An Open Letter to the MBTA

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O Hai There MBTA.

Introduction/Hypothesis

Look at the people around you.  There’s bound to be loads; your stations are perennially packed because your trains are always delayed! But anyway – look around you.

How many of those people do you think have showered today?

How many of them do you think have bothered to wash their hands? (hint: look at their fingernails)

Some of them probably have questionable stains on their clothes. Do you know what they might be? What if you can’t identify the stain? Do you assume the worst (i.e. wrestling with a corpse atop a giant cowpat on the Equator)…? How many of them do you think have brushed past their toxic cat litter box or a foul-smelling dumpster and haven’t bothered to clean the residue off their clothes?

These are the terrifying thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis.

Imagine, then, how downright mysophobia-triggering it was for me to arrive at North Station on Tuesday (and Wednesday and probably fucking later today) to this:

Method

5:27pm, and a bunch of trains leaving in three minutes still hadn’t been announced yet. The station was packed. I can only imagine what Morlock-like sensibilities you were suffocating into the T-dwellers with underground with the delays that went on there, too.

So at 5:29pm, you finally announced my train (leaving in one minute), switching the passenger call status to “ALL ABOARD”:

Train board LED words: ALL ABOARD

Passenger’s Brain Translation: OMFG THE TRAIN IS GOING TO LEAVE FOREVER IMMA DROP KICK A PREMATURE BABY TO GET TO THE PLATFORM WTF WICKED PISSAH DORITOS

The usual throng of angry passengers (most of whom I recognize as daily commuters) heaved its way onto the platform, blocking a few people from actually exiting the train into North Station. But then, (oh, you clever MBTA, you) they start to announce two other trains – ALSO leaving in exactly one minute.

Can you imagine what happened?

Results

Nope, I don’t think you can. Let me describe it for you: heaving, pushing, shoving crowds of sweaty, smelly, filthy slobs, all trying to get to the two middle platforms, blocking and/or pushing the other groups of people trying to get to the platform on the far end. A platform whose train will be leaving any minute now, without you. So what do you do?

  1. Push through the crowd like Moses parting the motherfucking Red Sea of Bitches
  2. Cry and submit – let the crowd sweep you to your inevitable, yet mysterious, destination
  3.  Jump over benches and people (as well as benches with people on them) to get to a less crowded area
  4. All of the above

Yep, all of these things actually happened. I lost count of the number of frightened elderly people, confused disabled (including blind) passengers, and utterly terrified babies/children as those crowds were SWAMPING the platforms and blocking the doors like steroid zombie jocks.

It was absolutely appalling. I have taken trains in a lot of countries and not once have I seen the kind of crowd behaviour and lackadaisical attitude to passenger safety as I did that day. It fucking enraged me, particularly in regards to the recent fare hikes/fee hikes/service cuts. What on EARTH is the excuse for such fuckery? How can these hikes and cuts be justified in any way when people’s SAFETY is at risk??

I’ve seen better crowd control than that time a two-storey fire broke up a moshpit full of angry, drunken Wednesday 13 fans. I, along with many, many other scared morons, was squeezed into the mob of people scrambling frantically to get to the train, being pressed and squeezed and left gasping for air because I could not even see where I was going. Even for a non-mysophobe (i.e. a hippie), it’s still an extremely unpleasant experience.

As the crowd finally spread out a little, I felt air and saw sky again, and as I felt the clotted sweat on my arms,  I wondered, minutes later, whether or not the sensation of someone’s cold gross sweat was actually deadened nerves from having my upper extremities  shoehorned under the clammy man-tits of one of the fetid troglodytes next to me.

I was furious. Seething. Not just for myself, but for everyone who felt like they had to endure and/or perpetrate such uncivilized brutishness to get to their precious train. The whole ride home I was grateful that, for once, the air conditioning actually fucking worked on the train, because it cooled me down somewhat; needless to say, it’s not a great idea for a woman of South Asian descent sitting on American public transport looking very very angry.

A list of things the MBTA can do and then STFU or DIAF:

  1. Start giving people their money’s worth by working to improve services instead of holding meetings about the fare hikes just to rub them in commuters’ faces instead of using said meetings as constructive forums
  2. That’s it

How many times have you been standing on a hot T platform, waiting for a train that is already 5 minutes late,  only to be told via Charlie Brown’s teacher‘s communal reject evil twin over the tannoy that the train is experiencing signal problems. Or waiting at a bus along with more criminally-foreheaded living abortions only to find out (through the barely competent driver) that the bus was delayed due to traffic? Or, as in the case of Salem Station, standing in wait, completely unsheltered from the elements  – great job aligning the tracks so that rush-hour morning commuters have to stare into the sun ..?

My guess is never, at least, not since you were students, and probably not before then, either. The lot of you in charge would probably never risk travelling via MBTA caskets of hell. As commuters, every day we trample the weak and the elderly to elbow our way onto a train that’s already late. We suffer the stench of the entire belly of the train car, wondering if someone has actually gone onto each seat and shat on it, or if the toilets just haven’t been cleaned since the train was first forged by Emmett Brown in 1885.

