Thursday, July 10, 2014

Between Victoria and Gatwick Or The Bearer Of Good News

As students we never had enough money, so when we were accepted to graduate school at  the University of Toronto, getting there from Israel was a challenge. We looked for a cheap flight and were lucky: a year earlier in 1977, the British enterpreneur Freddy Laker started the first low-cost, "no frill" airline, operating low-fare scheduled services between London Gatwick Airport and New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

The option of booking tickets in advance did not exist, and in order to board a flight one had to line up for a ticket in one of the two Laker Airways centers --in Victoria Station and at Gatwick Airport.  We arrived at Victoria with our suitcases; the line for tickets was very long and we were told that we might be able to catch a flight in two days time. Efficiently people got organized into groups and each one had a coordinator who was in charge of communicating with the airline.  Since there so many people waiting, some  groups camped around the station in an orderly fashion.

My husband Tzvi and I didn’t look forward to the possibility of spending two days camping in the street. We asked our coordinator if he knew anything about the line at the other ticket center at  Gatwick Airport. He didn't, but said that he assumed that it was the same thing. We decided to check for ourselves; Tzvi took a  train to Gatwick and I stayed with the suitcases in Victoria. It took several hours but then he came back bearing good news: the line in Gatwick was short, there was a spacious waiting area,  and we could fly to NY that same night.

We were delighted and anxious to share this piece of good news with the rest of the. We were convinced that many people would choose to take the train to Gatwick. We were wrong, no one did, the two of us left and everyone else stayed behind.

The real reason why no one joined us remains a mystery, I still cannot understand why people preferred to remain outside the station in the heat and pollution of London in August.

But I could specualte, perhaps they didn’t believe us, most of them were Americans and we were strangers and spoke with a foreign accent. The sociologist Georg Simmel defines  "‘stranger’ as a person who comes today and stays tomorrow, whose position in a group is determined, essentially, by the fact that he has not belonged to it from the beginning, that he imports qualities into it which do not and cannot stem from the group itself."  Thus even though we were part of a group, we were viewed with suspicion.

Another reason could be that they felt comfortable and safe within their group and didn’t want to leave; it could be that no one wanted to be the first to go so they all stayed with their group.

Sometimes when I encounter people who are reluctant to do the one thing that, I believe, will get them out of a difficult spot, like leaving an abusive relationship, or quitting a job which they hate, I think of the Victoria vs Gatwick  story and reminded once more that what seems clear to me could be far from obvious to someone else.

PS. About Freddy Laker and Laker Airways.

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