In my last post I wrote about the single thing that most made the Olympics wonderful for me. Well, as there often is, there was also a downside:
I have a mild case of crowd-phobia, although it’s gotten enormously better than it was when I first moved to London. Nonetheless, when, on the second day of the Olympics I was wandering around Central London being shepherded along with thousands of tourists by volunteers in pink vests shouting out of megaphones, I could no longer ignore my tendency to panic in crowds. It was bad, real bad.
There were people everywhere, and since most of them were visiting London, two things added to their ability to irritate me: (a) they didn’t know where they were going, and (b) they were in no rush whatsoever to get there. For someone who does know where she’s going and who likes to get there rather promptly, sharing the footpaths with thousands upon thousands of people can definitely aggravate a crowd panic attack. It made things worse when I realised that several footpaths had been closed down or redirected so as to ease the flow of traffic. They’d made certain pedestrian areas one-way-only, and closed others entirely for one reason or another. So it turns out I didn’t really know where I was going either, but I sure wanted to!
Even so, it was inspiring to me, as I would be stuck in a slow-moving herd of humanity, hearing French to my right, Portuguese right in front of me, a Slavic language behind me, a language from somewhere in South Asia to my right, and wafts of a Turkic language floating from a few people over. Have you ever stood in a crowd, snuggled in and surrounded by people, and realised that each pair of them was speaking a different language? It was the tower of Babel all over again.
My finest moment during this foray into central London during the Olympics was when I caused traffic disruption. I was waiting with my entourage of a couple hundred strangers for the pedestrian light to turn green, but there were no cars coming. When this happens, pedestrians in London look right, then look left, and if confident no one is coming, we cross. But we cross quickly in case someone does come along. Well, I naively did this, as I always do. I looked right and there were no cars, I looked left and there were no cars, so I started hopping across the street, quick as a bunny. Silly me… my entourage followed me, but they were in no rush at all! A few seconds later, not only a car, but a police car, pulled into the intersection. Boy was he mad. And the poor volunteer in the pink vest with the megaphone was embarrassed that he hadn’t managed to keep his intersection in order. Oops.