, which might seem a bit like fighting fire with fire, but certainly worked on me, for a while. I was cowed. Never called anyone a loser again. But I still had a certain amount of venom running in my veins, which would work its way out through other avenues.
In London, that venom is visceral. I don’t use words or eyebrows, I use elbows. I use forcing people into walls, I use nearly knocking people down escalators, I use shoulders and my general, solid presence to remind people when they’re being careless or thoughtless, or in any way lacking that offends me.
I realized I’d developed a problem when I did this: walking to Regents Park in running gear, preparing for a lap around the park, I approached two small Asian tourists, staring attentively at a phone between them. They weren’t looking where they were going. They were in the centre of the footpath. They were forcing me off to the side. It was inconsiderate, but what I did was worse: I held true to my path until I knocked the bag of one of them so hard that she dropped her phone. It smashed.
They tried to chase after me to pay, but their English was broken.
“You broke her phone!””
Me, snidely: “You weren’t looking where you were going”.
Me, realizing I am an asshole, relenting, feeling like a cruel and bitter person: “It’s just the screen. It won’t be expensive, you should have been looking. It wasn’t my fault”.
They tried a couple of times, but realized either that I wasn’t going to yield, or that it was a bit their fault. They turned and left; I went on my run.
I think about that stupid phone and their sad faces every day on the tube now, as I try to stop letting that incredible travel-induced rage bubble up in me. It’s hard to stop once you’ve started – the internal tirade, the glare, the deliberate nudge in the back of someone who’s resisting going down the aisle of the tube to make more room at the door.
I do NOT want to be this person who uses their bony bits and their bulk to take the place of a polite “excuse me”. But sometimes I can’t help it, and I can’t stop. I am a seething, steaming pile of anger and indictment and I can’t stop until everyone learns transport etiquette, and since that’ll never happen I’ll never stop.
I’m so sorry about the phone. But still not sorry enough to think, a little bit, it was really their fault. So, realistically, I don’t think My London Self is going to be any better any time soon.