A Guide to American Public Transport

I was actually shocked when my train turned up this morning and it was only two minutes late.

Yesterday,  I realized that something was terribly wrong when half the population of Salem was congregating on the platform staring at their watches and swaying in annoyance (you don’t want to actually pace in annoyance as you’ll lose your train-boarding standing position).

As everything else does, it got me thinking about the differences between public transport of the Motherland, and the oft-ghastly horror movie corpse wagons I’m sometimes subjected to taking here:

 

Trains

I used to live in a tiny little town. Very normal-looking, not rich, not poor. What happens with the train is, you go to a little building (door, walls, floor etc) and buy your ticket from a ticket agent. If you hate talking to people, there are a few automated machines.

When you get your ticket, you slot it into an automated turnstile-type thing which lets you through. There’s also a ticket agent standing there to help disabled people or answer any questions/let you through if the machine isn’t working etc.

Once you’ve got access to the platforms, there might be a shop or a cafe, and in much bigger stations (e.g. London), you’ve got national chain restaurants, fashion boutiques, brasseries, etc. where you can sit, eat, drink, shop or relax until your train comes or is announced via tannoy, or on the gigantic LED announcement board detailing the train’s departure/arrival times, and all stops made.

At Salem station, you get this:

Doesn’t it look like someone just decided to dig up a highway, lay down some train tracks on one side and then plonk down a bin about ten feet away? Brilliant. I can just picture the conversation that led to this:

—–

Salem: We need a train station.

Dept. of Transportation: Yeah…dunno if we can be bothered with that.

Salem: But a lot of people live here who work in Boston. Won’t you reconsider? You can even charge the commuters a ton of money for an abysmally-sparse schedule!

Dept. of Transportation: Well…OK. Tell you what – we’ll just lay some spare train track we had lying around from all those other MBTA-expansion projects we never finished. I know a guy – I’ll call my cousin Steve.

Salem: Can we have an ATM or a ticket booth? Or an enclosed space for rain/snow shelter? Or a little coffee stand?

Dept. of Transportation: ….Nah. You can have a bin though, innit.

—–

When you’re waiting for the train to turn up, you can amuse yourself by staring at the huge piles of wood chips in and around the train tracks. Then, when the train comes, its wheels on the same level as and a few inches from where your feet are, you can pretend that this isn’t a hazard at all.

You can also play the “train door” game. On your first journey, make a note of exactly where the train stops. Don’t use any kind of measuring equipment or they will think you’re a terrorist – just use visual markers (like that fucking bin). Also make a note of when the train starts honking its train horn and flashing its train lights (presumably to tell the wood chips to get out of its way). Now, on subsequent days, you can make increasingly educated guesses as to where the train will stop with its ONE open door.

Yes, ONE open door. In England, every door on the train opens, and there is more than one door per car. You also board the trains on a high platform, so you can step/wheel ONTO the train, rather than climb up stairs, or have to take the one ramp at the far end of the station that actually leads to one train car with STEPS.

In England, there’s often a nice little food/coffee/tea cart on the train. You can even get a beer.

Over here, you might find a bit of gum stuck to your seat or some twat might spill their coffee in your lap.

In England, the train seats are padded, fabric and ergonomically-shaped.

Over here, they’re torn leather, communal troughs that usually have some kind of stain on them.

they are never, ever, EVER this clean.

In England, the trains are generally quiet (chavs permitting). It’s pindrop silence and the train on the tracks sounds like a whirr. The ride is so smooth you could fall asleep.

Over here, you hear every click, clack, bang, ring, horn, buzz, slam and clatter the train throws at you when it’s trying to stay completely upright as it takes a curve. It’s like being in a game of fucking MouseTrap. You can also SMELL Lynn. Yes, the town (which had a big industrial history) is that foul-stenched it can be smelled before Charlie Brown’s teacher announces its imminent blight on our senses over the tannoy.