Then when it’s time to get off (shut up), we jump up from our seats mid-journey to race to the coveted front spot of the queue, and Odin help you if you’re wearing a skirt (which none of you probably do, unless you’re posing for blackmail photos), because you then have to stand like a stripper squatting out a baby in order to keep from careening into other passengers when the train tilts and bangs and whirrs and huffs and puffs its way to a stop.

Conclusion

I saw your “Meet the Managers” day at Salem station a few weeks back and it was a mewling farce. Absolutely no-one wanted to miss their train (which was late enough anyway) to stand around and chat with you about things you had zero interest in changing. In fact, you were stood around the bin like tramps talking to each other, as every single rush-hour commuter inched past your inconsiderate arses while you were blocking the walkway. And to make matters even more insulting, the “coffee” you provided was from Dunkin’ Donuts, which is about a vomit-covered step  (a common sight on the MBTA) down from boxed wine that’s been left down the back of a fuzzy radiator. When I asked the conductor on Tuesday who to start complaining to, she pointed to a man lounging in what looked like a beach chair, who waved at me with a massive shit-eating grin on his face.

You all, all of you, disgust me to no end, and you are by far a laughing stock compared to the rest of the world. For a country who is only just getting to grips with providing minimum adequate measures for the disabled, I shudder to think of Amtrak’s recent proposal of high-speed trains, which, considering that you’ve only just provided this newfangled Wie Fiey onboard, must seem like some sort of communist witchcraft to you. Might I suggest that you master the art of keeping the train upright on the tracks before you start souping them up to play catch-up with the rest of civilized society?

My parents grew up in India, and when I tell them about the poor conditions, schedules and general service of the train, even they think it’s disgusting. Please take a minute to educate yourself on India’s trains if it’s not terribly clear. It’s one thing to complain with a sense of entitlement, but it’s another to voice gripes about genuine safety and health issues where the public’s well-being is concerned. In my opinion, there is a line. And by causing that mob mentality at North Station, that line has been crossed.

To keep track of my various MBTA-related gripes, I had kept a running memo on my phone called “Why the MBTA are a bunch of bastards”. I do not foresee having to delete it any time soon.

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Watch Where You Stand; Watch Where You Sit

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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.

Why the MBTA are A Pack of Gormless Fuckwits

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Well, if that didn’t get you to click on this article, then nothing will.

In my defense, while this may seem like a rather harsh headline, I sometimes often always post mild-mannered bitchy complaints about the things that are unpleasant stupid in the state where I pay mostly ill-spent tax I call home. In this instance, I am referring mostly to the higher-ups in the hierachy of the MBTA/MCA that would have left ol’ Chazza occupying the MBTA rather than being doomed to be stuck on it like some horribly unfunny version of an U.N.K.L.E video.

Below are a list of eight of the various complaints rants that have popped into my head and never left during my journeys torturous wretchedness perpetuated by ineffectual jobsworths on the Newburyport/Rockport line:

1. Same as It Ever Was

Look at this old photograph of Salem Station:

Salem Station, c.1900 (salemfocus.com)

Look how cool those old-timey carriages are! You can see the old tunnel with the tracks there.

Now look at a photo of Salem Station as it currently looks: It still looks the fucking same!

A road with two lines carved out to make room for some scanty tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in a Barbie playset.

At least the old Salem station had trains that went underground instead of right by people’s faces! And this is even more inconvenient by having to traverse a mutant Escher set of staircases to get to the fucking thing (that’s if you don’t fall through the many holes in the damn steps).

2. They are Never on Time

The concept of time exists in an entirely separate and foreign state when it comes to MBTA timetables. Good luck ever getting info on the subway, but at least, for the commuter rail, you can use the official schedules to get a general idea of when the lumbering bucket of bolts will eventually decide to show up. If you’re at North Station, expect to be surrounded by all your fellow future passengers and not have your train announced until 3 minutes before departure, turning the entirety of the station into a giant travelling moshpit.

But if  it’s raining/snowing/too hot/too cold/there’s a Bruins/Red Sox/Patriots game on, then you had better have your e-reader/phone/tablet/crossword book ready to last, because those game-changers make it impossible to guesstimate when this tin shell Goldilocks will steam-fart its way into railroading your schedule.

3. Everything is Old

On the subject of weather, don’t expect much in the way of help from the station’s waiting area. Looking like a homeless taxi driver designed and built it, it has benches that, while situated away from the sun, often smell of tramp piss and are decorated with varieties of old chewing gum, outmoded graffiti and bird shit. As for the tin foil shack roof, even the slightest drizzle of rain will pool up in certain areas and then suddenly drench you like the biggest jerk at a frat party wet t-shirt contest.

The trains themselves are like reject simpletons from Back to the Future Part III. How these trains still exist I don’t know, because they are constantly having signal problems (“every Friday it always gets stuck at Beverly”, according to an MBCR conductor I heard at North Station). Also, MBTA ticket machines: stop charging me twice when you said you only read my CharlieCard once.

4. Everything is Malfunctioning

Earlier this week, I was treated to (one of many occasions) an entire train car without power, which caused an alarm to go off. It sounded like someone’s stupid retro ring tone, only incessant and loud. A couple of people exchanged looks, then just sat there in silence. Great job, morons! If this had been a horror movie, all of you would have been nameless fodder killed off before the opening titles.

