The City of Busted Down Trains

Posted: January 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

I started my new job as a Research Services Librarian at Simmons College on Monday. Along with a new job came my new commute. Instead of traveling up and down the parking lot that is 128, I now take public transit. While I knew I would be trading in one set of commuting issues for another, I never really thought about the culture that is inherent to those that commute via commuter rail and subway. The first thing I noticed is that even if a train is supposed to arrive at a certain time, it probably won’t. I think the schedule is just a list of “suggestions.” I like to think this is a similar concept to the one my father had about speed limits. When he was teaching me to drive he told me that speed limit postings were just suggestions. You could choose to accept it or not. I think that on most days the MBTA chooses to go by its own schedule. A schedule much like the monies held by casinos in Vegas—under strict lock and key. No one is privy to this information especially the commuters. Those of us standing around in the freezing cold waiting.  I thought I would be all tech-savvy and download an  app called “Transit.” This wonderful app is supposed to tell you what train is nearest to where you are and what time it will arrive. I tested this out yesterday waiting for the Green line into North Station at Museum Stop. I patiently watched my app count down, “3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, you are now boarding.” Funny, because I didn’t feel myself boarding anything let alone a train. Why? The train was nowhere to be seen. In fact the phantom train I boarded was actually 10 minutes late and when it did arrive, only ONE person managed to squeeze inside. ONE PERSON. Hell, why even bother stopping. People were literally falling out the car when the doors opened.

Who was this lucky commuter you ask you made it onto the train? I like to call her “Ms. Tunnel Vision.” She boards in Salem usually on the same train I do and also gets off at Museum Stop. She walks with a cane. What isn’t obvious is the hidden spring in her step when she needs to board a full train. Yes folks, she literally wielded that cane around like a pair of nunchucks. So much for being disabled. I think her handicap is selfishness. She is a commuting ninja and know that I have her number I will be watching.

Then there is the level of intimacy achieved on the subway. I am from the Midwest. When someone is practically fondling me, I like to at least have a conversation or at the very least make eye contact and smile. But the environment on the T is to avoid eye contact all together. To stand pressed up against each other, breathing on one another, inadvertently fondling one another while pretending like you are alone in a room with no one else in sight. Yes, my hand was practically cupping an older woman’s breast as I tried desperately to hold onto the bar without falling over. I wanted to say something. I wanted to at the very least say “Good Morning” but I didn’t. Later as I stood bracing myself against the sudden lurching and stalling of the train, a man was standing in the stairwell of the car with his face literally in my crotch. I didn’t even a get a smile. Or an acknowledgement.

Then there are the phantom movements. This is a phenomenon I have felt at least a few times a day. This is when you so desperately want the car to move, focus all your energies to will it to move that for a few seconds you actually can feel it moving when it truth you are still just sitting on the tracks. In some ways this is probably the cruelest thing I have discovered. Rudeness, pushiness, bitchiness and the like are par for the course but phantom movements really upset me because for a few fleeting moments I convince myself I am going to arrive at my destination somewhere in the realm of “on time.” Then the phantom sensation passes I am find myself stranded like everyone else.

And I am learning that “on time” means something totally different in Boston than it does in the Midwest. I am convinced there is no real way to get anywhere quickly or on time here. Unless you go the night before and camp out. Or you live in your office. Or you work from home. Or you are unemployed or have no life. Or you are dead but chances are you were late for your funeral or missed it entirely. Otherwise you are at the mercy of the MBTA gods. Once you step aboard the train and show your pass, you are successfully surrendering all control of your commute. Whenever you arrive is not up to you. However you get there, not really up to you either. Sure, the train can be stuck on the track within view of North Station for over an hour and the conductor will apologize and thank you for your understanding. As if you ever really had a choice. As you could just take off running down the tracks screaming your way to the subway. Believe me, I thought about it.

So I am really trying to learn to adapt. To let go of the nagging need to be early for everything. As long as I arrive the same day I am supposed to be there, I guess that will be good enough.

Lastly, I am envious of my fellow commuters who can sleep on the train. Sleep so damn soundly that they are snoring loud enough to alert seats in a three row radius. That takes special skill because the moment we neared North Station, he was wide awake and checking his phone for emails. All without an announcement from the conductor. Brilliant. Right now I am too invested in people-watching to attempt to sleep. Plus I am checking my email for T-alerts to see if any problems have occurred on the Green Line. And usually, yes there is a disabled car, a mechanical problem, a signal issue, or a cloud passed by that looked like a donkey on roller skates. Who the hell knows. The truth is there is always something and it will inevitably affect your commute time.

Despite all these issues and complaints, I would still gladly take the T any day than go back to “driving” 128. A road where I firmly believe that the speed limit signs should say, “Give it a try” or “See what you can do” because we all know that reaching a cruising speed of 55 mph is so NOT going to happen unless you are traveling at 3am or fall into a wormhole. Otherwise, suck it up buttercup because you will be lucky to go 20 mph and when you go 30 mph it will feel like you are at the Indy 500.

Creative fodder. I remind myself of this every morning. No matter how many people push me aside, get shitty with me because somehow I am in their way and ruining their existence, or put their faces in my crotch, this makes a story. There’s the silver lining. If only that was a viable option to commute to work. It sounds like it would arrive on time or at the very least be less crowded.

Until next time, take the last train to Clarksville unless it is running late in which case you’re screwed.

  1. scubabarb says:

    This was outstandingly funny. I literally had tears falling down my cheeks as I read this at 7-ish this morning, BEFORE my first cup of coffee.

    • illustratedlibrarian says:

      At least the writing of it is funnier than living through it! “Ms. Tunnel Vision” boarded again with me in Salem. I think her cane is purely a prop to score sympathy so she can always get a seat on the rail and subway. I know better. I’ve seen her make moves even Chuck Norris would be envious of.

      • scubabarb says:

        wielding her cane like a set of nunchucks…loved it!! Not sure how I managed to score TWO comments…fiddling with the password. sigh Feel free to delete one.

  2. scubabarb says:

    Outstandingly funny! Reading this at 7-ish this morning before my first cup of coffee and laughing hysterically at the imagery!

  3. toylibrarian says:

    I ❤ your face. Thank you for reminding me what there is to like about the Midwest. We are unfailingly polite. And I can walk to work. But not right now because my face would freeze off.

    • illustratedlibrarian says:

      Yes, Mandie! As a whole Midwesternes are a friendly bunch. In particular with the verbal pleasantries and the smiles. If you smile at people on the subway here they will think you are either a)insane or b)about to do something awful.

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