It’s not over once the train starts moving. Towards the end of your journey, a few people will psychically be able to tell exactly when the train is going to stop and will get up and stand aimlessly in a queue in front of the one door that’s going to open, but isn’t open yet. No-one knows how they know this. If you’re lucky, you’ll be sat at the far end of one of the 3-seater leather slides, and you will be ousted from your seat if you dare to think you can sit down until the train has actually come to a stop. No, you are getting up now.

And it doesn’t matter if you stand up next to your seat if you’re at the far end of the carriage. Everyone who is sitting down in the seats in front of you will be set free. You will be standing there for an extra 10 minutes waiting for everyone who was previously sitting down to get up and fuck off. There was NO NEED for you to be standing for those last 20 minutes of the 27-minute journey. Congratulations, moron, you achieved nothing.

Yesterday there were signal problems delaying all the trains (since 6.42am) for about 30-45 minutes each, which would explain the aforementioned large throng of disgruntled commuters. Naturally, every single one of them got on the train, despite the fact that the conductor advised that there were “three trains behind us”, because if the trains are late, you, conductor, won’t lose your job. If any of us take later trains, we might, you fucking plum.

So I was forced to stand on a train that was so crowded there was no room for the conductor to walk to collect tickets. I stood right at the entrance to one carriage, behind about 8-10 people who were crammed on the inter-carriage hallway bit (so if a train door blew open, they’d all be dead). I staved off my nascent claustrophobia by carefully reading the safety and security instructions posted on the wall in front of me. None of them said anything advising against packing the train so full of people it would become a fire hazard. Oh, well.

Right as the train was pulling in, the lazy twat that was sitting down in the seat two inches from my knee just rose up, as if he saw that extra two inches of space and decided to slide himself into it. Oooh, you’re so much closer to the door now than you were two seconds ago! This will also make the train stop that much quicker because you just did that.

He looked at me rather pointedly. I wanted to say, “and where do you think you’re going? Want me to get out of your way because I’m just standing here aimlessly? Want me to fucking…part the Red Sea for you while I’m at it?” I counted several people who really thought that they deserved to push into the queue of people who had been standing up for the whole journey. Every single one of them – every one, I’m serious – had been asleep (some of them actually smiling in their sleep) for the whole trip, and now they felt entitled to push in because wherever they’re going was more important than the elderly woman or legally blind man he just elbowed.

On the way out, I saw a yoghurt pot and a cotton bud on the floor. So this is what you do when you’re waiting for a train? “Oh I’ll just eat a Muller light and then scoop the wax out of my ears?”

 

Buses

Though that’s not as disgusting and demeaning as taking the bus here. Back home, anyone took it. You could be in a suit, in a tracksuit or a school uniform. Everyone took it. You stepped on, told the driver where you wanted to go, paid him, got a ticket and sat down. Then the bus drove off.

Here: You get on the bus, drop coins into a machine – the same amount, no matter where you’re going. The bus driver does not talk to you, and drives off the moment you step on. You could be holding a small child, getting the money out of your purse, displaying a visible, serious injury/disability – it doesn’t fucking matter. The driver will drive off and will not give a shit if your hand smacks into the window/machine/glass and gives you a nasty cut and bruise (I speak from experience).

Why he’s speeding off so (illegally) fast, I don’t know – to get to the next stop on time? Fucking hilarious considering the buses are CONSTANTLY 30-50 minutes late. Tip: use nextbus.com instead of mbta.com.

When you get to your seat, watch every single passenger stumble (and possibly fall) before making it to the nearest seat. Which looks like this:

Hard, inflexible, uncomfortable pieces of shit plastic. Often covered in baby shit or occupied by the local tramp smelling of his own wee. No-one on here has a smartphone or much in the way of teeth. If you have either, you are going to be stared at like some kind of specimen, especially if you have an English accent.

Once, I was taking a bus to the mall. There was a woman sat two rows in front of me (the first row near the driver). She was violently sick all over herself, the seat, and the front steps of the bus. She did this halfway through the long journey from one stop to the other. It stank heavily. I can still remember the vile, steaming odour even now. It was fucking revolting.

