Monday, October 22, 2007

Oh, the Subway!

"Subway", Sesame Street [possibly dated 1970]

I've copied the lyrics for readers less inclined to play the video, or readers who would like to read along. The lyrics have been copied from a website seemingly devoted to all things Sesame Street

Old Lady: Excuse Me.
Hip Dude: Watch it, lady!
Old Lady: Pardon me, sonny!
Hip Dude: Down below the street/Can you dig the steady beat?/It's the subway
All: Subway!
Bert: Moving right along/Hear the rhythm loud and strong/It's the subway
All: Subway!
Man With Mustache: 'Cause there isn't any room in this town
Prairie Dawn: They put all the trains down under the ground
Cop: Buy a token now/For a ride that's super-wow/On the subway
All: Subway!
All: (talking at once)
Bert: Uh, excuse me...
Lady in Fur: You should say you're sorry!
Bert: Hi, Kermit.
Man With Mustache: Squeeze inside the door
Little Boy: There's no room for any more
Both: On the subway
All: Subway!
Hip Dude: Hang onto the strap
Lady: Wonder where they hid the map?
Both: On the subway
All: Subway!
Prairie Dawn: If you’re in a hurry take the express
Kermit: It will go right by your local address
Red-Haired Man With Mustache: Swaying to and fro/It's the only way to go/On the subway
All: Subway!
Ohhhhh ... (sounds like the sound a train makes when it passes by)
Kermit: My stop just went by
All: Ohhhhh ...
Prairie Dawn: Hey, your thumb’s in my eye
All: Ohhhhh ...
Hip Dude: It’s so hot, I could die
All: Anyway, everyway, anywhere
Bert: Packed inside a train/It’s too crowded to complain/On the subway
All: Subway!
Old Woman: You could lose your purse/Or you might lose something worse/On the subway
All: Subway!
Hip guy: It’s the biggest travel bargain in town
Yet Another Woman: The longest running show underground
Man With Mustache: Come on, slip inside/You'll get taken for a ride/On the subway
Kermit: Where's that?
All: On the subway!
Prairie Dawn: If you’re in a hurry, take the express
Kermit: It will go right by your local address
All: Buy a token now/For a ride that’s super-wow/On the subway!/On the subway!/On the subway!/On the subway!/On the subway!/Ohhhh ...

I'm biased when I say I love this video. First, I am biased because this is a) a blog discussing public transportation, in all of its glorious and frustrating forms and b) this is a video about riding the subway. Second, I hate public transportation this week (I think I caught something on the bus, I was passed by three buses in a row on one day and not one of them stopped), and would like to commiserate with Kermit about missing a stop. I think we could have a great time sharing stories about the express time over a pint at McSorely's. Finally, I love the New York subway and I adore Sesame Street. (I'm in the Grover Generation.)

But my bias isn't what has led me to post this, but my unabashed love for how accurate this song is approximately 37 years after its original airing. Its accuracy lasts from the beginning of the skit, a young hipster collides with an elderly woman ("WATCH IT LADY!") to the haphazard muppet shuffling as the train hurtles through underground tunnels. Sometimes, even the most balanced passenger can be sent through the air, into a pile of limbs, joints, and shopping bags as the result of sudden breaking or a bumpy track.

Yet what I find especially charming is the dichotomy between the ugly and the beautiful. In one moment Prairie Dawn almost condescends the cramped conditions of city living before the local law enforcement calls the subway "a ride that's super wow." Though "there's no room for anymore," the crowd agrees, "it's the only way to go." Together, they list the unpleasantries of the subway: you might become the victim of pickpocketing, the rides are cramped and airless, and sometimes you don't arrive to your destination at all. This is a children's show, so I'm guessing my major complaints: the drunks, mysterious liquids, raving lunatics, stalkers, and smelly people had to be edited from the final cut. Also, Oscar lives in a trash can, and with the exception of That One Christmas in '78, never left his stoop.
Suddenly, just as Muppets do, everyone begins to dance. The passengers shimmy, bounce, hop, and shuffle through the subway car, singing and enjoying each other's company.

The most I've seen is group hand-holding, but I'd give almost anything for an inspired and spontaneous dance party during my commute, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tuesday Morning's Commute

The reason I take the bus to destination's within walking distance (2 miles give or take an extra half mile) is because I like to overhear conversations. On days where I might go without even the most basic human interaction, I like to feel like I'm within an arm's reach of a living, breathing, communicating person.
Though most rides are remembered for absurdity, today's was worth noting because it was pleasant.

