Thursday, October 3, 2013

Abbey Road--a spiritual journey of ten paces, and the dreadlocked stranger who documented it

His name was Roman. He has an accent that sounds Eastern European. He works on Abbey Road, taking photos of tourists crossing the famous street. He uses a Polaroid and sells the prints for 3 quid.

I met him when I made my own spiritual journey--all of ten paces--across the zebra crossing where my gods, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, once walked.

I was alone, having broken away from the group from the hostel I had spent the morning with. Crossing the road for the first time meant too much to me to do with anyone else who wouldn't understand why tears would fill my eyes at the first sight of the white stripes on gray pavement.

Roman, it seemed, understood perfectly. He didn't seem to roll his eyes as he waited for me to cross. And the care with which he documented my crossing told me that he knew how much it meant to me.

I suppose it's because he saw how awestruck I was the moment I turned the corner from Grove Street and saw Abbey Road, finally. I remember now that he had offered to take my photo for 3 pounds, but I had ignored him because I was thinking only of finally getting to walk on the famous road. At that time, there were two little kids crossing, along with someone who was probably their dad. A woman, probably their mother, was taking the photo on her iPad from the island across the street.

A group of girls stood on the studio side of Abbey Road, the point where the crossing begins. They were arranging themselves, probably deciding who gets to be John, Paul, George, and Ringo. When they finally crossed, another girl was taking their photo.

A couple went next. They had asked this dandy guy in a three-piece suit and a beret to take their photo. I could tell he was a professional, because he used a fancy camera with a giant flash. The photographer choreographed their crossing too, masterfully timing the walk in-between passing cars, crossing along with the couple so that the shot was taken from the same perspective as the one on the album cover.

Finally, it was my turn, my moment. Muslims have the Hajj, Catholics journey to the Holy Land. Every religion has their big pilgrimage. Mine was crossing Abbey Road.

As I stood at the starting point, my cheeks were flushed, my heart was racing, and my eyes were welling up again. I sound like an emotional wreck, but you have to understand, I am a huge Beatles fan, and I've known Abbey Road since I was 11.

That album got me through a lot of teenage angst and internal conflicts. I looked down at my feet and the street up ahead and thought, once upon a time, The Beatles had this very view of the world. I took a breath and got ready to take a step. And then I realized I had no one to document that grand moment.

I thought about it. So what if I didn't  have a photo of my first time doing the crossing? A lot of firsts are never documented in photographs, it doesn't mean they mean less. But then I looked at all the other tourists crossing the road. These people didn't seem as emotionally invested in the crossing as I was, but they cared enough to make sure they made their memory tangible, whether it was bringing someone along or hiring a photographer to take the shot.

I thought, well if these people are gonna get their Abbey Road photos, I have to have mine as well. I took a step back from the road and looked for someone approachable enough to help me take my photo.

No one seemed interested in helping me out--everyone else was focused on taking their friends' photos or crossing, or not getting hit by the passing cars, and I didn't want to bother them.

And then I spotted Roman. He looked nice enough, though I hesitated to approach him because a.) I had ignored him earlier when he offered his services, and b.) I was still pretty much an emotional wreck, and I didn't want to be judged for being a silly fangirl, even if I totally was.

After dawdling for a bit just to compose myself, I approached him cautiously.

"Hi," I said. He smiled. I took a deep breath. "Is it okay if you take my photo with my camera?"

He smiled wider and reached out for my camera. I handed it to him.

"I can't pay you though..." I whispered tentatively.

"It's okay," he answered casually, nodding his head to the direction of the crossing.

I stood on the edge of the curb, waiting for the road to clear. My emotions were at a crescendo, heightened by the kindness of the stranger pointing the camera at me. I took a deep breath, told John, Paul, George, and Ringo that I loved them, and said a prayer in my head: One sweet dream came true

"Ready?" Roman said, and that was my cue.

I crossed the street, tracing the footsteps of the Beatles, following a path I had been headed for all my life.

Roman caught it on camera. He did it very well too. In the middle of the road, he even asked me to stop and smile. Now I have a photo that perfectly represents how happy I was in that moment.

He handed me back my camera, and asked me if the photos were good enough, if I wanted him to take more. As his word gave way to a silence that waited for my approval, I understood somehow that he knew how much the moment meant to me.

Before I left, I asked him if he had a photo of himself crossing Abbey Road. He told me it was his job to take photos, not the other way around. I thought that it was unfair to him somehow, so I decided to balance things out by taking a photo of him as well. I showed him the photo after I took it, and I could swear he had the warmest smile. Perhaps it meant something big for him too.

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