Is this the most romantic bus in London?
There's something about the number 17. For the season finale of her hit London Love Stories podcast, Katie Strick meets not one but two couples who met on the same London bus
Alice Ehrlich's meet-cute with her husband Elliot Hammer reads like one from Richard Curtis movie: a chance encounter on a London bus; some back-seat chit-chat about Columbia Road Flower Market and Sunday hangovers; a spur-of-the-moment running-through-the-airport-style decision to get off the bus and ask for his number, figuring she had nothing to lose.
The couple met ten years ago, in October 2013, on the number 17 bus from King's Cross to Archway — which just so happens to be exactly the same bus Rory O'Keefe met his now-wife Charlotte on 18 months later, in May 2015.
Rory and Charlotte's meet-cute might have taken place a little differently to Alice and Elliot's: they'd met at a party three months previously; they were standing at the number 17 bus stop outside King's Cross when Charlotte recognised him and she had the advantage of a little Dutch encourage when she decided to approach him, unlike our other hungover protagonist Alice, 35, a senior programme manager for a healthcare think-tank.
Like Alice, Rory, 33, a comedian and travel consultant, also had to make a spur-of-the-moment decision. He hopped on the same bus as Charlotte, 33, a French and Spanish teacher and his mystery bus stop crush, not knowing where it was going but keen not to cut short his conversation with the attractive girl from the party who'd just made it very clear she was no longer with the boyfriend she was with the last time they met. He proposed at that same bus stop seven years later, and — in a happily-fitting full-circle ending to their story — they spied another young couple flirting at the front of the bus as they rode the number 17 home.
"The magic in it is there are eight million people in London or something and we'd never have met if it wasn't for that bus," Elliot, 39, a designer and photographer, tells me in part one. "They pump it full of pheromones or something," Rory jokes in part two.
Martha, 37, another regular passenger, says she once had a crush on another fellow number 17 commuter, but the magic was lost the moment she saw him out of context in a pub.
So what is it, exactly, about the number 17? Could it really be the most romantic bus route in London? And what’s that old saying about buses and two coming at once? Well, it seems the same can be said for bus-related love stories as well…
"My heart was thumping. I could feel it in my chest. And I just thought, I should get off and see if I can... find him," Alice says of the moment she debated whether to get off the bus and follow Elliot. She's long wondered what it is about that bus that got them talking: it probably helps that King's Cross is a key hub for Londoners and the Caledonian Road is packed full of single young professionals.
Whatever it was, she's glad she took that risk now, looking back. She'd been rejected enough times to know it wasn't the end of the world if Elliot turned down her advances in the street. And the transient nature of public transport forced her to make that move more quickly than she might have done in a bar or at a party.
Rory, who met Charlotte on the same bus two years later, agrees the real magic of his story wasn't in the Sliding Doors nature of their chance encounter, fateful as it was. The true wonder of it was in the choices both parties in both couples made to make those encounters happen: Alice getting off the bus for Elliot, Charlotte approaching Rory at the bus stop, him jumping on the bus with her even though he didn't know where it was going — a metaphor for life, really, in many ways.
He and Charlotte had a reading about this at their wedding earlier this year: an extract from a story set in a fictional heaven where the gods of fate are painstakingly try to make a meet-cute between two humans happen. They slow the traffic, they make a baby cry, set everything in place to curate that perfect meeting. And the humans do meet — but they still fail to take the initiative needed to actually start a conversation and fall in love.
For Rory, this hard but important truth about initiative and making your own luck might not sound as romantic as the idea of fate and star-crossed-lovers, but it's a more realistic and hopefully more heartening one, in a way: that we make our own luck; that destiny is in our own hands; that these potential opportunities are in front of us every day. We just have to take them.
"Get to every bus stop in London... if it's not happening for you on the first 10 or 12 bus stops in a night, just keep going," he says in part two of this week's episode. It's a joke, of course. Because perhaps the real learning of both stories is that it doesn't matter what bus number you're on. Or in fact whether you're on a bus at all.
As Elliot says slightly more seriously in part one of this week's podcast: the real key to finding your person might not be about knowing when to get on the bus, really — it's actually about knowing when it's time to get off.