Sitting on the 8 at the corner of York Road and Bosley Avenue a group of teens noted the time. "We're early," one said, "It's not even eleven, yet!" One of the young men in the group suggested they go to Starbucks and get lattes, implying that their free time was a luxury. (His tone is what probably warmed me to the group.) They decided not to, and stayed with the bus and it lumbered up York Road to the next stop.
"Are we at the library?" They asked each other now in panic, and the male teased that they had passed the library several stops ago.
I was wearing headphones but turned to the group. A few of the teens made eye contact with. Their eyes was large, and they seemed unusually worried, so I told them that the library was two stops away, across from 711, and the entrance was behind the bus stop. All they needed to do was walk toward the large red brick monstrosity for all of their literary needs.
Their stop came, and they quietly exited. When the group was together again, they all grabbed hands and walked inside.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Travel Log, October 10-11, 2007

Travel Log

I had an adventure this week, venturing from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington, DC for a concert by way of four forms of public transportation. Of course, people do this every day. Where this is a daily commute for some people, I find it incredibly exciting and special to go to this massive effort to make it to another city (the drive to the venue from my apartment is one hour, ten minutes).
This isn’t even a new experience for me; it’s something I’ve gotten a little accustomed to. My first attempt was last winter, and my first multi-train journey was from Baltimore to Frederick, Maryland. For that, I took the bus to the Light Rail to the Marc in Washington, DC. Then the Marc to Frederick, Maryland, where I dropped off my luggage before driving to the Metro in Montgomery County, and taking it to the venue to see Lifetime on their reunion tour. The most recent journey was to Washington, DC when I metro’d to the venue, waited for friends, dropped my bag in the trunk of a car, and ventured into the venue for The Dismemberment Plan’s reunion. There we were surrounded by people from Europe and various parts of North America who had taken their own forms of trains, planes, and automobiles to join us in the crowd.
Mundane to the commuter, the journey holds promise; at the end of the first journey is the reward, the event or visit, and the trip home is an hour to revel in the joy that the first venture provided. I also get to revel in more than an hour of personal alone time, which I cherish very much.

Sometime between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Let's go!
    o Head to bus stop 6 blocks from my apartment.
    o Dash across four lanes of traffic as the 8 stops to discard passengers at stop.
    o Board bus, thank driver profusely!
    o Bounce through bus until arriving at Lutherville Park and Ride; wait for Light Rail; hope next train is going father than North Avenue.
    o Wait 30 minutes for Light Rail, heading toward BWI.
    o Find seat near door, find self neighbored by three ipods and one discman.
    o Inadvertently listen in on conversation by handful of private school youths; girl to my left reads an essay written for an English class. At the end, the girl across from her declares, “I want to go to FIT. I think I can get in.” Scowl through a chorus of laughter as I take note of the following:
    -Passenger has impeccable fashion sense—her polo is unwrinkled and immaculate
    -Accessories include earrings, necklace, rings, but remain understated
    -Hair is fashionable and edgy but downplayed. (In comparison, I spent an hour fixing my hair and have nothing to show for it.)
    -Make-up is not noticeable; has applied makeup with the intention of looking natural. Passenger succeeds.
    -Posture, poise, and attitude are friendly and confident.
    Conclude passenger is a shoe-in. Debate wishing her luck and asking for advice but decide against it, lest the passengers find out I was listening in.
    o Exit the train at University of Baltimore/Mount Royal stop.
    o Wait 30-40 minutes for the Penn Station train; check digital camera and discover the batteries are dead (despite having charged overnight). Silently lament the loss while watching UB students park their cars and walk to their respective classes.
    o Board Penn train, rumble into the station.
    o Exit train and run up the stairs to the main concourse, following an equally swift commuter, who holds the door for me as we run, rather than slam it in my face. Am shocked and honored by the generosity, a message that says, “I see and acknowledge your fervency and would like to assist your rapid departure as I rush to mine.
    o Arrive to the station at 4:50 p.m., with five minutes to spare until the departure of the 4:55 p.m. train to Union Station. The door-holding commuter dashes down another flight of stairs to board the train and I amble to a self-serve ticketing machine.
    o Fumble through the slow touch screen amid several well-to-do twentysomethings in suits who purchase tickets aside me. Several sigh as the computer lumbers through the options.
    o Mutter, “I just want a $7 ticket.
    o Finally secure $7 passage to Union Station, with 20 minutes until my 5:25 p.m. departure.
    o Buy a bottle of water and the new issue of Spin, because I have left the apartment without reading material (for shame!) or h20.
    o Talk to sister in Oregon for ten minutes while watching express trains depart to Boston, Washington, DC, Perryville, and New York.
    o Read Spin’s seemingly incomplete punk discography/timeline. Consider writing letter of complain but resolve to be better journalist instead in the interests of not filling my own feud binder (it’s bursting at the seams).
    o Excitedly board Marc at 5:20, heading Northbound to Washington, DC, Union Station.
    o Find seats facing the direction the train is traveling on the second level of seating. Find two levels of seats indefinitely fascinating for the umpteenth time in my twenty-one years of existence.
    o Open Spin, cross legs, and settle into the one-hour ride to Washington.
    o Idly people watch at Odenton and Bowie train stops.
    o Am joined by handful of college students with formal luggage. Wonder if they are coming or going, and from/to which airport. Male passenger sits sideways; we never make eye contact.
    o Fold magazine and rearrange belongings, which include toothbrush, Nikon SLR camera with 32 frames of film, aforementioned dead digital camera, underwear, wallet, cell phone, two shirts, facial soap, and a pair of shorts.
    o Exit train with same fervency as the Light Rail; dodge slow pedestrians as I rush to the restroom, and again race to Metro.
    o Find only one SmartTrip station in the Metro. I am minus fifteen cents and behind a family five tourists—two parents, three boys under 12—who are behind to middle-aged tourists Who. Can. Not. Make. Machine. Work.
    o Sigh, loudly.
    o Hold breath while tourists deposit $10 and purchase tickets—one at a time instead of five—and use the quarters to buy each remaining ticket.
    o Am slowly suffocating self.
    o Clink, clink, clunk!, clink!
    o Smile painfully when they finish, a lukewarm “Welcome to DC! We appreciate your patronage!”
    o Gasp for air while fumbling for $10 in wallet. Count ten lost brain cells to hospitality. Balance: $9.85.
    o Dash to the train that is leaving the platform.
    o Dive into the train that is leaving Union Station headed for Shady Grove.
    o Read Spin’s lackluster interview with Johnny Rotten while heading to Dupont Circle. SPOILER ALERT: He “respects” but calls Joe Strummer and the Clash talentless (sacrilege!), doesn’t like CBGB but “respects” the bands (double sacrilege!), is miraculously still married, and swam with sharks. Wonder if there is a job for me somewhere with Discovery that would allow me to photograph and report on Great White Sharks. Measure the unfairness that Rotten has seen a Great White jump out of the water to eat seals. Land-living seals.
    o Snap out of it to pay attention and exit at Dupont Circle.
    o Exit at Q street and walk one block the opposite direction to 21st street.
    o Pass couple that reminds me of my best friend in Chicago. Wonder if he’d move to the east coast when he graduates so we can hold hands, take my dog for a walk, and confess our insecurities about relationships and careers. Wonder if he’d do it if I offered baked goods.
    o Walk east to 14th Street and pass several pedestrians in an inadvertent mind-game. Fly past 9to5ers headed to the bar, Georgetown students on evening runs, and two very slow interns.
    o Voyeuristically look at the inside of several houses. These houses are an architectural dream, French-inspired, with orange, yellow, green, and pale blue living rooms. There is modern furniture and antique lamps, there are picture frames, record players, and glowing television sets. There are Macs and PCs, there are cats, and children, and no one has blinds or curtains, though the sun has recently set. Decide the next place I rent should have a blue living room if I can afford and am allowed to paint the interior.
    o Sail through the final crosswalk and find Candida’s Books. Wait for sister.
    o Browse, eat thai, and walk to the Black Cat, final destination.
    o Leave show after the set but before the encore to catch the last train on the green line, U Street.
    o Fly through the escalator and sail to the Greenbelt train; share the train with the Yellow Line.
    o Exit the train at Farragut North as the last red train to Shady Grove leaves; am followed and am trailing behind frantic passengers who also left the Black Cat earlier than they would have liked.
    o Wear new hoodie from the show as wind rips through the station.
    o Board last red train to Grovesnor, exit at my sister’s stop and walk one block to her apartment.
    o Am inside before 12:30 a.m.


