Watch Where You Stand; Watch Where You Sit

Whenever I visit Paris (quiet, you; it’s ridiculously cheap to visit from the UK), I understand that sometimes we might be driving through the wrong parts of the city on the wrong days. Namely, most weekdays before noon in any of the non-Elysee-containing Arrondisements. Once I was waiting for a taxi from Montparnasse to Clignancourt and realized there was no way in hell I was going to find any room to sit on the edge of the pavement, because the streets were literally lined with trash. Boxes, bins and bags of it, but still, a putrefying parade of other people’s waste.

Yet that still wasn’t as revolting, unsanitary, unsafe or full of morons  as every single trip ever on any MBTA train, buses, or worse still, one of their subway trains. Or, as I like to call them, “Steel Caskets of Death Operated by Failed Alcoholic Carnival Ride Operators”.

On the Green Line no-one can hear you scream. Well, they can, they just don’t give a shit.

Avoiding the Filth

Consider it an achievement if you’ve alighted a train without getting one of your possessions soiled, given that you and about a hundred other commuters are squeezing together like sardines into one rigid, steadfast crowd, ready to see who can shoehorn themselves onto the train first, through the ONE open door on the train. If you are boarding at North Station, quadruple that figure and prepare to erase any lingering traces of claustrophobia by using the “flooding” technique. Try to ignore the fact that you are being flanked on all sides by several people, some of whom may have recently relieved themselves of explosive diarrhea (and not washed their hands afterwards), and they are getting closer and closer to you as you board the train.

Notch this achievement up to an outstanding feat of excellence if you complete your journey with your cleanliness further unscathed. You will pass by several empty two and three-seaters, each mottled with a rainbow-coloured assortment of stains. If you find that you have no option but to sit near one of such stains, you can make a guessing-game of it. Was it milk? Mud? Coffee? Dog faeces from someone’s shoe? Try to avoid looking down at the window, because if those rusty, smelly vents don’t trigger a nascent case of trypophobia (click at your own risk), then the sheer amount of dirt,  dead flies and other people’s dead skin on the windowsill (or between your seat and the wall) will take you on the wild ride that is mysophobia.

Your seat is guaranteed to:

  • be riddled with stains
  • have the handles (leather straps) ripped off
  • feature the high-end solution for cracked leather – duct tape that is in the same colour family as the seat (red for red, blue for blue etc)
  • If it’s not any of the above, go ahead, take a seat. But it’ll be broken. Sunken in, like you’re sitting on a rock.

Don’t forget to hold your breath when passing through Lynn, for the mechanical stench of purgatorial souls, industrial grease and nail salons will haunt you long after the train has even rattled its way through Swampscott.

Bear in mind also that the exposed pipes, metal bars and various steampunk also-rans that greet you on your way in/out are caked in spectacular amounts of grease, oil, and general dung of an unspecified nature.

Dealing with Inconsiderate Twats

When boarding the train, remember that it doesn’t matter if you are an elderly lady on crutches or a heavily pregnant woman. You will be sealed helplessly into a crowd of your fellow commuters and they will step on the backs of your feet or almost knock you off the non-railed platforms (an accident waiting to happen) at North Station just to get the edge on getting one of those non-soiled seats. Luckily, those are often the same morons who completely miss the train car closest to the station’s waiting area and all cram into the second one. The first car is almost always less full because of the impatience-fuelled incompetence of these dopey sheep.

If you are unfortunate enough to sit next to someone who doesn’t realize that there is someone sitting next to them, and who stretches out their arms and legs across the seat barrier, either say something or reassert your claim to that side of the legspace/seating space by inching over. Just don’t be all passive-aggressive about it. Or failing that, you could just take a photo and make them feel really uncomfortable about the fact that their foot is far closer than socially acceptable to your knee:

“You selfish space-hogger! Can’t you see your foot is well over the barrier? How much closer do you want to get to my satchel?”

Safety Issues

I had the misfortune of taking a rush-hour train from downtown Boston to Fenway. As my 6 or 7 so-stop journey progressed, I found that I was slowly forcing myself towards the back of the train, as more and more sweaty denizens inserted themselves into whatever tiny space was remaining, or, failing that, simply lopped their body weight onto the nearest two or three passengers and just used the physics of other people’s centres of gravity as a prop-up to keep from falling over.

