Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Oxford Street story

We stayed just off Oxford Street, near the Marble Arch tube stop (as well as the actual Marble Arch, seen here out the breakfast window on morning one.)

The whole visit I couldn't believe how busy it was. It was like Times Square times 11. It was like Michigan Avenue the week before Christmas, but much, much worse. A big wide sidewalk, yes, but with people walking (run-walking, really) 10 or 12 bodies across it didn't feel so wide.

I wrapped up the first day with a long, long walk to stay awake. And all the way back to the hotel I was seemingly swimming against the tide of humanity. It was unbelievable, and made me feel like a gen-u-wine yokel to see and be awed by so many people rushing about.

Yes, I knew it was the Christmas season. And yes, I could see there were a number of department stores on the street, but we weren't near Harrod's or the other retail icons I knew. It wasn't until my final night during a walking tour that we were told Oxford is not only the busiest shopping street in London, but in all of Europe, apparently.

So in addition to Selfridges and Marks & Spencer and H&M and a handful of other major block-long department stores, it has hundreds of smaller shops like the Gap and the Disney Store and Claire's.

Anyway, that first evening I am struggling up the street among the shoppers and commuters and (other) tourists when I come upon a crowd of people that is distinguished from the greater mass by the fact that it's not moving. They're three for four deep to the curb, peering at something in the street.

I can't see what's going on, but there's a big red double-decker bus that's stopped. Finally, through all the bodies, I see one that appears to be laying in the street. Gah! Someone's been hit! A pedestrian? A biker? What?

Then I see it's moving. Then I see it's wearing a bright neon emergency vest. Is a traffic cop down? Or is he/she trying to pull the remains of someone from under the bus's wheels?

Everyone is gripped by the action, unable to look away, without knowing exactly what's happening or what grisly sight may soon present itself. After a few tense moments, the bus rolls forward. Gah! Whoever's down there is being crushed!

Then, from the front of the crowd comes a collective gasp. But it's a gasp of relief. The neon vest is moving, seems to be getting up. What's going on? Then vest guy, on his knees, thrusts up two arms, and just over people's shoulders I can see in his hands ... a little white dog, merrily wagging his tail!

The crowd erupts in relief and cheers and laughter, able only to utter the obvious: "A dog!" and "It's a dog!" Then everyone briefly exchanges a look that says, "Okay, we're big-city folk and we sort of let down our defenses for a moment and got caught up in a heartwarming, one-of-a-kind event ... right. On our way, then!" And we all dispersed.

It was like a small Christmas miracle.

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