    Sometime between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.

    o Enjoy a spoiled breakfast of cold-pressed ice coffee with vanilla-flavored cane sugar and an almond croissant. Nearly die from happiness from consuming almond paste. Watch thirty minutes of Squid and the Whale and am a little depressed.
    o Head to train with sister, head to Union Station on Shady Grove train; prattle as she reads the Express.
    o Notice that these suited commuters are understated and silent. Most are without headphones and the few that do are not listening to their music loudly. Of a packed train only one passenger has sounds leaking from his ears. In Baltimore, there is always raucous conversation, deafening earbuds, and constant interaction.
    o Exit at Union Station and head to a market for Coca-Cola from Mexico because it is made with cane sugar instead of syrup.
    o Part ways with sister, buy one-way ticket to Penn Station.
    o Wait for fifteen minutes among student groups, commuters, and college students.
    o Board train at forgotten time, settle into seat, and promptly fall asleep.
    o Brown bag with Coca-Cola bottles rattle in my seat; receive angry looks from passengers who think I am a boozer.
    o Arrive fifty-two minutes later, exit train, and purchase Light Rail ticket.
    o Discuss the Marc trains at length with MTA Officer, who has never taken the Marc.
    o Board Light Rail bound for Camden Yards and slowly lumber to University Baltimore/Mount Royal stop.
    o Exit train, wait for Northbound train.
    o Board Northbound train for Hunt Valley fifteen minutes later. Fellow passenger remarks, “I just missed the Timonium train. Waiting here for thirty minutes is like watching paint dry.”
    o Rattle to Lutherville thirty minutes later.
    o Wait under cover for the 8, board bus headed toward University Maryland Transit Center.
    o Exit at Towson University.

    Total Costs for Transportation: $24
    Hypothetical Costs without Pre-Purchased Pass: $30.40

COMING SOON: Why I Love the Light Rail (and You Should Too)