There was no conductor in sight, and since this was the 5.30pm express from North Station to Salem and tickets had just been taken, no-one would be around to open doors/hear it for a good 25 minutes.

Upon reaching a conductor (who was shocked that the other conductor was not back there with us), he said it was “just an alarm to tell us that the lights are off”. Because the fact that the lights are off is not enough to tell us that the lights are off? It wasn’t just the lights. WiFi was also disabled and there was no ventilation. 25 minutes of CO2 buildup, sweating, dizziness and many people looking understandably panicked, because the windows do not open on these trains.

5. Everything is Dangerous

Let’s also witness the speed of a train coming in from Boston going towards Rockport:

Much slower than the train coming in from Rockport to Boston:

Be careful if you want to be one of those plucky souls standing at the head of the crowd to claim your seat by being in front of one of the two sets of open doors on the entire damn train. And don’t even bother with an umbrella or a skirt; you’ll just lose the functionality of both in the most embarrassingly public fashion.

6. They Don’t Care About Their Conductors

An MBCR conductor who’s on one of the rush hour trains advised me that no conductors are allowed to carry cellphones. So when there’s a delay and we’re stuck on the tracks for 20 fucking minutes, she can’t just look up service alerts on her phone or call someone.

Another employee, Tom, was retiring and it was left to his regular passengers to congratulate him when we disembarked at North Station. Perspective: A seeing-eye dog at my work retired and got two cakes. TWO!!

But at least their execs get nicely spoiled after being able to “retire”…

7. The Conductors Don’t Care About Us

Many times a conductor has not bothered to collect tickets if the train is too full (i.e. people are standing in the aisles because their usual train was late/a no-show). First of all, an issue is that the conductor lets the train get that full. Fire hazard, anyone??

If you’re taking the bus (God help you), once you put your money into that box/swipe your CharlieCard, the driver stops giving a crap about your physical and mental well-being, and will shoot off down the roads as if he were an escaped mental patient trying to pose as an MBTA driver who was mad that he failed his driving test. Doesn’t matter if you’re an old lady on crutches or a small child with brittle bones – he will zoom off unless you actually request that he waits.

Let’s also not forget the day I saw a woman violently throw up all over the front half of the bus, and instead of driving back at the end of the route (my stop was the last stop) or asking if she was OK, he just switched over and let dozens of new passengers soak their flip-flops in her still-warm, chunky piles of fresh vomit.

8. They’re Penny-pinchers Who are Really Bad at PhotoShop

MBTA reps gave a talk at a few town meetings around the North Shore proposing two options for saving money (for them, not for us):

  • They increase all fares and eliminate almost all of the bus services
  • They increase all fares even more and keep almost all of the bus services.

For option 2, I’d be paying almost $8 for a one-way into Boston. Right now I’m paying $5.50 for a sparse schedule across antiquated trains that as dangerous as they are slow. How about a blue-line expansion from Wonderland?

Apparently a Salem resident suggested skimming some MBTA exec salaries to cover up the shortfalls. But no, the logic was to cut services (even buses – the last resort for many [and the only resort for some]) and raise prices. But not improve a single fucking one of those services.

Instead, we are promised an expansion of Salem Station. In September 2014 (yeah, right), we are going to be treated to a 9-storey car park, “upgrades to seating” (no more tramp piss?) and a lobby with two elevators so they can finally comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (22 years after the rest of the country).

Their PhotoShop skills on their conceptualized approach from Washington Street (great job not numbering your slides, either) leave a lot to be desired. On second thought, it just looks like someone put the top photo into MS Paint and just coloured in a bunch of purple smudges. It looks like a giant, melting bruise with cheese in the middle.

So thank you, MBTA, for being woefully out of touch with your customers and making me miss the relative simplicity, comfort and cost-value of English public transportation.

The Charlie on the MTA song was originally used as a campaign song for a political party who favored an end to racial segregation, full voting rights for black people, and a universal health care system. The fact that the MBTA appropriated this character into a minstrelling mascot that looks like someone dressed up for a court date just shows how much they continue to take the piss.

American Politicians Say The Darndest Things…

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I can’t imagine what would happen if you took a Republican politician, knocked him in the head with a tin of Quality Street, shoved him into the back of a white transit van and let him wake up in Brixton Academy with his thoughts rigged to magically voice themselves over the tannoy. Or maybe SoHo. Or Brighton. Or Tooting. Or anywhere else in the UK, really.

Searching YouTube, I began to type “stupid things republicans say”, but the auto-search, ever so intuitive, finished it off with “stupid things republicans say about black people”.

After this, what else can be said to make my point? Surely, it speaks for itself. But wait – there’s more. Republicans have a known track record of saying idiotic, purely moronic, chillingly uninformed things, statements that cannot be believed to come out of the mouth of a leader elected by millions of people.

Today at work, I was speaking with a colleague and asked him just how politicians can get away with saying the things they do, such as actually favouring a ban on abortion, opposing gay marriage and still showing signs as clear as day that they are still an horrifically racist nation who took over 200 years to elect a president who can actually pronounce other countries’ names correctly. Although, naturally, this talent brings out some of America’s finest imbeciles. (also see: here and here).

