The end of an era that still rings in my memory
December 27, 2005
This Christmas I checked my stocking twice. Then, realizing my ultimate wish hadn’t been granted, I took a quick glance under the tree. But even with all the presents sitting there, I was all but certain the one thing I really wanted just wasn’t going to materialize.And to be honest, I guess I just can’t blame dear old Santa for his mistake in not delivering my dream gift. After all, I don’t think what I wanted would fit into a sleigh – even Santa’s. You see, this year I asked for a bus. That’s right folks, a real, honest to god, driveable bus. But not just any bus. I wanted a red, London Routemaster double decker bus. And I wanted it for purely sentimental reasons.The Routemaster is the double decker bus that you’ve seen in just about every picture ever taken of London, and this year, after a half a century of use, the city has retired the last one.
The reasons for the retirement are many and include old age and the fact that the buses are not handicap-accessible, but I, for one, will miss the rackety things. I have many fond memories of those vehicles, and that’s saying something from a boy who grew up in the Midwest of the United States, which is about as far as one can get from old London town.The first time I ever saw a Routemaster was on an obscure Saturday morning kids’ television show called The Double Deckers. The show, which ran from about 1970-1972, was about a group of genius kids that played in a converted double decker bus in London. The bus, which acted as their clubhouse, was really tricked out with all kinds of special gadgets and cool trap doors and such, and as a kid looking for excitement while living in the intensely dull middle of America this fueled fantasies in me for years to come. Then, just after I escaped college, I became a flight attendant and began my years of international travel. And one of my favorite destinations was the city of London.
I can now, even after all these years, still remember the first time I hopped aboard a Routemaster on a city street. I can still picture the unusually sunny day, the faces of my friends laughing on the top deck and what it felt like to make a running leap onto the back step of a departing bus and swinging my body into the open door.(The Routemasters had an open door plan that made jumping on and off the bus while it was still moving not only an option but also a romantic tradition.)With the retirement of the last bus in London, the city has decided to sell the fleet off to the average Joe that might just want one of these pieces of history. The going price is a measly $3,000, and if I had that kind of money I can’t think of one thing I’d rather spend it on.
It’s funny how something so British ended up playing such a large role in my rather odd life.Since I didn’t find a Routemaster under the tree this Christmas, I guess I’ll just have to wait until my birthday in January to open this gift. I just hope a couple of extra weeks will help my wife raise the cash it will take to bring one of these memories across the pond.Andrew Gmerek writes a Friday column. He can be reached at email@example.com.