THE NAME GAME Part 1: LOOK OUT

If you go to work on a bus it’s an interesting ride. I get my kicks from route 88, not Route 66, because London Bus route 88 is associated with The man on the Clapham Omnibus. As I travel I imagine this fictitious fellow beside me, this fair-minded man, intelligent yet ordinary, whose attitudes have been noted by English Law since Victorian times. It’s as though I am on board with public opinion, bowler hat and curlicue mustache not required these days.

I don’t doubt the panoramic thrill of Route 66; the gas-stations, diners and hand-painted murals that arrived to entice the newly motorised consumer. I have a personal fondness for Gallup, a one horse town just a quick stopover on the busy road to Amarillo. Classic car aficionados will point to successful advertising campaigns that have hitched a ride along this winding trek through America’s frontier.

We should also celebrate the view from the window of a Double Decker Bus: a diorama of retail. The top deck is at optimal height to read the procession of shop names. There’s an ‘I’d like to go inside that shop one day’ intrigue to be enjoyed while in transit. As the signage streams past the passenger can spot the inventive among the perfunctory. In The Codfather the British and the American combine: if I want assault and battery with my Fish and Chips I know where to go. The aristocratic jostles with the uncouth in a Taxidermy shop named Get Stuffed. How do they answer the phone? – ‘Good morning sir, Get Stuffed.’ Some names obey the dictum of ‘explain what it is you sell or do’: the white goods purveyor Sellfridges is comically literal. Others speak to the blend of fact and myth in the consumer mind. The bed shop Beddy Buys sells a good night. Jack the Stripper sounds a handyman in two distinct trades.

Bus Route 88 was re-branded with jaunty graphics as The Clapham Omnibus in the 1990s, and since reverted to red livery. The original route, during the era of the Omnibus, is unknown. Did it ever exist? Route 66 was superseded
by the Interstate Highway. No longer an integral part of migration to the West, it remains imbued with cultural inviolability.

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