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.

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.

Fun With Claustrophobia

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The following groups of people should avoid ever travelling on public transport in Massachusetts:

 

This morning, I was forced to trample over a group of three people (not the infamous twats – who were STILL occupying the disabled-only seats at the front of the whole fucking train) who couldn’t quite fathom that they needed to shift their legs for five seconds so I could walk to the corner seat. Two two-seater seats that faced each other. Yep, it was one of those setups. Not like British trains, where, if you’ve got seats facing each other, it’s because there’s a fucking great big TABLE in the middle. No – these seats force you to spend your entire train journey trying not to stare at the feckless morons jammed in front of you.

My staring partner was fast asleep. Caked in the face with about a Kardashian-assful of makeup, she looked like a dozing, middle-aged  cartoon. It was terrifying. Worse still, was the fact that her gob was wide open and her face contorted into some intense confusion, which looked awkwardly filthy as I tried not to think about what sort of dream she might have been having. Instead,  I focused on the fact that her styrofoam cup, almost filled to the brim with hot tea, was inching ever so gradually from a vertical position to a horizontal position (much as she was – thanks for the leg room. Though, I guess it could be worse).

Her leg was constantly touching mine. The whole journey, her right leg touching my leg. Now, I may be English, and raised by South Asian parents, but I’m no prude. I have touched many a leg in my time and felt no shame about it, but this creepy woman’s O-face was starting to make me feel like I should have worn a leg-sized femidom.

Her leg was emanating heat at an alarming rate. This being public transport, I knew that I was being exposed to all manner of peoples (such as the woman who spray-tans her legs and nothing else; the man with tons of pigeon shit on his windbreaker; the pack of asshats who keep hogging the disabled-only seats). Her leg was warm and clammy. What if she was…pissing herself?? What was it?

There I was, anxious to get off the train, my eyes nervously darting around like a happy hardcore raver on a coffee break at Wimbledon, when her twisted face relaxed a bit, and I guess that meant I was supposed to, too. I accidentally rudely nudged her awake to stop her from scalding my knees with her crappy lemon tea. She woke up to pretend to drink a sip, then put the entire cup next to my foot, and promptly went back to O-face snoring. What a catch.

If you’re claustrophobic, good luck getting on the train. If you’re unfortunate enough to be disembarking in Salem during rush hour, you will be crowded and suffocated by a horde of commuter zombies who try their feeble best to achieve the balance between letting people disembark and getting in the way of anyone else behind them so they can get on the train first. Reverse the process for disembarking the train. Add three times the amount of people, some vomit and some animal remains if you’re on the bus.

Maybe I’ll walk the 20 miles to work tomorrow.

An Open Letter About Manners

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Dear The Same Group of People Who Sit In The Same Four Seats On The Train Every Morning:

I would like it to be known that you do not own the seats you sit in every morning, on the same train, in the same carriage. A helpful hint is that it’s called public transport. I’d hazard a guess that your taxes do indeed help pay towards the cost of the upkeep of the train, along with your train fare, but since you live in the crab-infested sheds of Rockport and work cushy, benefits-padded jobs, you have the air of snivelling, mother-selling tax-dodgers and monthly train pass-reimbursements.

Yet every morning I step onto the train (a crowd-battle in itself, thanks to the one door that opens), and see your smug faces sitting and chatting in those same seats, as if you were in a coffeeshop, or the “cool kids” in school who sit together. Well, I’ve got news for you – you’re not the cool kids – the cool kids sat at the back of the train, not the front. Fools.

You seem to either be completely oblivious of your surroundings, or refuse to acknowledge that other people happen to exist in space and time. For example, the coffee that one of you spilled a couple of days ago. Knowing full well that everyone would be walking into that huge puddle of half of the contents of a large coffee (from the ghastly Dunkin’ Donuts, no less), you made no effort whatsoever to clean it up, and instead chose to sit back and laugh about it. Never mind the blind man who, as a result of his impairment, would not be able to see such a hazard. Being incapable of wiping your own arse, you knew that the maid would arrive momentarily to clean up your mess, and in the meantime, you can have a jolly good laugh about the ghetto North Shore Slip ‘n’ Slide you just created.