No British MP in their right mind would pass legislation forcing women to undergo ultrasounds before abortions, or go on Sky News and ask gay people if they can stop being gay. You’d never, ever, ever hear David Cameron telling BBC News 24 that Gordon Brown marched with the EDL (like this twat), or William Hague telling the House of Commons that he believed that global warming is a hoax.

The outrage is both believable and to be commended. As a permanent outsider, I cannot fathom what happens in these people’s brains to compel them to fart out such utter nonsense. Avoiding clear facts on fetal development stages, greenhouse gases, CFCs (which are NOT “natural”), free radicals in the ozone layer and common fucking sense, one can only sit and watch Fox News in amusement as these politicians dishonor the memory of Abe Lincoln by running around spouting hate speech like racist chickens with their heads cut off.

Are they caricatures? Are they doing it on a dare? Are these honestly real-life, non-actor human beings who are actually allowed to walk around not only saying these things on the streets and on television, but using these dangerously feeble-minded views to gain votes so that they can have a go at running the country? Free speech be damned; Orwell needs to sort the lot of them out.

No wonder Abe shirked it all and became a vampire hunter.

Fun With Bleach

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Before moving into the new apartment, I carefully inspected the most important place – the bathroom. No other room in a house is subject to handling so much waste and cleaning, so it’ s important to know how someone treated it. Until I divorce the husband and marry a rich guy (kidding), I won’t be getting that brand-new-never-ever-ever-been-used house any time soon.

I’ve barely been home since I moved in. Everything is still in boxes/suitcases and there is virtually no furniture set up. It’s a mess. So it was only on the day of my first big clean, I realised, to my horror, that there was a gargantuan, old, stained, half-rotting plunger just shoved next to the toilet. On the floor, without a holder. Years upon years of multiple people’s waste had been clinging to that thing, which looked older than me.

What on earth could have possessed them to just leave it? I mean, I can understand not wanting to take such a revolting thing with them when they moved (apparently DOWNSTAIRS), but what was going through their minds as they thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just leave this heavily-used poo stick for the next group of people, because plungers are such a rare commodity’.

Now, being somewhat of a mysophobe (damn germs took all our jobs), I somewhat go into a mild, invisible panic whenever any kind of dirt or threat of dirt is in sight. This includes the unknown, such as random stains on a bus or white marks on someone’s jacket (it’s clearly either cocaine residue or pigeon shit).

Thinking like an American, I set out to destroy the germs with the most violently-smelling, industrial-strength residential cleaner I could find. I have general, hippie-type brands that I use for cleaning out here, but the OCD could really only be satisfied with something that could murder one’s nostril hairs. At the store, the only thing with bleach in that said it was specifically for bathrooms was some sort of Clorox brand. It looked too innocuous – the bottle was blue and it had friendly writing, like the kind of font you’d use on a “Come as You Are” cider and cheese party invitation.

Spraying the floor liberally, I soon realised I had no mop. So I took two wadges of kitchen roll, laid them on the sopping wet floor and ice-skated my way around this impossibly tiny bathroom. After a few minutes I started to get dizzy, but I couldn’t tell if it was from the stress of being involved with the dirt in such a troubling fashion, from skating around in circles to mop everything up, or the fact that my bathroom has no window and I forgot to turn the exhaust fan on.

Then the room started to smell and taste like burning. And not in the funny way.

Cursing my profuse but talented ethnic nose hairs, I turned on the fan, yanked up every window in sight and tried not to breathe. Realising I did in fact have to breathe, I tried sniffing, mint-chocolate hand sanitizer and actual fresh air. None of that worked, and I went to bed after several hours of research convincing me that I would die from homemade mustard gas as a result of the bleach mixing with other natural chemicals in the toilet, or would slowly develop chronic chemical pnemonia, pleurisy, or some sort of brain-chemistry-impairing mutation that would be passed onto future generations of morons.

I couldn’t leave the house, so I slept with the windows wide open. Thankfully it happened to be the ONE winter day with ZERO wind outside, so not much of a cross-breeze, even on the top floor. The next morning, I woke up with a splitting headache and a closed-up throat, but I couldn’t tell if it was from the bleach fumes or from stupidly going to sleep right next to a bunch of open windows in the middle of winter.

Hot water was supposed to somehow make the chemical poisoning worse, so the following morning’s hot shower felt like some foolish deleted scene from Takeshi’s Castle. The smell still hadn’t gone away, and I could taste it at the back of my throat (shut up), as if a coating had formed. I had read a number of things to get rid of the smell of bleach, such as:

  • Smell coffee beans (this did not work, but in fairness, I only had two cups of coffee)
  • Use a neti pot (what the hell is that?)
  • Wet some cotton buds, stick them up your nose and do a little rummaging around (I really didn’t get the chance for this)
  • Pour warm water up your nose (excellent choice for someone with sinus issues. Or anyone who still wants to be alive.)
  • Use a nasal spray (this I actually had, but I was worried about permanently getting some kind of bleach residue on there, and this thing was prescription-only).

