One of the major differences between living in the US as opposed to Sussex was brought to mind recently when I lost my bus pass.
In New York, this would be a relatively minor problem. But in England, where the hills are green, the ale comes in pints and the towns all roll up their sidewalks promptly at 5:00 PM, it becomes a major inconvenience.
Until I found myself in immediate need of a new bus pass, I regarded this as one of the quaint idiosyncrasies that gave living in Britain such charm, but I found nothing charming in spending as much on bus fare in one day as I used to spend in a week. The only window of opportunity available for renewing bus passes (or getting a haircut or visiting a bank or just about any other chore you normally carry out on your way to and from work) is Saturday morning, and even that has its limitations.
The bus headquarters are in a town some 20 miles away. But these are British miles, mind you, so this is not a 20-minute jaunt down the interstate; it's more of a lengthy expedition along winding and narrow roads interspersed with startlingly sudden and mysteriously unaccountable traffic jams.
And don't even get me started on parking.
Parking was the reason I had to put off renewing my pass for two weeks; the weather was far too nice.
You see, in addition to being far away and protected by a city, the bus office has the bad luck to be located directly on the main road running parallel to the stretch of gravel hemming the grey and frigid waters of the English Channel which, in England, passes for a beach, and to which the locals lovingly and enthusiastically flock in all manner of weather. On your average Saturday, unless I got up at 4 AM, the likelihood of finding a parking space anywhere within ICBM range of the bus office was roughly equal to that of Michael Jackson being appointed Activities Coordinator for the Department of Children's Services.
So I endured a second week of expensive commutes and hoped for a turn in the weather.
The British climate is famous for its awfulness, but that's mostly a ploy propagated by the native population so people like me won't decide to live here. In truth, the weather, at least in the southern regions, is mild and agreeable. There are no run-for-your-life thunderstorms, withering heat waves or freeze-your-nostrils-shut cold snaps. Give them their due, they make the most of their drizzle, but walking to the bus stop on a damp morning has little to compare with the race to locate and liberate your car out from under a generous helping of snow before your fingers freeze or you drop from a heart attack. Practically the only natural disaster Britain can conjure up is wind, and I was pleased to find Saturday morning ushering in an abnormal amount of it.
Saying it was windy is a bit like saying the Germans are efficient; the morning news told tales of uprooted trees, floods and partially dismantled houses that had--up to this point--withstood centuries of the local climate. Naturally, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to get my bus pass.
The drive to the bus office wasn't perilous, but it was interesting. My wife's little car--which you could easily fit into the trunk of an American car and still have room left for groceries--was batted around like a mouse being tormented by a particularly evil cat. We arrived without mishap, however, and even located a parking spot, though it was harder than you might think. This was, after all, Saturday morning and, gale or no gale, everyone in the surrounding countryside still needed to come into town to do their weekly shopping. This is one of the reasons Britons are such a hardy bunch.
Gales of this force make strolling difficult; you often take one step forward only to find yourself blown backward three, and the rain feels like hundreds of BB's shot from distant, but powerful, air rifles. The surf, I decided, would look awesome, so I convinced my wife to take a small detour.
Shouting to one another in order to be heard above the storm, I assured my wife that, no matter how bad the weather, there was always at least one idiotic couple out on the beach walking their dog or taking a stroll.
"Yes," she replied, "only this time, it's us."
Looking straight into the tempest proved difficult but I doggedly enjoyed watching the pounding foam while struggling to keep upright on the scree. My wife, bless her, made no complaint; but then, she's British, and used to such things.
Satisfied at having enjoyed yet another "British Experience" we made our way to the bus office.
I barely had enough time to pull back my hood and shed half a quart of water onto their lobby floor when the kindly lady behind the desk handed me my pass.
"I thought this was lost."
The woman smiled. "The bus driver turned it in. We were waiting for you to call us."
"Well, I was waiting for you to send it to me!"
She nodded and continued smiling, fully convinced she had done the right thing in holding on to an expensive and indispensable item with my name and address clearly visible on it until I showed up to claim it, never thinking I might want it back but was too busy holding down a job to come all the way . . .
"Thank you," my wife said, escorting me, and my bus pass, back into the storm.
Back in our flat, towelled dry and enjoying a cup of tea, I continued my rant.
". . . all that money wasted, all that time, what were they thinking . . . "
"We're British," my wife said, "it's just the way we are."
Then she switched on the TV where the local newscaster, reporting on location about the storm, was interviewing a couple out on the beach casually walking their dog.