Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ode to a Year

This illustration (and photography) is by Steve Simpson, who has granted permission that his artwork appear on this blog. I asked to use this image because it reminds me of the MTA's billboard on 83--the advertisement is placed next to the tracks in an area that motorists can see the train running parallel to the highway. You can see more of his work on flickr,, or this work in Dublin.

It seems somewhat inappropriate to go on at length about how much I love Public Transportation as a means to celebrate one full year of dependency on the MTA. Oh well. Thus far I at least, remain unscathed.

Yesterday marked exactly one year since embarking on the exhilarating journey that was commuting from my collegetown suburban apartment to an internship in the city, which spiraled into the hopes of creating a print zine re-telling the stories that are so deeply related to these commutes. Of course 365 days is nothing in the broad scope that is public transportation, but it still feels good to look at the independence in adventures that have come in just one year. At the very least, my time management skills have improved exponentially.

I rode the bus to the train to work and back just like every day; since joining the populace I’ve discovered the joys of people watching on the Light Rail and come to love the Light Rail as my favorite form of transportation. I love the way it smoothly whisks people away from one destination to another; I love the mélange of people—families, tourists, mechanics, art students, bike pirates, grad students, Ravens and Orioles fans, grandparents, locals burdened by luggage en route to the airport.

I boarded the train at Lutherville headed southbound into the city. I sat at the end of the train, facing the direction we were gliding to, surrounded by men headed to work with men in heavy work coats, I became intoxicated by their raucous laughter and conversation. I fell asleep. I slept at the train soared past the Loch Raven reservoir, ran parallel to 83 and glided past its own advertisement, and woke up just blocks from my stop.

Though my job is what drew me into my unabashed love for Baltimore, it was the time spent people watching that forced me into a torrid love affair for Baltimore’s people. My friends don’t get it; they don’t enjoy sharing a ride with anyone. But there is something special about the way the Light Rail shuttles all of Baltimore’s citizens and the way we interact with each other.

Last night’s ride home was a packed train; at 5 p.m. everyone was going home for the evening. I joined the precarious ways of jostling, juggling, and balancing to accommodate for exiting passengers, I negotiated the airspace between other people’s heads in the aisles, and I wrestled control over my handbag with a woman determined to take it away from me.

I had removed it from my shoulder to let it rest at my side—while in my grip—so that she could leave. As she walked outside she idly slid her hand over my bag as if to say, “That’s what you deserve for courtesy,” and attempted to continue walking. Joke’s on her, my bag had a can of cola and the making’s of a Christmas present; I wasn’t letting go of my craft supplies for anything. It was a secret and unnoticed tussle, but I remained the victor. Later, a man who reminded me of my father offered me an open seat. Much later I was joined in the seats by a woman who reminded me of my mother until she engaged me in a conversation about sewing. (My mother would rather discuss books.)

When the trains are empty I like to look at the detritus left by other riders. The trains are usually clean—the floors are rarely sticky, the interior doesn’t usually smell, and knock on wood, no one’s vomited inside—but there are occasionally fast food wrappers and often magazine inserts. It’s the magazine inserts I look for. I want to know what other people are reading: W? Vibe? Jet? Paste? Create? Soldier of Fortune? My curiosity has almost compelled me to let the inserts in my reading material slide as a means of leaving a silent mark of my place via litter, but I doubt there is anyone compelled by the subscription offer to Radar or Bust.

The other day someone left an entire sandwich on his or her seat. It remained untouched for my thirty minute ride. Though curious, common sense prevailed and no one touched the sandwich, examined its contents (tuna salad or peanut butter?) The inability to remove the object mixed with the perplexity of its existence is sort of indicative of transportation—everyone knows what’s going on but no one really wants to be bothered. And since it’s not a bomb, that’s alright with me.

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