Another example was yesterday morning. A frail, elderly woman hobbled onto the train on a rather poorly-made medical crutch. One of you felt it was simply too much of a hassle to remove your briefcase, which clearly required a seat of its own, to make room for this useless freeloading wench to sit down and rest. The jostling and jerking from the train and the prolonged standing would do her recovering joints some good. And what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Which is probably why the wretched lot of you are all still somehow living.

If you had been in England, those seats that you seem to claim every day would have been clearly marked with enormous window decals suggesting that you kindly get up off your fat arses and let someone in need sit there. People with babies/small children, the elderly, and the disabled. This woman was two out of the three and you dithered and ummed and acted as if you didn’t know how to remove a briefcase from a seat, shimmy your fat arse over or just stand upright for once and honorably hand over your seat. Someone else let her sit down, right across the aisle from you, and this woman gladly accepted. You should all be ashamed of yourselves, you thoroughly disgusting pigs.

I had the displeasure of sitting with the lot of you this morning. But while most commuters understand that standing in front of a row of seats with a spare spot means, “please move up so I can sit down”, I actually had to ask one of you to do so, and was met with a puzzled glare that means, “I’ve never been asked to do this in my life. I wish my mummy were here to help me figure out what to do – also, where’s the maid to clean up my arse?” And then you finally let me sit down. What a complete and utter display.

Now part of the Elite Seat Club, my punishment was to have to listen to one of you drone on and on and on in your revolting, Rachael Ray, cigarette-encrusted voice, and the younger one natter on and on and on in your irritatingly nasal cackle that is truly the bastard child of Sesame Street muppets and every single Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

Worse still, was the subject of your conversation – the young one bemoaning her situation that she is living at home, rent-free, with her parents, who are embarrassed that she is not out on her own, living in her own place. Here’s a little clarification: they’re not embarrassed because you haven’t got on the property ladder – they’re embarrassed because you are mooching off of them while slagging them off (especially your poor mother, who should have used condoms every time), and acting like the princess you’re clearly not.

There is no chicken-or-the-egg postulating here – if I’d had you as a child, I would taken revenge on my own ovaries by teaching you to look the wrong way when you crossed the road. What a horrendous brat you are. I do hope that my passive-aggressive phone conversation to my brother about irresponsible young homeowners might lead you to reconsider the snobby, ill-informed, moronic question of, “what’s the point in throwing away money on rent when I can stay at home and save up to buy a house with my boyfriend?” Or, to put it another way – fuck you while I play a tiny violin for your troubles. Can’t see the tiny violin? Look here – a bit closer – lean in further – oops, just punched you in the face. Now grow up and stop whining, you ungrateful little gob of insolence.

I understand that, while you choose your seats so strategically, you (the nicotine-stenched one) are thus entitled to Rise Up and rightfully claim your place at the front of the queue to disembark the train. Well, you’re wrong. Whenever I can feel like it, I purposefully start to move into that tiny bit of space you think you can use to edge out the competition to get off the train first, and block you from exiting before the 50-odd group of people who were standing up for two-thirds of the journey.

And other people are starting to catch on, too. Many times I’ve seen other commuters watch you try to get up and they slot themselves in there before you get a chance, taking their sweet time exiting the train and leaving lots and lots of room in front of them. Room you can’t get to.  This is what you get for displaying such foul disregard for anyone around you. If someone has been standing up for most of the train journey and they kindly let you disembark the train first, at least make eye contact and say “thank you” or “excuse me”, instead of just shoehorning your unpleasantness in front of us mere peons.

America ceased their Isolationist viewpoints before WWII, so be aware that there are other people on this train. Even Bhutan aren’t isolationist anymore. It’s pretty much just Switzerland. Do you want to be Switzerland? No, no-one wants to be Switzerland. So either let people sit down and clean up your own messes or GTFO and commute in your gas-guzzling, ozone-raping SUVs you keep bragging about.

And don’t think I didn’t see that puzzled side-eye you all gave me when you heard me speak. Just because I bear a faint resemblance to the people who rip you off at the convenience store doesn’t mean I can’t speak posh. You berks. Now fuck off back to Dunkin Donuts.

