Beyond the Ring Road

Growing up it was all about escalators.

When you really, really, really wanted to go shopping you would pack everyone and everything into a car/van/motor home and drive to a place that, in order to fully see all shops, you had to ride escalators.

This was only done in the case of a massive oncoming event such as a wedding or back to school shopping. (Though back to school usually involved the trips to the outlet malls.  Those beacons of Russell Brand sports apparel.)  It involved you rising from bed at 5 AM, making sure everyone ate, and then 50-100 glorious miles of driving to foreign cities like Mobile and Tallahassee.

Those were the days.

I spent an interim time of 8 years of my life in Houston, where you could pretty much purchase anything, including the hallowed See’s Candy.  So I know about shopping overload capability.  But my youth is firmly placed in the foundation of it being a really huge deal to go to a place where the stairs moved on their own.  It was a magical time.

Which is why, after living car free in Oxford, England for over a year the rental of a car would warrant one thing: A trip to a place that is like a trip to a store with escalators…

A trip beyond the ring road.

England doesn’t do a lot of escalators.  Why is beyond me.  Instead, they have these islands of massive shopping capability that are settled around these transportation marvels called ring roads.  Here you can purchase things by choosing them from a group of other things placed on shelves.  This is vastly different from Oxford, where they cram all items together on one shelf, as space is limited, and most days it looks like World War III is imminent and thus the stock is out.

In order to transport yourself there you get into your car on the side which is the passenger side in the US but is the driver’s side in the UK.  Your goal is to get to streets with more than two lanes.  In order to get to these streets you must squeeze your car through streets that were initially designed for people to ride on horseback one-way.  Through flashing your lights, waving your hands, and pressing on the gas in an aggressive manner you can accomplish this.  These two lane streets lead to the ring road, which is like a roundabout but with lights.  Painted onto the lanes of the ring road are words like A40 (a highway), retail outlet (a glorious beacon of consumer shopping might), and GRUGFLA, which is the lane you end up getting into.  Thus, through a series of more flashing of lights, waving, honking, and apology faces as you merge back into the retail outlet lane.

This then shoots you off into heaven, where you can purchase milk in near close to gallon jugs and more than two types of peanut butter.  These places are wonders as they are open 24 hours a day, except Sunday, which defeats the entire ideal of saying they are open 24 hours a day as they are not.  But what they don’t do is close at 5 PM like most of the shops in Oxford (except on Sundays, if they decide to open at all).  So this is all very exciting.  As well the really amazing option of being able to push around carts which are full size.

As these ring roads are few and far between every human within a 100-mile radius is drawn to these places on weekends, so you feel like an ant in an ant colony, climbing over you brothers and sisters to get two for one Mueller Rice Pots.  It doesn’t matter, however, because you have driven there and so whatever it is you bought, no matter how heavy, you don’t have to bike or bus it home.

I’m sure if Tesco had buy one get one free 100 blocks of lead I would’ve purchased them just because of this.

Your goal is to then fill your vehicle to bursting with items, and navigate home in reverse of the way you came.  Then, you can spend many a happy hour trying to figure out where you can put it all as no home in Oxford was actually designed to fit anything purchased from a ring road shop.

It’s times like these that I realize no matter our differences the English and Americans do have things in common.  The escalators of my youth give way to the ring roads of my current existence.  Who might guess at the future of my massive choice overload shopping adventure.  Who might even guess.

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