Wearing my iPod earbuds, I step off the escalator of the Underground and look down at my phone- 10:30pm. It’s been a long day. Work at 10:30am- Class at 2pm- Show at 7:30pm; pretty much my typical schedule these past few weeks. Rushing around to catch the transit and scrambling to find semi-quick, semi-cheap, and semi-healthy(ish) meals in the midst of all this running around has thoroughly exhausted me. I walk through King’s Cross Station and pass all the shops that have closed their doors, all the travellers waiting for their 11 ‘clock train, all the tourists taking their last few pictures of the Harry Potter trolley before the workers move it back into the store. I head towards the door. My feet ache, my head aches, my stomach aches, and I honestly can’t wait to get to my room, put on my pajamas, and eat some late-night pasta while watching Netflix.
But something changes when I walk outside and look around and suddenly I want to linger around here for a little while longer. There’s just something magical about walking by King’s Cross late at night (yes, New Yorkers, 10:30pm is considered “late” for the British folk). To me, the King’s Cross exterior at night is like a beacon of warm light- maybe it’s the glow of the clock against the dark sky- maybe it’s the way the trees are lit by the heat lamps- maybe it’s the glimmer of the stone benches seemingly set aflame by the underlighting along the ground. Or maybe it’s St. Pancras, towering over the cityscape and illuminating the small outdoor King’s Cross park area.
Whatever it is, I always feel calm and peaceful here- it’s my “Great Good Place”, to use the words of writer Paul Theroux. Even when I’m trudging back to my room after a tiring day, I walk through this tiny part of the city and somehow my body and soul feel a little bit lighter. I find myself drawn to the stone benches and I climb on top of them and stare out at what lies before me. As I look at the main tower of St. Pancras, I feel both so little and so tall at the same time because I, too, am towering over the people walking on the ground, but still small compared to the vast buildings surrounding me. Add in the music of Sia or Daft Punk or whomever is providing my daily soundtrack, and it’s like I’m in a deep introspective scene out of one of those indie movies- it sounds pretty cheesy, I know, but, in that specific moment, time freezes around me and I feel like I am standing on the precipice of something truly great.
I have been recreating this experience for the past week or so now, desperate to squeeze out a little more magic out of London before I leave in a few weeks. It’s funny because, even after all these months, I still get that quick flash of realization that I’m actually in London when I’m looking out at the city in front of my eyes. It’s a resurfacing of that initial giddiness that I had when I first arrived, as if it’s all a dream. I’m glad that it’s still there and that the hustle and bustle of London hasn’t taken that joy away from me.
And then I think about my life back in New York, about how many days I drag myself around from place to place and just don’t appreciate the beauty of the city, about how hard it is for me to feel that magic after these past few years of the city bringing me down. It’s the wonder and awe that I feel atop those benches that I want to bring back to New York with me. I want to rekindle the romance I once had with the city streets as a first-year. In a way, London has been like my marriage counsellor, helping to put the spark back into my relationship with New York City as I prepare to begin my final year at NYU.
- King’s Cross Station exterior at nightt: Ian Mansfield