The Last Seat In Massachusetts

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This morning on the shuttle bus, I was forced to sit next to a man who was standing up and thrusting his crotch at my face over and over again.

As much as I hate trains, they never get as crowded as the shuttle. As much as I hate the fact that they have LESS open doors (causing near-stampedes when boarding/alighting), are never on time, and seem to allow anyone to open the doors at any time (even before the train has stopped), the only time they ever get nearly as crowded is when the previous two trains didn’t show up. And because the crowds vote with their feet by all cramming into the aisles, there is virtually no way for the conductor to collect tickets, so he gives up. Because I keep forgetting to buy a monthly pass, that’s a few odd train rides per month that I never end up paying for!

Since the shuttle is free, there is no naughty reward for a crowded aisle, unless you like the idea of a sweaty-fupa-ed man doing stripper tai-chi moves at you because his crotch is at eye-level and he can’t quite keep a steady balance while checking his CrackBerry.

Most buses in England have adequate poles, fabric straps hanging from the ceiling and/or entire ceiling-long bars you can grab onto for balance.

As I’ve said previously, you’re lucky if you get two poles at the front of each car. These shuttle buses are so varied in their design that most of the newer, smaller minicab ones have absolutely nothing. If you are stupid enough to stand instead of waiting for the shuttle that’s right behind, you will have to hang onto the top of a seat. No cord, no pole, no seat handle – nothing. It’s illegal, or at least it is according to a woman who freaked out about people standing in the aisles, made a huge scene and then got back on when a seat freed up.

Everyone wants to sit down, but most of these people were lying on their bed, sitting at the breakfast table, sitting in their car to the train station and then sitting at their desk at work. The only time they’re standing up is in the damn shower, or, if you’re a man, to wee.  What I don’t like is the fact that the same four people sit in the same seat in the same car on the same train. Always at the front (the seats that say “priority disabled seats” while the blind man has to sit a few rows behind, separated from his friend), chatting as if there should be a damn accent table with civet coffee and ferrero rocher.

It’s a rush-hour train, so many times I have to perfect the art of holding the pole, my phone and my coffee all in one hand, while grabbing money to pay for my ticket with the other. Also: deliberately blocking these smug assholes from thinking it’s their birthright to just stand up and get off the train before everyone else who was standing just inches behind them. It’s like a bitchy game.

Over the weekend, I was sitting in my local coffeehouse. Nowhere to sit except the big table.  I was surrounded by 4 or 5 perky blonde women who politely asked if I could go and sit somewhere else because their large group wanted to sit together. I deseated myself graciously and tiptoed elsewhere with my breakfast, because they were nice about it.

If you’re on the train, people take up the 3-seaters by sitting on either end, as far away from each other as possible. You know it’s a busy train when people are actually asking that person on the end to move up a bit so they can take up that third seat, and you know that end person is a controlling arsehole when they make you sit in the middle instead of pushing up. Conversely, the asker might not even bother to ask, just sit down, hit your shoulders with their elbows, swing a bag in your face and generally act like you’re not there. Much like the sweaty, fupa-thrusting stripperman.

Etiquette regarding seats just seems to have gone out the train window. Older people seem to be worse about it. Maybe it’s because their healthcare system treats them like shit and no-one actually lets them sit in the seats at the front? Bunch of stupid brats who never got off their lawn and didn’t even have the decency to put up proper signage telling able-bodied people to fuck off out of those seats.

Getting that coveted seat is like a reward for being stupid enough to have to take public transport in the first place. Everyone in America has cars, and I’ve heard rumours that the MBTA are reducing routes on the North Shore. Eventually, people like me will be forced to hitchhike. But, since there’s unlikely to be standing room in some rapist’s Jeepers Creepers kidnap-a-mobile, at least I’ll be guaranteed a seat.

licence plate was: BEATNGU

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.

Why Being an Immigrant in America Means Being Ripped Off by Everybody

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When you emigrate, your life inevitably changes. If you’ve been spoiled with certain human rights, government programs and relatively small levels of corruption, you’ll notice the change of quality in your life if you venture outside of that comfort zone. And I’m not talking about a few family members who took a year out to work and travel around parts of South Asia, or to volunteer in some fairly dangerous parts of Africa. I really just mean America.

