Thursday, January 10, 2008

Last Night's Commute

Well my next post was going to be about the great time Elizabeth and I had last weekend at the British Museum but I haven't had time to write it up yet and last night's commute warrents a story all on its own. It was like The Odyssey packed into about an hour and a half. OK, that's a little hyperbolic, but it was my first encounter with riot police. What? Read on.

I had every intention of leaving my office at 5 yesterday afternoon, but a late meeting and the need to wrap up some very important work had me staying until around 6:20 or so. I take off and head to Great Portland Street Tube, which aside from being fuller than normal for 6:25 at night was just a typical commute. As I'm riding the H&S line to King's Cross, an announcement comes on at Euston Square that King's Cross is closed. Like, completley closed and the train won't stop. It rolls through King's Cross and I press my nose to the window and the platforms are completely deserted, there's a siren and a yellow strobe light going and an announcement on the loudspeaker that 'due to an emergency, the station is closed. Please proceed to the nearest exit.'

For those who aren't familiar, King's Cross is one of the busiest Underground stations, so for it to be closed during rush hour is really really strange. It's like Grand Central or Times Square stations in New York being closed. And it's creepy as fuck to look out onto a platform that's usually jammed with people and it's completely deserted except for a few pieces of trash blowing around.

So I go all the way to Liverpool Street, change to the Central Line and meet the Picadilly Line at Holburn. The train is packed, like my morning commute - usually it's not quite as bad in the evenings, especially later in the evenings. We roll north (through King's Cross) and on the way to Holloway Road (my station) they announce that it's closed too because of the Arsenal-Tottenham game.

I support the home team as much as the next North Londoner (or I will, once I learn all the player's names) but being disgorged in front of Arsenal stadium with thousands of drunk fans and a 20 minute walk to the supermarket isn't my idea of fun. There are cops everywhere, some of them dressed in riot gear, some on horses. The streets around the stadium are closed and people are milling around, cheering for the home team, eating kebobs and generally having fun. So it's nothing really more than a minor annoyance that I have to walk a little further than normal, and it's kind of fun being in the crowd.

I make my way to Holloway Road, turn right and run right into a line of police vans full of riot cops. The vans are three deep, and there's a squad of mounted cops behind them - flanking a group of about 200 people dressed in Tottenham colors. Apparently the rivalry is so great the opposing fans needed a police escort to the stadium. And I soon learned why.

The Tottenham crew were yelling about how shite Arsenal was, and the Arsenal fans on the sidewalk were letting the Tottenham fans know how shite Tottenham was. And I was in the middle of it - and by that I mean physically between the two parties, trying to make my way home. When you're abroad, you learn a few rules to keep yourself out of trouble: don't discuss politics, don't be a dick about being an American, and generally keep out of the middle of two groups that look as though they could erupt into violence. So I was a little uncomfortable at this point.

Then the garbage-throwing began, and not five feet from me a mounted cop inserts himself between a trash-chucking Arsenal supporter and the crowd of Tottenham fans. By insert, I mean he physically rode his horse right in front of the guy, giving him no choice but the back the fuck off because there's a giant goddamned animal in his way. Things died down after that (I think - I admit I didn't stick around any longer than I had to) and at that point the excitement in my commute was over. I stopped by the grocery store - mercifully empty (the express checkout only took 10 minutes, a new record) and finally made it back to the flat.

And that was my first encounter with football hooligans and riot police!


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