There’s something about being relatively alone in a foreign country, far away from everything you’ve ever known, and not entirely knowing how certain things work and how they can go wrong. I’ve never stayed anywhere that had a random plunger left behind, and I’ve never used any kind of bleach solution in an apartment that had no windows in the bathroom. A common “I told you so” to similar situations on some websites was “Next time use a mask”. Really? A surgical mask to clean your home?

I can’t believe I fell for something like this. I had jokingly said to the husband, “I want it to be so clean that your nose will burn”, but I didn’t mean, “I want it to be so clean that you won’t actually notice how clean it is because you’ll pass out before you can get to the phone in time to call Poison Control”.

That’s another thing I’m not used to knowing about, probably because the NHS is already a massive, free resource for this type of info. To have a national hotline dedicated to figuring out how you poisoned yourself can only be a good thing, but one wonders what’s out there in the world for this sort of service to be merited on such a far-reaching level.

I am never going to use bleach again. Not even to get the turmeric stains out of my carpet and walls.  I could just stop cooking with turmeric, but that’s about as likely as Paula Deen giving up butter.

The Hidden Perils of North Shore Winter Weather

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It’s getting colder, wetter, windier and colder. As I type, I can’t quite feel much sensation in my fingers, and I long for the days of my overheating laptop. To slog through these Dickensian conditions until my campaign for a state-wide paid hibernation is both put forward and taken seriously, I distracted myself by considering the following weather hazards this time of year.

Umbrellas

Might sound obvious, but only good for rain. In New England, wind often accompanies rain, rendering the use of an umbrella completely um…useless. If it’s blustering out, what is the point in carrying an umbrella at all, besides giving your upper arms a good workout? It just becomes a weapon against yourself – you can try to clutch it with both hands and keep it still, or hold it close to your face to try to block the gales, but it will try to lure you into oncoming traffic every chance it gets.

You won’t be able to tell until you get outside, but gauging the strength of the rain versus the strength of the wind is your best way to tell if it’s worth wearing a hoodie (or this) instead of wrestling with that infernal bumbershoot. Otherwise, it’ll keep smacking into your face and the resulting concussion will have you hallucinating taunting choruses of “why are you hitting yourself? stop hitting yourself!” while you try not to look like an incompetent fool to anyone with a stronger brolly.


Puddles

They are deeper than they look. Be wary of large cars, trucks, minivans, Escalades and basically, ANY American car, the drivers of which all feel it’s their duty to suddenly speed up and plow straight into that rank water, splashing you to the bone. If it’s raining, has rained, or is threatening to rain, avoid the edges of pavements at all costs, don’t wear white or anything that needs to be dry-cleaned, and walk as far inside the pavement as you can. Scale-walk against the wall of a building 1980s cop-style, if you have to.

As Salem is quite flat, it’s prone to flooding, so the slightest dribble of rain transforms most grassy areas like the Commons into a giant moat. So, if you live here in town, you can head over to the Fool’s Mansion, pick up some Renaissance-themed clothing and act out your favourite medieval legend. Given that I’m in a country that likes to call football soccer, I’ll no doubt be adapting my beloved Robin Hood into the lesser-known version, where the commie bastard finally gets his comeuppance.

Snow

It might look pretty, but it turns to ice very fast, and becomes hell to walk on, drive in, fly through, or ride the trains in. Much like black ice on the roads, you won’t see the sneaky little bugger that slips you up on the pavement, either. Walk in fresh snow and don’t cross anywhere that doesn’t have a timed pedestrian crossing. Motorists are more important than you, and will become impatient if they have to wait at a regular crosswalk; this will encourage you will hurry to cross and you’ll slip and fall. Don’t. Make them wait while you take your sweet time crossing and can only blame the 20-second crosswalk crossing time for your long crosswalk crossing time.

Cold

Here’s how to dress: Scarf layered over your normal clothes, then winter hat, then second scarf wrapped around neck and anchoring hat inside. One pair of gloves, then a pair of thick handwarmers to cover. Two pairs of tights and a pair of slipper socks, then knee-length boots, OR a pair of tights under a pair of trousers. Yes, you are going to have to dress the way homeless people do in the movies, or like Joey in that episode of Friends:

 

Don’t even think you will ever get away with wearing one layer of anything from November to May. To avoid looking like a homeless person, use pieces with clean lines, key fabrics, and refrain from pissing yourself to entertain passing strangers for a dollar for crack money.

Hail

The first time I ever experienced hail, I was a tiny little child in primary school and I cried. I understood what it was (it is England, after all), but a lot of the other kids were freaking out and saying that it hurt, so the peer pressure got to me and I wanted to fit in. Also: it did hurt. It interrupted a Madonna sing-a-long I had instigated and I was finally starting to fit in. It was one of those schools that switched up the entire class population every year, so you could never really forge lasting friendships, so the Madonna sing-a-long was a key moment in my friend-yoinking skills. And then that fucking hail came and decided to…hail on my parade. Horrible, icy little bastards. Mother Nature’s best weapon against mankind, hail is the non-sissy version of snow, and no amount of church bell-ringing and canon-firing is going to stop her from pelting you with ice like a bitter, misunderstood frat boy.