I speak only from the point of view of an English-accented immigrant with an ethnicity that is not terribly obvious to the average Yank. Both of these combined suggest that I must clearly be some exotic oil baron’s child bride with money to burn, but it’s almost wholly about the accent. Southern English accents mean you get invited to Sunday high tea at Buckingham Palace and therefore mean you are rich. The con men don’t see you coming; they hear you coming.

Renting:

I am currently renting a furnished “apartment” with the following problems:

  • There is no kitchen. There is a bathroom, and a living room with a couch, and a dining table with a kettle and a microwave. If you use both at the same time, a fuse blows. The miniature refrigerator does not freeze anything and often doesn’t even close.
  • There is only one heat source – an old-fashioned furnace that only reaches half of the living room. My bedroom is on the other side of the “apartment”, meaning it has NO HEAT. At the time of writing, it gets as low as -1C at night.
  • I previously shared the “apartment” with a cat who would piss everywhere. Every day, on the couch (in the only warm room in the house), there would be a few huge piles of poo or half the cushion would be soaked in cat wee-wee. This was my landlady’s cat, and she had no problem running her hand over the urine-patch (to see if it was urine) and then hand me back my change from the rent I gave her.
  • My landlady only accepts cash, and refuses to let my name be on the mailbox, or even have mail delivered without having “c/o [her name]” preceding it.
  • The basement was completely submerged after a rainstorm a few weeks ago, and three days later, after all the neighbours had cleared out their basements, she still hadn’t done it (as a homeowner, she should have had a sump pump). Now, there is some weird-looking white stuff all over the basement. It’s a little strange that I got sick soon after with flu-like symptoms, and only, only when it rained. Mould allergies can develop after exposure to mould, which happens after something like, I don’t know…flooding. And those allergies become hellish each time it rains. It also doesn’t help if there’s no fucking HEAT in most of the “apartment”.
  • This “apartment” (sorry) is actually a converted attic. The bathroom has a powerful vent but no windows. The light sources are few and far between and most of the closet space is taken up by her own things.
  •  I share this whole place with another person. Including the tiny, dorm-sized fridge.
  • I pay a “reduced” rent of $800 per month.

Now, she’s a nice lady (when she feels like it), but she knows she is overcharging me. She sees me as a meek, waifish foreign Brit and therefore I must be completely oblivious to when I’m being overcharged for something. Little does she know that paying well over £500 per month to SHARE with someone is rare, even outside of London, and even if it’s furnished. I could live in Cardiff in a modern, furnished flat with a washing machine (and heat) for less than that. Even the above stats show that $800 is ridiculous for a room-share, even in a full apartment.

Searching for a roommate situation on Craigslist will turn up results in the range of $400-$600 per month, and for that you at least get an actual kitchen and privacy. There are also an unsettling aspect about living here that I’d rather not go into, but suffice it to say that if I hadn’t been a desperate immigrant with nowhere else to live, I would have hotfooted it out of there a while ago with a landlord-face-shaped mark on a baseball bat.

And the reason I had nowhere else to go? Because no-one will rent to you without:

  • a glowing reference check (UK references don’t count)
  • a glowing credit report (they can’t check a UK credit report)
  • income verification that your rent will not exceed 1/3 of your income (no job yet? jog on)
  • personal references (don’t know anyone in the US? Then you’re obviously a serial killer)

This is for an estate agent, meaning you are left to the wolves of the “apartments by owner” section on Craigslist. Trawl through scams, negotiate with slumlords and know for a fact that the bathroom ceiling that is “being renovated” will keep caving in every 2-3 months of your lease there. It is Cowboy Country. And it goes without saying – definitely don’t try to fix up something beforehand while you’re overseas. Either they’re a scam and will steal your money (even if they live locally), or they’ll think you’re a scam.

Employment

When you are an immigrant, it’s likely you won’t have a job when you get here. Even my father, a doctor, was told by the AMAthat he would have to arrive in the US and THEN get a job, whereas the GMC advised they would work with him to secure work (or at least a lead) before he arrived in the UK. So, he chose the UK (where, a few years later, I was born).

