I had assumed that a pilgrimage to Abbey Road would be uneventful.
To say that I'm an avid Beatles fan would probably be to undersell the point. On the other hand, who isn't a Beatles fan nowadays? To speak of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as if they're family members seem almost commonplace. Discussing the finer points of George Martin's Fifth Beatle-dom or asking whether or not Paul's grieving process at Brian Epstein's passing, manifesting itself as Magical Mystery Tour, was potentially more damaging to his relationship with Lennon than Yoko ever could be – well, I'm sure you've had that conversation many a time.
Nevertheless, I was a bit hesitant suggesting the visit, not knowing if my two Mancunian companions and my girlfriend would be all that interested. We only had one day in London, and time was mildly of the essence. Making our way to the B507, I envisioned stumbling over the zebra crossing, uttering a silent prayer to myself and then bashfully turning to the group as if to say, "Well...that's it" before heading off to Westminster or somewhere more generally notable. I anticipated an unremarkable spot, endowed with meaning from within rather than without. Boy, was I wrong.
Upon our arrival, there was the obvious crowd of hopeful walkers huddled on either side of the working street, waiting for their moment to reenact "the picture."
It. Was. Hilarious.
To fully appreciate our experience, it should be noted that Abbey Road is a fully functioning thoroughfare. It doesn't hold UNESCO status, and its primary purpose is to carry humans in fast-moving motor vehicles away from Regent's Park on up to the B510. However, since September 26th, 1969 – the release date of the Beatles album bearing the name and image of this particular road – the humans driving these motor vehicles have the added challenge of not killing the hoards of Beatles fans attempting to traverse the stop-lightless crosswalk. As a previous resident of New York City, it makes me thankful that the Beatles never photographed any album covers on the Uptown 4, 5, 6 subway line. Rush hour would've been murder – both literally and figuratively.
We quickly plopped down on a bench at the corner and watched the walkers' attempts as cars whizzed by and honked at the traffic makers. It soon became apparent that there was a certain art to patiently waiting for a pause in vehicular traffic while being quick and nervy enough to beat out the other walkers waiting their turn to become instafamous. There were too many fans to recount every single one, yet there were a few that left a lasting impression.
Upon our arrival, there was the obvious crowd of hopeful walkers huddled on either side of the working street, waiting for their moment to reenact "the picture".
There was a gentleman in what seemed to be his late 20s dressed in a green cardigan and dark sunglasses, who made several attempts in the twenty minutes we were there. He took it very seriously and patiently awaited his turn to make his way across the road. Each time he placed himself at a different point in the road as his friend snapped a shot from the center of the thoroughfare. I believe he's going to photoshop himself into all four spaces later on, thus creating a cardigan clad, sunglass bespeckled fab four. We rooted for him.
Another hopeful was a teenage girl with long blond hair, bell-bottom jeans, and a beret that read "solidarity." To which group or demographic, she ostensibly felt solidarity for, escaped us. She was rather sloppy in her execution. Constantly stepping on other people's turns and timing her walk-in tandem with the arrival of taxi cabs. It also seemed doubtful that she had ever listened to Abbey Road. She was the enemy. (If you're out there "solidarity" girl, I'm sorry you had to find out like this.)
But the hero of this story was a young woman (pictured in the heading of this article) with her boyfriend/husband who wore matching green tennis shoes. Matching green tennis shoes! She came bearing a tripod and trigger shutter for her little white smartphone. She methodically assembled her equipment, practiced a few different angles, and eventually settled on the optimal pose and position. With a quiet temerity, she strode through the crowd of barefoot Beatle fans and took her place in Abbey Road history. She came. She saw. And she conquered. She even helped "solidarity" girl take a superior photo upon request. Green tennis shoe girl can do it all.
As we got up from the bench and walked across the zebra crossing ourselves (with little pomp or circumstance), it occurred to me that this free entertainment in the form of people watching had been some of the most fun we had all trip. And to think I had almost eschewed this gem for fear of its ordinariness. It made me think of that Lao-Tzu quotation from the Tao Te Ching. The one about travel and arriving. It's profound...you should look it up.
So Abbey Road was a surprise.
London was lovely. Parliament was impressive. The Palace was pleasant. But Abbey Road...was fab.