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Connecting the dots.

Essays about how we communicate and why it matters.

Navigating Signals. Reading Signs.

Posted on Sunday, June 08, 2014 by Shelley Cowan

Travel is exhilarating. But it takes work to find your way and get where you want to go.

In those rare moments when signs and signals are obvious and clear, it’s a real treat.

So it was in London last week. My third visit, my daughter’s first. We wanted to see as much of the city by bus as we could. But London’s buses, unlike the Tube, can be tricky.

Even with a good sense of direction and good map-reading skills, it‘s disconcerting to see a bus on the “wrong” side of the street and be sure it’s headed in the right direction. Not all stops look alike. And with roundabouts instead of corners, it’s harder to know what road the bus came from or where it will stop. It took concentration but we did fine.

On our last day, we took the 74 along Cromwell Road and got off just past the Victoria and Albert Museum. We walked up Brompton Road and turned into the neighborhood of the Parent Trap London house. Just as we found it, a bobby pulled up (car, not bicycle) and offered to take the picture. Ours wasn’t his first mother-daughter-Parent Trap photo.

We walked to Harrods, then along Knightsbridge and through Buckingham Palace Gardens. After paying our respects we found a bus headed toward Piccadilly Circus, where we tried but failed to find the Sushi place we thought we’d seen the day before.

A quick Tube ride to Oxford Cross, with one last chance to find a Liverpool Football Club flag for my son, and maintain our perfect record of picking great restaurants. Every other tourist store was out of Liverpool flags. He would have understood if we couldn't find one. But this time we did!

Shopping done, tired from the relentless crowds, we stood at the edge of Hyde Park and watched busses until we spotted ours. Five crosswalks later, we were at our stop. The next 74 would arrive within minutes. Deciphering would be done.

My peripheral vision saw him first, gliding through the swarm without breaking his stride.

The next thing I knew, my brain said: Hey, that guy is walking just like Indiana Jones!

Harrison Ford passed me an instant, ball cap low and sunglasses over his eyes.

I read later that he’d piloted his plane into London two days earlier, there for the filming of Star Wars VII.

By the time I whispered to my daughter, she could only glimpse him from behind.

Are you sure?

I’d know that stride anywhere!

It was a perfect communication moment: Without saying a word his gait said: I have long legs and someplace I need to be.

And at the end of a long journey, I was ready for information I didn’t have to work for, a message that was clear, impactful and succinct.