Stories from the Road: Abbey Road - London, England (January 4, 2015)
Before you go hunting for the famous crosswalk from the Abbey Road album cover, I hope you have friends as nice as mine. Friends who will message you back at all hours of the night (due to the time difference) saying “ABBEY ROAD IS NOT AT THE ABBEY ROAD TUBE STOP.” or “Abbey Road Studios is at the St. Johns Wood tube stop. Yes, I am sure and yes, I know it makes no sense.” If your friends aren’t that kind (or that familiar with London), then let me be the first to tell you.
Getting off the tube station, at St. John’s Wood, I realized that I didn’t really know which way to go. I hadn’t even planned on going, except that the same friends who had warned me about the tube stop had also emphasized that Abbey Road was not to be missed. They told me to stop pretending that I was too cool and just go. Reading their messages as I locked the hotel door and headed out of range of the hotel wifi, I hadn’t thought to ask any questions. They way there were talking, I had just assumed it would be obvious. Walking down the empty suburban looking street with the sun setting behind me, I began wishing that I’d thought to ask.
My lack of preparedness and Beatles knowledge was apparent as I inspected every crosswalk I passed. Of course, then I didn’t that the Abbey Road recording studio still stands and the famous stripes are anything but hidden. Silly me to think that I would be the only tourist chasing that famous photo site. When I finally turned a corner and saw the mass of people at the next crosswalk, I knew that I’d found what I was looking for.
Queued up on both sides of the street were groups of tourists holding their cameras, posing, and walking across in groups of four. Leaning against a black metal fence half a block away, I watched the sets take turns and pass off their cameras, trying to achieve the perfect photo while playing chicken with the oncoming cars. This may be the only street in the world where continuous flashing headlights don’t detour tourists that are standing in the middle of the road. As I watched, I pretended that just seeing the famous spot was enough. But secretly, I knew that I didn’t want to look stupid walking across the road by myself. One of the disadvantages of solo travel is having to do things alone, however it also means that there is no one there to witness you looking dumb. I knew that I had to swallow my pride and just do it. Finally, I got in line, put my head down and walked quickly across the road, trying to doge the cars and my own internal judgement.
On the other side, there were two girls about my age sitting on a low wall. While I hated myself for walking across the road, I knew that I would hate myself more if I left without a photo. Even if it was just me posing in front of the madness.
“Excuse me, I know this is really lame, but do you mind taking my picture? I can’t go home empty handed.” My words were rushed and I hoped that the girls spoke enough English so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself. Solo travel also means constantly asking strangers to take your picture. It is something I’ve never quite gotten used to doing.
“Sure,” the blonde girl smiled as she spoke with a thick Australian accent. “Or, if you want, you could wait with us. We’ve been on the look out for two more people, but, if you stay, then we only need one more.”
“You don’t mind?” I didn’t want to appear desperate, even though I always was. What were the chances that these girls not only didn’t think the tourist goings on were lame, but that they wanted me to join in theirs?
“You’d be doing us a favor,” the brunette agreed. “We are not leaving here without a picture of that looks exactly like the album cover. We’ve been scouting for the perfect person to take it for over an hour. No luck yet.” She looked over her should at the tourists gathered by the crosswalk. “Mostly we’re looking for someone else who speaks English.”
Sitting on the low wall next to them, I watched as they alternated getting up and taking photos for people. At first, I thought they were just being altruistic, but they explained that they were perfecting the angle in order to tell their future photographer exactly where to stand. Finally, they saw three girls walking down the street, speaking English, and exchanged a look.
“Excuse me,” the blonde called. “We could you take a photo for us? Also would one of you be willing to be our John? We’re Paul and Ringo.” She gestured to her brunette friend. “If you don’t mind being George…” she turned and asked me. I smiled. As long as I got to be in the photo, I didn’t care who I was. The girls nodded and my two new friends began explaining where they wanted the photographer to stand. They came back with our John and began showing us exactly how to stand.
“It’s going to be step, step, hit,” the brunette called striking a mid-step pose.
The blonde glanced at me. “Sorry if we’re being obsessive. We came all the way from Australia for this.”
“I’m just happy to be a member of your fab four.” I couldn’t help but be honest. I had assumed that I’d be headed home with an stilted photo and awkward story of how I got it. This was so much better.
The Australians gathered us and the photographer at the crosswalk and lined us up accordingly. (Who knew that George is last? I didn’t.) They waited for a pause in cars and yelled for us to start walking. “Step, step, step, shoot,” they called in unison. We paused mid-step and it almost seemed like time stopped for a half a second. I wondered if that’s how the four felt the day that they took the famous photo.
Across the street, the photographer handed back their phone amidst calls of ‘thank you’ from all sides. The other Australian put her phone in my hands and told me to find my Facebook profile so they could tag me in the photo. After Facebook connections were made, they insisted that I head down the street to take a selfie big Abbey Road sign, promising it was a necessary part of the Abbey Road experience.
By the time I got back to my hotel room, I had a friend request, a photo notification and a message from my mom: ‘Your father asked who those girls are in the picture. I told him that you must’ve made yourself some new friends.’