The best bet for fast work is recruitment agencies, but when you’re looking them up on Google, use the term “staffing agencies”. They are not like any agency in the UK. who are generally honest, take a relatively small commission from your salary and will see an end in sight for your temp assignment, in that you are either likely to go permanent after 3 months, or it was just a short-term role anyway.

Here? They post false job adverts “representative” of their job postings, interview you for the roles for which you’re not qualified, and when they finally do get you a job, they will take almost 3/4 of your income. And you will stay in that rich-poor middle ground for a very long time, listening to your c0-workers making jet-setting plans for the weekend and telling you you should go see a doctor when you’re sick, even though, as a temp, you do not have the free flu shots, cheap health insurance with great coverage and obscenely high pay that they do. But at least you can console yourself with the fact, because you do more work than they do, there is a certain comfort in being that stereotype for cheap, overworked foreign labour.

"That's preposterous! Zutroy here is as American as apple pie!"

Healthcare

I will never get tired of bitching about this one. Let’s say that you’re unwell, and you have a general idea of what’s wrong with you. In the UK, that often helps with accelerating a diagnosis, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of things. Here, you are put on an assembly line the moment you step in, and if you are dressed nicely enough, it’s clear that you are not just there to falsely obtain prescription drugs and they will place you in the “fast-track” process. It probably costs more, but either way you are still going to get that much-needed 20 seconds with a junior doctor/trainee vocational nurse. Do not be frightened if the hospital tries to sell you drugs, anyway – it’s just in their nature. Be flattered if they are trying to force the expensive ones on you because it means they think you are rich enough to afford it.

Just walking into a shop

Only in Salem could you walk into a barely-painted back room and be forced to contemplate the reality of fun but cheaply-printed hoodies being sold for $40, or a Christmas decoration that’s close to $30. They’re nice items, don’t get me wrong, but everything – everything – is so terribly, terribly expensive. I’d love to go local and buy a bath rug that looks no different than the $6 one in Target, but being forced to pay $35 for one is just taking the piss. Why? Because if you sound English, and dress English (even something like clearance New Look), you look like a tourist, and you are their slimy bread and butter.

And it doesn’t get any better when you go to the mall (the haven of mediocrity) – if you ask someone at say, Lush, for a good gift idea for a landlady you’ve only known for a few months, you will be directed to the $30-$40 gift boxes as opposed to the generic, safe-sounding, one-size-fits-all offerings. Why? Because you have an English accent.

Note that the accent does come in handy when popping into expensive department stores to use the bathroom, so make sure to posh it up somewhat extra. They won’t care that you have no intention of buying their overpriced Burberry imports and will be thankful that you graced the commodes with your Royal tinkles.

Train Conduct

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I spend a lot of mornings on trains in Salem. Since one post on this hellish Styx ride isn’t enough, I felt the need for another how-to when it comes to conducting yourself on a train. Also felt the need to seize the opportunity for such a punilicious headline. Before we begin, please note that there are several steps to take to ensure a safe and non-homicide-inducing journey.

Preparation and Supplies – Beware of Luggage Choices

Taking the train in Salem consists of 90% standing around, 10% train-taking. You will require the following:

  • Comfortable shoes to ensure that you can (a) run across the street at the major crosswalk before a car mows you down and b) sprint at top speed towards the “platform” (see below) on rare occasions that the train actually turns up on time
  • A sturdy backpack to hold your belongings or, failing that, a shoulder bag with long enough straps that the bag can be positioned flat against your back, to avoid hitting seated commuters in the face as you walk down the aisles. If you are one of those bastards who insist on luggaging yourself with a bloated reptile carcass hobo shoulder bag, the back pain you will get from unevenly distributing weight on your spine will the karma you sorely deserve.
  • Coffee. Make sure to stop by Dunkin’ Donuts on the way so you have something to spill on your fellow commuter, ensuring you have extra seat-room when he stands up to seek treatment for his scalding burns. If you’re really hardcore, purchase an re-usable hot cup so that everyone thinks you’re important enough to have one. Fill it with vodka (no-one can smell it).
  • Cash. Don’t forget that there are absolutely no cashpoints at the station. If you forget cash, you will have to walk the entire length of the bus stops, up two flights of stairs, across a busy crossroads and past the courthouse before you get to the nearest one. And no, Dunkin’ Donuts does not offer cashback. There are just that many twats who like going in there. Make sure your cash is counted and ready to pull out (shut up) to save time when paying the conductor.
  • Sunglasses. You might think that they are to deflect UV glare because you are boarding the train at a non-platform platform pavement-level, but this is secretly to avoid making eye contact with your fellow commuter plebians. Finish the look with a hideous spray-tan:

Boarding the train, i.e., “Charrrrge!”

As I had previously mentioned, there are only two doors on the train that opens – one  at a slightly higher ramp (which is meant to help disabled people, yet the carriage that stops there has STEPS), and one at pavement-level. This is why you see two distinct crowds of people. Best to choose pavement-level, and it’s your job to try to figure out at exactly which point on that pavement that one train door will open.

Boarding a train is like Salem’s version of football riots. It’s everyone for themselves, and whomever’s more forceful with their train-boarding will get on first. No-one will give a shit if you get edged out of the crowd and are in danger of falling onto the tracks. Move with the crowd, and figure out which side you’re going to get on. If you want to get in the first carriage, stand towards the right; if you want any chance of making it to the other carriages, choose the left lane. Like football hooligans, most of your fellow commuters are fairly thick and will choose the most-trafficked route. Stick with the first carriage – because everyone always assumes it’s full, they ignore it, leaving a third of it empty for the entire journey. Just remember to close around the door like vultures (leave no space) and make everyone who’s getting off the train in Salem feel woefully uncomfortable.

If this is your first time braving the throngs of commuter-related idiocy, here are some tips to relieve claustrophobia and try to disperse the crowd somewhat:

  • Wear strong-smelling perfume (people will keep their distance)
  • Sneeze/cough a lot
  • Rip a huge fart
  • Carry an obnoxious amount of laptop bags/shoulder bags/grocery bags
  • Bring a pram. If you fill it with a fake baby and pretend it’s real, you will also get the courtesy crowd dispersal of crazy

The train will inevitably arrive late. When the conductor gets off the train to announce its arrival, he will almost certainly advise everyone that “there’s another train behind us”, and (like today), completely fucking lie to our faces and say that “all the seats are taken”. Yes, there is a train behind that train. It’s probably in Rockport and won’t begin its route for another 40 minutes, but it IS behind that train. Do not bother engaging the conductor to voice your displeasure; there is always someone louder, ruder, angrier and more obnoxious than you. Remember, this is New England.

Piss people off by asking if you can sit down next to them

Because you are getting on in Salem, everyone who got on at Rockport has filled up most of the train. I take the express from Salem, and even though they know that means that Salem is the last stop before Boston, you really ought to see the incredulous looks of disgust and annoyance on their faces when faced with the idea of having to share the other half of their seat.

Worse still, are the two who take up either ends of a 3-seater. You’ll know how much of a dickhead the one on the end is by what they do when you deign to ask to sit down – they’ll either get up and force you to sit between them and the window-seated passenger, or they’ll shuffle to the middle without a fuss. Don’t feel uncomfortable about asking someone to shift their arse to make room. There’s a reason it’s called public transport.

If you are lucky enough to find a seat, you can sample the sartorial delights that make up for the lack of a food trolley cart, straight train tracks and comfortable seats:

Best.tights.ever. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Pole-hugging room only

It’s fairly certain that you will have to stand. If you do, don’t fucking bother going all the way to the end of the carriage. You can see from the entrance whether or not there’s any seats, so if you have to stand, stand near the front of the carriage. Remember, only one door opens to the outside, and it’s likely that you will have to traverse the entire length of the train to get to it (if you were stupid enough to avoid the first carriage).