Sleet

That mutant freak between rain and snow, its whimsical approach to the six states of matter means that you truly have no idea what to expect – ice, snow, or nothing at all. The Weather Channel calls it a “Wintry Mix”, so they can fuck off for making it sound like a Christmas selection box. It is not like box of chocolates. Although…you do never know what you’re gonna git.

Despite all potential hazards of the above, Massachusetts is not a state of wusses. While in England, schools have been closed due to extreme winds and the lightest flakes of snow shut down entire stretches of motorway, you will still be expected to come into work unless your house is completely submerged in whatever weather is threatening you. According to one of the (sane) shuttle drivers, the last major MBTA disruption was in 1978, during a massive snowstorm. And when they mean massive snowstorm, they weren’t just showing off, because it murdered 100 people and caused over $50 million in damage. So even if you have to ski to work, you are still going to have to make it in, because everyone else paid good money for their snow tyres and they aren’t going to let them go to waste when there’s plenty of puny pedestrians they can drown in tyre-induced snowdrifts.

An Experiment, Day 3: In Which It is Determined That Ignorance is Bliss

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According to my new positive affirmation (or at least for the week), love is everywhere, and I am loved and lovable. Well, sometimes that really isn’t the case. In fact, this being New England, it’s hardly ever the case. A lot of people on the North Shore are are a little bit rough around the edges, like old-timey fisherman who no longer beat their kids but are still a bit sexist, enjoy simpler foods made with local ingredients and try to act against the liberal type in fairly nice suits.

Today was actually full of stress. From the technical issues I faced in the morning to the commuter’s version of hitting every red light (you just miss the train; you just miss the last shuttle bus so you have to take the subway; you miss the subway while putting money on your subway card), today was a complete disaster. Husband being an insufferable, twattish, inconsiderate, lazy moron (he is a hippie, after all); people completely fucking up beyond ridiculousness at work with huge deadlines looming (and me almost getting blamed for it), and an incompetent bus driver driving a bus with brakes twice as old as he was, forcing me to spill hot coffee all over my not-very-protective-and-brand-new- white gloves. You can kid yourself all you want, but with a day like that, stress is everywhere, and unless you want to chant yourself into delusion, there is no avoiding it.

You can do all you like to convince yourself that there is love everywhere, but there are some days when you have to be realistic and react to the madness around you by, at the very least, acknowledging that it exists. I recited (in my head) the affirmation a few times throughout the day when things started to get a bit mental at work, but if you are surrounded by incompetent, sloppy, changeable, irritable and contradicting people in both your professional and personal lives, there is no way in hell you are going to convince yourself that you can salvage it. Scarf some ice cream, sip some tea, start a blog, relax, unwind, whatever. You might not be able to “heal” your life today, but at least you can feel it.

I would rather focus on the tangible things that make me happy. Other than my friends and family, there are holidays and events to look forward to (Christmas; the Olympics), places I’d like to visit, foods I enjoy eating, TV shows and movies I like to watch, and a cat or two I very much miss. Rather than try to blame my sinus problems that suddenly manifested themselves a few hours  before some drizzly weather (for the fifth time in a row), I’d rather think about the lovely cumin-scrambled-eggs I just made, or the warm Slanket I’m all snuggled up in, or the very funny TV show I’m currently watching.

Weather: Rain

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What is it about the weather here that it has to present itself in two polarising extremes and has to be so unbelievably violent, regardless of the temperature, humidity or time of year?

In the summer, it can be blisteringly hot or humid to the point of suffocation. There’s a quote attributed (correctly, for once) to Mark Twain stating, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes”. Over here, it can be bitterly cold, swelteringly hot, pissing down with rain and heaving down with snow – sometimes in the same month.

November is one of those months. Having experienced highs of 0C AND 22C in the short span of a week, it’s enough to make flu season pack that more of a punch. New England bodies can’t reconcile the stark contrasts of weather with their wardrobes, so rather than wearing lots of light layers, it’s better to wear one or two great big fat layers so you can shed just the one if the weather steers towards the comfy side.

Currently, the big weather bitch is rain. In October, we had sunny sun AND a snowstorm, and last November snow was the big one to watch. After some flooding a few weeks back, it’s rain’s turn. The weather forecast said “Heavy Rain and Wind”, and The Weather Channel doesn’t tell lies:

it's deeper than it looks...

It’s a common thing to have to cross several mini-moats to get to the train station. With the extra weight and wind resistance from your heavy wellies, you should probably add an extra ten minutes to any pedestrianised commute. Anywhere.

Except for the day before Thanksgiving, when the car parks all look like this:

This time yesterday, that car park was packed more than it’s ever been, so it wasn’t all commuters. People taking the day off work before and after Thanksgiving to give themselves a long weekend that we enjoy every month in the UK.

Not that the road was devoid of cars. You see, when it rains, there’s an unwritten rule that states that if you’re in a car, you MUST obey the speed limit up until the point of a large puddle, at which time you plow straight through it and violently submerge any passing pedestrian. Like me. After said pedestrian has issued the customary greeting (“oh, you f***ing c**t!!”) pretend to ignore them and drive off. If you don’t, your licence will be revoked and wolves will jacknife your tyres. This works best if you have an obnoxiously large, fugly truck. Like this bitch:

you know what they say about women in white vans...

