i am a passenger, and i ride and i ride

the N5
Been a busy, busy week, with barely a moment to think. Januarys are hectic, and I’ve not had time to do any urban sketching this week. Here though is part of something I have been doing, a panel of a comic. This – not drawn from life – is a scene familiar to so many, waiting for the night bus. To those who don’t know, the night buses in London generally start at Trafalgar Square and then go all across the city, to the ends of the earth, ferrying late-night Londoners in varying states of tiredness or drunkenness or both back home when the tube has stopped running. The N5 was my bus. Back in the olden days, before the north side of Trafalgar Square was pedestrianized, I waited there for the N5, waited and waited until sometimes it was light, in the rain or the cold, with crowds of people or just a few stragglers (but usually with crowds, London at 4am on a Sunday morning is a busy bloody place). More often that waiting would be around the corner, one stop from the beginning, where the fried chicken shop was on Charing Cross Road. Some nights, the N5 just would not come. This was the old days, before Mayor Ken put lots more buses on the street, when you could wait two or three hours for a night bus that should have come hourly. Sometimes there would be one or two other buses, different routes, at your stop when your N5 finally came, only for the N5 to not bother stopping because nobody hailed it down (due to not actually being able to see it coming) – oh those were frustrating days. When I used to go to the Hellfire Club in Oxford Street, it was taking a chance getting on the N5 at Tottenham Court Road because it was usually full up by that point. Going out in Camden was worse, because that bloody N5 would always be absolutely jam packed by the time it reached Camden Town, and you just had to wait for the next one, that was all there was to it. The bus stop was outside the Black Cap, and opposite a 24 hour store where they sold cans of Pepsi Max and really bad sandwiches. Sometimes the N5 would decide inexplicably to stop in Golders Green, about halfway home, meaning another hour long wait and more time spent browsing bags of crisps in a 24-hour store, if it was even open. The most common habit though, and I know that all of you late-night Londoners out there have done this at some point, is the classic fall-asleep-and-wake-up-at-the-end-of-the-line move. Hey, it’s a long journey, and I can fall asleep on a five minute bus trip. My end of the line thankfully was only a mile or so from where I needed to get off, admittedly involving a walk through deserted car-park and dark alley and a walk up the Deansbrook in the cold. That was the N5 – when I was studying in east London and would get the N25 from Mile End to Trafalgar Square, well let’s say when I fell asleep the bus would just turn around and go the other way – one time I ended up in Essex (that’s nothing, once I fell asleep on the wrong train out of Brussels and ended up going into Holland). Those days are long gone – though that night a couple of months ago when I got stuck waiting for the Yolobus in Woodland after the Art Farm event certainly brought all of these adventures back to me (except in London, we do have streetlights).

The night bus, aah, we’ve all been there. Except if you aren’t from London or a big city which has them, in which case you probably haven’t.

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4 thoughts on “i am a passenger, and i ride and i ride

  1. dinahmow

    Going home late one day (winter, so already dark) I fell asleep on the District&Circle tube.That train was run onto a side line for service and the driver found me, sound asleep.

    Reply
  2. Aloquin

    I feel somewhat reluctant to comment, as I’ve never been to London, let alone out of the US, but I have lived near San Fran and NYC, so I can empathize :)

    Reply
  3. pete scully Post author

    On one (well, more than one) occasion I would be in an area I didn’t know well, got on the inbound Night Bus, fall asleep, and wake up somewhere in London completely unknown to me. And then try with all my might to stay awake on each subsequent bus I got while trying to weave my way back home across the capital in the wee dark hours. Oh the joys of living in a huge city.

    Reply

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