Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Public Transportation

I had a weird nemesis when I was growing up: Public transportation. It was just me and my mother, and she didn't drive, so we were slaves to it. By sixth grade I wished that the guy who invented the wheel had just kept quiet about the damn thing to spare the human race the whole transit authority anathema. And I didn't even know what "anathema" meant.

Mom's motto was, "If you're not early, you're late, and if you're late, you'll probably die." So our typical morning went like this:

MOM: It's time to walk to the bus stop.

ME: But the bus isn't due for hours.

MOM: The schedule you're looking at was last revised yesterday. It's too old to trust.

ME: Ok, but what's with the winter coat? It's July.

MOM: We might be waiting for a while. And don't talk back to me. People are reading this.

The old buses had fare machines with windows to view the coins, but the drivers never paid attention. If I didn’t have change I would just shove in a turkey sandwich. I continued to rely on public transportation throughout college, and it was always interesting figuring out where to go:

ME: What's the route to Johnsville?

TRANSIT CLERK: Walk three blocks north and catch the 102. Get off two stops before the guy sitting behind you does, and transfer to the 610. Whisper, "The chickpea is neither a chick nor a pea" to the pregnant woman in the green hat, and then get off right after her water breaks. If it's before 9:07, wait for the 709. Otherwise take the 125 back here to catch a cab that’ll take you straight through.

Sometimes I took the subway instead – very exciting. There was always the chance of getting caught in the closing train doors and leaving behind a scarf or a kidney. I'd also see commuters get injured by hurrying through turnstiles; most didn't even mind the accidental sex change as long as they caught the train. But my worst subway experience was all too typical:

ME: Sir, why did you just push me onto the tracks?

PSYCHOTIC: You were blocking my view of the clock.

ME: Why didn't you ask me to move?

PSYCHOTIC: My mother said don't talk to strangers. Anyway, train's coming.

ME: I noticed that. Could you maybe help me back onto the platform?

PSYCHOTIC: I'm sorry, what? Can't hear you over the train.

I survived that episode, thanks to the fact that it didn't really happen. But it's undeniably scary out there:

HIJACKER: I've got a gun, so nobody on this bus move. I'm detouring us four blocks east, to right in front of my condo. Let's go, buddy, make a left.

DRIVER: I'd love to, but the engine just broke down.

HIJACKER: All right. Everybody has to walk to my condo then.

PASSENGER: Wait. What's the point of having us all walk with you?

HIJACKER: Quit whining. I'll put you all in taxis once we get there.

The moral of this story is clear: Condos are really not a good investment. Also, don't get caught on a bus that breaks down. The original Gilligan's Island was based on a true story of seven people whose three-hour tour was on a bus, not a ship. After the weather got rough and disabled the bus, the passengers lived in a parking lot for years, surviving on seat cushion stuffing and making small appliances out of window locks.

Taking a cab wasn't any safer. I once agreed to share a cab with a 92-year-old woman who said she was headed to the same karate studio I was. A mile later she struck up a conversation.

WOMAN: Don't you just love how the countryside looks in the snow?

ME: Yes, but you know, it seems we must be taking some kind of detour.

WOMAN: Now just sit back and relax, honey, it'll all be over soon.

The next thing I knew Granny was using her third-degree black belt to steal my wallet and dump me in a cow pasture. It turns out she was in collusion with the driver and they were hitting twenty victims a day! I hate that people devise these horrible moneymaking schemes, and never invite me in on the plan.

As a last resort, no matter how short or long the trip, I would sometimes decide to "Go Greyhound." The seats had a very distinctive smell, much like motor oil combined with egg salad. And I had another complaint:

ME: These darn windows are always so dirty. I can't see out. Are we in Baltimore yet?

SEATMATE: You've been asleep for the past 21 hours. We're in Miami.

That's when I finally gave up and bought myself a car.

God, this is embarrassing. Does anybody know where I left it?