The problems don’t even start there. Here is the breakdown of travelling on any of the outbound Green Line trains during rush hour:

  1. Stand on a poorly-ventilated platform with crowds of hot (regardless of the outside world’s temperature), angry, impatient, smelly passengers. Try to avoid getting hit by the condensation dripping on you from the ceiling. Why? Because that’s other people’s sweat mingled with the previously evaporated piss from the tramps who were here earlier, and maybe a bit of rainwater that leaked in from above.
  2. Wait for at least 15 minutes. Give up any hope of getting relief from one of two fans (yes, fans!) on the whole platform.
  3. Hear the computer voice announcer say that the train is now approaching.
  4. Hear the computer voice announcer say that the train is now arriving.
  5. Ten minutes later, the train has actually arrived. Fight to the death with other passengers to squash yourself into the bowels of the train car.
  6. Even if there’s not enough room, stand on your tiptoes with your face against someone’s moist armpit and push against the crowd in the hopes that someone might let you crowdsurf your way in.
  7. Even if the conductor explicitly tells you that if you can’t get in then get off because the doors need to close, instead do continue to make room for yourself by shoving other people like dominoes. If there’s even an ounce of space left, you can make someone else choke on it.
  8. Ignore the signs and announcements that say “DO NOT LEAN ON THE DOORS”.
  9. Proceed to lean on the doors.
  10. When it’s time to disembark, don’t say “excuse” me. Just push your way out. Strength is your ally; use it liberally.

As soon as I realized I was as far back as possible without travelling through time, I thus realized I wasn’t going to be able to disembark at my stop. I also didn’t want to push past the profusely sweating man in front of me (he was wiping trails of sweat from his head and still felt it was feasible to embed himself into the heaving mob of B.O. dischargers who had already successfully triumphed over the HVAC system).

So I waited for what I hoped would be the one stop that would trigger a complete exodus (a la Park Street), which was thankfully, the next stop, although then I had to battle damp, disoriented and rude passengers to get onto an escalator, which, through logic that only the MBTA can defend (they can’t), was the only way out of this hole.

In Which Direction Will Your MBTA Vehicle Tilt Today?

It matters not one jot whether you are travelling by bus, train or subway. Prepare yourself for the ride of your life by adapting the rules of swimming and theme-park-ride-going-on:

  • Don’t eat an hour before travelling
  • Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes
  • Hang on for dear life

Trains will almost always teeter at some point on the tracks, and if you’re really lucky, they’ll do it really slowly, right before a stop, but always without any warning whatsoever. Which means that half of the passengers are already standing in the aisle queuing for the one door that opens to the outside world, and now they’re trying to hold their balance as the driver tries to fashion the train into Gulliver’s Longboard. It’s often because there’s a train on the adjacent tracks, and your train is tilting to tip its hat to his brethren bucket of bolts. Once the other train says “O HAI” then you’re on your way again.

Buses are constantly in-flight, and have no time for your feet to make that important transition from non-moving pavement to moving bus, let alone to your seat. It takes considerable skill to master, so don’t fret if your face smashes into a pole on your way to your rock-hard, plastic, urine-befouled seat. Consider it a form of “plebian P.E.” that will equip you for all that marching you’re going to do against the 1%.

Subway drivers are even less considerate of how gravity affects humans. Riding one of these things is akin to stumbling onto a fairground ride without any kind of working harness (i.e. most of Salem’s Hallowe’en carnival rides). After you’re confident that the rotting metal coffin you’re on won’t crumble before you reach your destination, and after you can stomach the smell of the brakes, the stickiness of the floor and the manic-depressive output of the HVAC system, you can focus on avoiding any part of you touching any of your fellow passengers with demonstrable hygiene issues.

And you will need all the self-discipline you can muster, because these trains take wildly sharp turns, with each car appearing to be fastened together by some giant leaking, festering accordion. If you don’t slam face-first against one of the doors, you will be knocked against any of the inexplicably-placed steps (steps? In a subway train??) while trying to grab one of two poles in existence, taking care to look for a cold spot, where you know someone’s sweaty palm hasn’t just been resting.

By the time I  saw sunlight, I was a changed woman. Someone tried to smile at me and I wanted to impale her with my umbrella that it turned out I didn’t even need that day because the weather forecast was wrong. AGAIN.

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