As a pedestrian, you do need to be prepared for this weather. Do not think that your awesome yet clearly child-sized Doctor Who Cardiff Exhibition umbrella (which you did not realize was child-sized until today) will cut it with this weather. You need a good, strong, golf-style umbrella with a wind-proof lining, otherwise you will be spending most of your time out in the rain playing tug-of-war with the wind. And you’ll get soaked. Incidentally, my light-up umbrella has survived hurricanes, so it’s functional as well as completely effing awesome.

A waterproof jacket would be nice, but then so would waterproof trousers and a waterproof face. Don’t even bother this time of year; unless you can get one of those ones that looks like a sleeping bag with a furry hood, focus on warmth instead of dryness. If your bag isn’t waterproof, you’ll be focusing your keep-dry efforts towards a good umbrella investment anyway.

Wellies are key. Make sure they’re at least mid-calf high,  You will also need a bag to carry your “proper shoes” because whether you work in a freezing cold office or a high-trafficked clothes store, you are not going to be comfortable carrying out your job in those non-breathable, tall, thick, plastic clown shoes.

A hairbrush, either in your bag/pocket or at your work, is essential. This is not the wimpy English rain you might be used to. This is proper, roidy, rage-y, ice-hockey fan-rain. This rain doesn’t fuck around. You will look like you have been proverbially dragged through the proverbial hedge in the proverbial backwards fashion, so best make yourself look presentable. Side note: don’t even try to bother thinking about straightening/styling your hair. Bang it under a hat and just leave.

Prepare your umbrella-swishing-finishing moves: embarking the train/shuttle/bus is like a competition for the best seats. Whoever gets on first, gets the pick of what’s left. Don’t lose by being a wuss! Shake that umbrella off as fast as you can or sacrifice dry clothes for a non-shaken wet umbrella leaning against your knees so you can get that best seat. While waiting for/queueing to get on the train, if you have a wide enough umbrella, you can use it to flank standing-space-stealing hopefuls and block them from trying to get on before you.

Make sure your bag is organised. You do not want to be balancing that humungous umbrella on the inside of your elbow while you use both hands to fish around in your Mary Poppins’ carpet bag to find your work security pass, mobile phone or car/house keys and you angle your arm just the wrong way and…rain pouring off the brolly down your neck. If your bag doesn’t have many internal pockets, consider getting one of these.

Beware of leaves. Salem has a lot of cobblestoned and brick-tiled pavements. Fallen leaves turn to mulch, which is slippery enough. Add tons of rainwater and mud from other people’s shoes and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. This time of year, the streets are covered with huge piles of them, which will eventually turn to huge piles of slippery mulch. Watch out!

The aforementioned puddles can also be an unknown hazard, particularly where the pavement or grass is uneven/hilly anyway.. Even though this isn’t a specifically New England thing, remember, they are not always as shallow and harmless as they look:

People Are Strange, When You’re Sick

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Today in the break room at work (which is so small that just two occupants have to shimmy like awkward pensioners on a first date just to make some coffee),  a co-worker who had previously been nice to me noticed I was still sick. He said, pretty sternly, “you shouldn’t be here.” I laughed it off and agreed, noting that I worked from home last weekend. He then said he was going to write a complaint to my manager.

WTF?!

And if THAT wasn’t ridiculous enough, he informed another person squishing into the room, “Watch out, she’s sick” and pointed at me. He then inched out of the room against the wall, narrating that he was trying to keep as far away from me as possible. Once he left, I attempted to make small talk with my fellow room sardine, but nothing was going to disguise my leperous shivering and bright red Ebola nose. The damage had been done.

I thought the other guy had been joking, which was why I was laughing it off (Brits = used to deadpan humor), but then I realized that this is the Land of the Charlie Sheen Was Somehow on The World’s Shittiest Sitcom for 7 years, so I quickly got to be simultaneously ashamed, embarrassed, upset and angry. So this is why this entire post will be littered with pictures of cute sick animals.

You see, being sick is considered a sign of being an undesirable, an untouchable. Whether it’s the an old adorable witch lady implying that my husband was of a weak mind to get a persistent cold (i.e. man flu), or toothless health insurance rejects in acid wash denim on the bus, sniffling, sneezing and coughing are an indication that you are simply just a lower quality human being.

In England, I had worked as a temp and had also had permanent (i.e. yearly contract retail) jobs. The only thing that really differentiated temp from perm is that you could be let go without any notice (and leave without giving notice), and the pay was weekly instead of monthly. Sick days and holidays (including bank holidays) were paid in full,  but for a temp job, if your second day is a bank holiday, you probably won’t get paid for it. Rule of thumb was that for every month you worked somewhere, you earned 1.5 days each of bank holiday and regular holiday.

The last time I called in sick, it was to do with a pretty bad  virus. I was off for about 3 weeks, but I received sick pay. I was still living with my parents, and I was able to trot off to see my GP who prescribed some antibiotics for £7.