Try to grab a spot by the pole, because every other standing aid is a thin strap of leather attached the top of every seat. This is a passenger hair-pulling accident waiting to happen, so to avoid lawsuits (remember, this is Massachusetts – there is a reason every legal drama/sitcom is set in Boston), stick with the pole (shut up). Be aware that there is virtually no room to manoeuvre, especially when taking your cash out to pay the conductor:

Freak out the sleepers

Since you can’t do your entire makeup routine or read a book without falling over, you are going to have to amuse yourself. Look around you – almost everyone who is sitting down is fast asleep, weary from getting out of bed 20 minutes before you did. They deserve their sleep, but it’s fun to see how long you can stare at one of the sleepers until they wake up and think you’ve been trying to steal their soul.

If that isn’t your bag, you will have to find something else to stare at. Good fucking luck, because everyone who is sitting down is staring at you. By standing up, you are on display. Everything you do is on a stage, and instead of checking their Crackberry or playing beginner’s chess on their meePad, they have chosen to direct their sneering gaze at you, exhibiting your lowly station as a standing, feckless loser.

If the turbulence on the train (yes, train) gets too much, it’s best to just go a bit limp and move with the swaying. This goes double for that odd journey that involves the train turning on its side and slanting its entire contents for a good ten minutes of track. Try to sway while holding the pole loosely. Yes, you’ll look like you’re a stripper doing Tai Chi, but at least you won’t fall over. Remember: everyone’s watching you.

Passive-aggressive posing

Keep an ear out for the seated arseholes who bitch and moan when the train stops for a few seconds more than it usually does, or how it was a few minutes late, or anything concerning their horrendous toff-commute in general. Now would be a good time to refocus your playful gaze at the sleepers to a rampaging, murderous glare to those twats who are comfortably sitting and chatting (and likely near the front of the train).  Set your glare to maximum intensity if you hear them complaining about the fact that people are standing.

However, if you wear contact lenses, a severe glaring may not be feasible, or at least will be followed by a frenzied squint in at least one eye. You’d be better off using exaggerated body language to convey how much better they have it by being the Chosen Ones who got a seat. Rub your arm, feign pained grimaces, try to do that crunching thing when rotating your shoulder and continue to shift your bag as if it were the heaviest but most necessary burden. Try to prepare a speech about being one of the “untouchables” if engaged.

Disembarking

Finally, the misery is over, and all you have to do is get off the train so you can never see these bastards again (until tomorrow morning). This is where anthropological treats come in, even more markedly than when you boarded the train.  Before you even get within 10 minutes of North Station (i.e. halfway through the journey), huge spikes will begin to protrude through random seats, forcing some of your fellow commuters to stand up and claim their rightful place in line, even though they are nowhere near the door, and many, many other people will get off the train before they do (the same number of people that would get off if they were sat down).

Don’t let these new standees earn your respect. You were standing first – you earned an earlier place in line. The trick is to source out which people are likely to do this, and inadvertently block them from progressing to that one open door. Remember the crowd-dispersing exercise, and your skills with the pole (shut up) – use these to your advantage. You can even make a little dramatic – throw in some Gandalfing if it makes it fun:

The seat-yielder visual exercise from earlier will also come in handy to identify which twats are most likely to rise up. Whoever you saw getting up and forcing a passenger to sit in the middle is going to be the asshat who thinks that standing up will make the train move faster. Try to work with your fellow standing passengers to block his way, and see the look of indigance on his face turn to outright impatience. Ha! Now you know how it feels!

The worst offender, though, is the loud, obnoxious bint who complains in her horrible Rachael Ray voice the entire journey even though she had been sitting right next to the fucking door. She will gather her things and stand up right in your face to claim her rightful two inches of breathable space that was previously occupied with reasonable standing room between two humans. She doesn’t even need to move – all she has to do is twirl around and she is already in position. These people are pros. Just look at this bitch:

See that tiny brown speckle next to the left-hand side of her belt? That’s where this cow was sitting. Proper commuter etiquette suggests you let anyone sitting down get off the train before you, even if you were standing for the whole journey, but with inconsiderate, selfish twats like this, you may proceed to stand back-to-back and dispense the most obnoxious fart your tired little intestines can muster. Once you get off the train, you can passive-aggressively overtake them when sprinting down the arrivals platform. And then, after that childish victory,  it’s finally over.

And then you get to do it again 8 hours later.

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