Talk about writing about your observations of life….
Let me say straight off that I love mass transit. I was raised near a city, and remember the freedom of being able to hop on a bus or trolley (yes, I am that old), that connected to the subway, to get downtown. At the age of 12, I was able to travel on my own to visit family that still lived in the city. My first paying jobs were on bus and train lines. The travel time gave me a chance to get rid of the job stress without taking it out on the drivers around me. The exercise didn’t hurt either.
Fast forward a few years, and I find myself living near Tokyo. We have all heard stories of how the train system revolutionized Japan. It is so true! You can go anywhere in the country by train, bike or foot. You really don’t need a car there, which is good since drivers are a bit crazy behind the wheel. And as for safety, that system is the safest I’ve ever ridden. I could ride at 11:30 at night and the worst that would happen is a drunk would throw up on the floor near me.
Now I live in that small space on the map between Baltimore and DC. Each city has their own form of mass transit and the two really don’t meet – yet. You can take an Amtrak train between the two, but ready, steady mass transit between the two cities still does not exist. Both systems are easy to use and I prefer to use them, rather than drive. And they both provide me a way to observe people.
Baltimore has a small subway system that runs east-west and doesn’t go all the way through the city, just into the down town areas. The bus network seems to be better in Baltimore city. The light rail system runs north-south and does bisect the city past many tourist stops. You can’t find an easier or simpler way to get the Oriole Park or Ravens’ Stadium.
DC’s Metro system is more extensive. Looking at the map, it looks like a giant spider with legs that go out to all the suburbs. All the lines are color coded and they all intersect in a number of places, but primarily at Metro Center. There’s a stop within a few blocks of almost every tourist attraction in the city. Since the design of the city is similar to London’s, it’s only fitting that the Metro is similar in design too.
Both cities’ transit systems are deemed generally safe. DC’s however, has had a few major accidents in recent years. Track maintenance is a priority in the DC system. Baltimore’s system gets its maintenance at night when the tracks are shut down. The light rail tracks are above ground and easier to access. Not so for DC. Most of the DC Metro system is underground. To access tracks, the crews need to close off tubes and shut down portions of lines for a period of time. These shut downs occur at the times when ridership is statistically the lowest, and on weekends when job commuters are at home.
Either system gives the avid people-watcher lots to see. On a recent trip into Baltimore, I rode with friends to the downtown area. On our way back, we boarded the light rail to see 3 very drugged up men sitting in the car near us. Their personal hygiene was questionable at best. One fellow stood up from his seat and nearly lost his pants in spite of a belt at the waist. One of my friends brought her sister, a French citizen, with us. Times like this, I am embarrassed as an American. I hope our country isn’t judged solely by the pants-on-the-ground druggies. These people don’t paint a positive picture of our land.
I got a chance to do lots of people watching on the DC Metro heading into the Kennedy Center, too. Here I saw people dressed for a variety of activities. Some were dressed to party. Others were heading off the job, or on the job on the night shift. All of us pretty much kept to ourselves on the train. It’s amazing how you can be in such a social situation and not know or say a word to your neighbor. Nor do people want to be socialized with!!!
The trip into DC was routine. We hit track work on the way out of DC. We were going to have to leave the train at one stop, take a bus bridge and pick up the train 3 stops up the line. This led to some adventurous thinking on my part. How was this going to work? Would I feel like a sardine in the can at any time soon? How would the herds of people behave when their lives were a bit inconvenienced?
Turns out that the animal herd analogy got replace by a pinball game analogy in my mind. Descending into any of the stations brings to mind the “Empire Theme” from “Star Wars.” The look of the stations make you feel like you are in another world. The doors opened at our debarkation station and the people moved swiftly up the escalator to the busses. We were funneled through gates, past “traffic cops”, into small areas, then out onto the street to queue up for the bus bridge. A bus would pull up and we would all head to the door. We got on – or not. Sometimes the doors closed and pushed the others out of the way, like pinball flippers. We got to our embarkation station and we repeated the process - filed out of the bus, past more “traffic cops”, into more gates, down the escalators to the train platform. There we waited for the train to allow us to finish our trip.
On the DC Metro, you have to be careful to get the right train. Some lines share tracks and you have to watch the front and sides of the train cars to be sure you are on the correct line. That night, a train pulled into the station with “Orange Line” on it. Many of us waiting there were hopeful. It was announced that it’s an Orange Line train. We get on, then, ooops, our bad. It’s really a Blue Line. Glad they told us in time so we could get off.
Two hours later we finally made it to our stop. In the process, many riders took the inconvenience in stride. Some even made jokes of it. No one got bad attitudes about the trip. Now, we weren’t holding hands singing Kumbaya or anything like that, but the trip was not unpleasant, just eventful. It was great to observe adult behavior for a change. The circumstances could have brought out the worst in all of us.
Lucky for us, both Baltimore mass transit and DC Metro have websites that give you updates on track repairs, bus bridging of stations, and other problems on the systems. All you have to do is Google the city and the line. The sites give you a list of the stations closed or any other track issue that might exist. Always check before you travel.
And always enjoy the trip. People are really fun to watch. Put them in uncomfortable situations and see what happens. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. But most times people behave appropriately. It’s just that those activities sadly don’t make the 11 o’clock news…