Here? As a temp, you do not get paid for any time off. Yes, the office is closed next Thursday for that land-stealing-murdering celebration day, so I am not allowed to come into the office to work. So I don’t get paid. My agency even makes a point of stating in their literature “we do not compensate for bereavement time”. Wow. So of course they don’t pay for time off sick, referring to it as “time off”.

Everyone at work who insisted that I go home was a permanent employee. They had got their free flu jabs a few weeks earlier, and no-one appreciated the South Asian British monkey from Outbreak walking around infecting everyone the week before Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to admit that the difference between someone like them and someone like me is that if I go home to “recover” for a few days, those few days take a big fat chunk out of my pay packet and I wouldn’t be able to pay rent or buy food to starve a fever. And not only would I be out of pocket for the lost earnings, but I’d have to pay several hundred dollars for a two-minute doctor consultation, pointless blood tests and eventually, eventually, a $300-odd packet of the wrong type of antibiotic.

Meaning I’m basically out two weeks’ pay for being sick and staying home to “recover”.

So what other choice do I have? I have to turn up and face these looks of scorn from people who never have and never will be a temp. Healthcare here is a fucking privilege, apparently.

My manager and I were chatting about what it’s like in the UK. He was shocked that I didn’t have health insurance and considered it a huge gamble on my health. I did explain that I never had any health problems – not even allergies – and that, even now, in my 30s, I still don’t need to be on any kind of medication for anything.  I regaled him with legends of standardized 7-quid prescription charges, free doctor visits and the time my poor little brother had to undergo major surgery within days of diagnosis, all paid for by the NHS, by we the taxpayers.

I’m glad he understood that it’s just one of the major culture shocks for me, but I shouldn’t have to feel like a fucking leper every time I fill a bin to overflow with tissues. I lied to a few people and said “oh, it’s probably just allergies, they say you can get them at any time, especially when you emigrate”, but I doubt anyone was buying it. I looked like boiled shit.

It’s unfair that such a social divide exists based just on what is, in other countries, a basic human need and a basic human right. How can a labor department allow employment legislation that encourages sick people to come into work and spread their germs through an air-conditioned, air-recycled office, because they literally cannot AFFORD to be sick? The best I’ve heard is that you don’t have to worry about losing your job or falling behind on work, but, basically, if you got sick, it’s your OWN fault. Not a system that discourages people from looking after their health.

My agency, while very sympathetic, advised me that if I was worried about being off work for long periods of time, I could go on unemployment (something I never even did in the UK). I wanted to email back to let her know that, as an immigrant, I cannot be a public charge (i.e. go on welfare program) like that, much in the same way that I can’t just go on a low-cost state-funded health insurance program (as a colleague had suggested). So what the fuck are my options supposed to be?

I can hibernate under a blanket all I want, but it is not going to change the fact that I signed up for a much lower quality of life when I emigrated to America. I am so used to my own government looking after me that I’m now considering going to medical school when I win the lottery, just so that I can stay informed on and maintain my own health. Because if you’re an immigrant who can’t afford health insurance, not only are you going to be heavily fined by the government (it’s mandatory in MA to have health insurance), but you also can’t take advantage of the “low-cost” health insurance options. Bafflingly, there is no inbetween – either you can afford to pay $600 per month or you get welfare handouts. If you can’t do either, then you’re fucked.

This is why you read so many stories about ghetto bodegas selling antibiotics without prescriptions, so some random twat with a cold can waltz in thinking that Trimethroprim will make their nose stop running. And when they finally get a UTI or kidney infection, it’ll be a puzzling dilemma when those specifically-targeting antibiotics will be completely fucking useless. Add sites like Yahoo! Answers and Web MD, and everyone’s an qualified doctor.

So because I can’t afford to ask my doctor about [insert most recent drug advertised on TV], I get to be a living exhibit of how sick people are useless, draining anomalies and should just be left to die. Same goes for disabled people – if you are an amputee or have a functioning larynx in a customer service call center, or have ever, ever, ever had any history of depression (which is the same type of  workforce liability as paedophilia or serial killing), you had better jog on. And if you can’t because you’ve got no legs, then fuck you, you should probably just hurry up and die, because you’re so useless to society.

On my way to work this morning, I looked out of the window of my shuttle bus and saw a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair struggling to push herself up the steep pathway. She had to use her walking stick to give herself leverage and use her clearly painful legs to manoeuvre. No-one bothered helping her at all,and this was a shuttle bus stop that not only served my company’s shuttle, but one to a very big hospital. They just watched her. Fucking assholes.

It’s a difficult decision for me to stay home tomorrow, but I’m really only doing it out of shame and embarrassment doled out by the permanent employees whose cringed faces I have to see every time I come near them. I will never get over this culture shock of being forced to have complete disregard for my own health like this. When you’re sick, you really and truly are alone over here. No-one has any clue what they’re talking about and there are absolutely no resources available to help you. Luckily to get myself well soon, I have lots of English tea, Pot Noodles, Toffee Crisps and a picture of some cute cats:

Failing that, I could just wait until I get home for Christmas and just go see my GP, from whom I have every right to receive free care. And I didn’t even have to be the British-born British citizen I am to benefit from it.

A Guide to American Public Transport

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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