Instead of asking if she was OK, or stopping the bus, or fucking DRIVING IT BACK TO THE DEPOT TO BE CLEANED, he let everyone off at the final stop on the route (the mall) and switched over to whatever bus he was turning into next, happily letting on newer passengers to soak their flip-flops in her chunky, death-stenched vomit.

Yep, that’s what it’s like to be a bus wanker in America.

 

Taxis

Don’t think taxis are any better just because you think you’re paying for comfort, convenience, and privacy.  You’re actually getting ripped off. You don’t get any of those!

The first time I ever rode a taxi in Salem, it was from the train station to a hotel that actually existed in Salem, OREGON. Since the creepy, porn-moustached driver couldn’t find my hotel, he drove all the way to the empty car park of a shopping mall a few towns over, went to the pay phone and said he was going to call his girlfriend so I could stay with him.

When he got back, I had to remind him I didn’t want to do that.  I remembered the name of a hotel I’d passed by while sightseeing and told him to bring me there, pretending I’d booked in.

Other than that, this is how getting a taxi goes:

Dispatcher: Taaahx-ee.

You: Yes, could I order a taxi, please, from X to X?

Dispatcher: You’re kidding, right? No, sorry. I can’t get any cars out to you. It’s not worth it for any of my drivers to go all the way out there. [hangs up phone]

Yep. This happened to me as I was calling to get a cab from the supermarket. The same supermarket they’d dropped me off at just two hours earlier.

You see, the way cab companies work around here is that they are clearly doing you a favour by charging you different amounts each time (usually 10-11x that of a bus fare), expect a tip no matter how badly they treat you or insult you, and often drive like maniacs while accidentally saying racist things to you.

They will also pick up other passengers randomly, meaning if you called a cab to get to interview, you may as well fucking forget about it. And there’s no point in scheduling a ride – they tell you to “call us when you’re ready”.

In England? In my tiny little town that is nowhere near as nice as this one? The cab company sends you a free text message telling you the make, model and reg number of your taxi, a few seconds before it arrives. They also use brand new cars with air conditioning/heating.

This summer over here, I was forced to take a cab in 36C whose HEATING COULD NOT BE SHUT OFF. Another cab driver also spared me having to sit next to a customer who “smelled like piss” by having him sit in front of me. Back home, they won’t even take you as a customer if you’re drunk. Which, when you think about it, is impossibly counter-intuitive to all of Friday/Saturday-night-related taxi business.

Conclusions:

  • Never take the bus. If you are able-bodied and have to get somewhere that isn’t served by a train or your legs, invest in a bike. Yes, you’ll look like a hipster, but at least you’ll get some fucking exercise, you soft bastard.
  • If you take the train, don’t bother getting a monthly pass if you’re coming into Boston from anywhere except Riverworks/maybe Lynn. A monthly pass is $169; a return ticket 5 days per week costs $52.50. You’re only saving $41, and with the weekly signal problems and the stupid ice hockey games cramming up the trains, no-one is ever around to take your damn tickets anyway, so there’s no point wasting money unless your employer pays for it.
  • Develop psychic train powers to determine the best entrance/exit routes. Once you do, try to make a big show of pretending to find the right position so that everyone thinks that all British expat commuters are like Derren Brown.
  • If you have low self-esteem and buy anything perishable, never, ever, ever, take a taxi in Salem, especially to/from supermarket shopping. You might as well trample on all of your food. Same goes for interviews – you may as well decline the job.
  • Befriend someone with a car. If you can’t:
  • Become like everyone else and buy a car, even for driving to the post office at the end of your street. Just make sure it’s one of these:

don't forget to add a bumper sticker saying "we used to own you people, now get the hell out of my way"

No-one will care if this is a bit anti-American. You have a car, so you will get the chicks and everyone will be your friend. It’s also far too small to help anyone move house or drive someone to/from an airport. WIN!!!!!!!eleven

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