Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Public Transit Means...You Are in Public

I was running late again. And it was snowing—lightly, but enough to make the bricks on the walkway outside Davis Square station slick and treacherous. So, despite not being as early as I had hoped, I walked slowly. I’m at that age where falling on brick might very well break a bone—not an expected break, I’m not that old. But the kind of a break—like a wrist or an elbow—that can make a person sit up and realize that time is passing, the body is not as resilient as it once was, that all that extra padding on hips and backside is in fact a disguise for the skeleton that withers within.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Finding Zen on the Red Line

There are people who like to be busy all the time. I even know some of them. They travel, go on bikathons, play in bands. Other people, like me, really need quiet time. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Safety First on the T

The MBTA introduced a new video today to encourage people to follow safe practices while riding public transit. I give it mixed reviews.

Yeah, it's important not to fall off the curb...but what about holding on while you're singing and dancing on the bus?  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Buying Time on the T

I haven’t written in some time, mainly owing to sloth and the lack of anything interesting to say (not that the second has stopped me before). Partly I have been thinking a lot about time, and how I spend my time. Lately at least, this random pondering about commuting doesn’t seem to be worth a whole lot of anyone’s time.

I’m at the point in life where time is more precious to me than almost anything else, because I’ve got so little of it left. I haven’t been diagnosed with a terminal illness or anything, but both of my parents died in their early seventies, and that’s only twenty years down the road for me.

So for me, it’s been both good news and bad news that the T has installed LED signs—electronic billboards or, in the T’s terminology, “countdown clocks”—that announce how many minutes before the next train arrives. The signs have been installed on a rolling schedule, beginning with South Station in summer 2012. As of June 2013, the MBTA reported that “51 of the 53 stations on the Blue, Orange, and Red lines” have the devices.

Reports suggest that, by and large, commuters love them, and the T management positions them as a small touch to help reduce stress on commuters.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Moral Crises on the Red Line, Part II

Anyone who knows me knows of my tendency to look at life and its various situations with a “worst case scenario” eye. While waiting for the train, I’ve occasionally wondered what I would do if someone pushed me onto the tracks. I stand well back, even when its not too crowded.

For someone like me, though, there’s a similar question, a moral dilemma: What would I do if someone fell or jumped from the platform while I was standing there? Would I be the kind of person to help? Or the kind who watches while others help? Would I offer a hand? As my friend Michelle says, “Not bloody likely.” And that makes me feel like a worthless human being.

Certainly, it seems as though people are tumbling into the pit and onto the tracks with some regularity. For its part, the MBTA says it is not more common than it ever was, but our endless news cycle makes it seem as such.

In a recent editorial, the Boston Globe applauded the MBTA for releasing videos of people falling onto the tracks.
“Other cities shy away from releasing surveillance footage that has the potential to embarrass, unless there’s a compelling reason like needing assistance in solving a crime. But with all the recent attention given to people who fell or were pushed in front of oncoming trains in New York, the T’s policy is important for public safety.”
The editorial went on to say that the MBTA should go further, by instructing riders as to how they should respond when someone wanders off the platform. “Jump in after them” is the wrong answer. The right answer is: Alert a T official (good luck finding one when you need one), but more important, the Globe said, “onlookers should encourage those who have fallen to rush to the end of the platform — away from the direction of any approaching trains — to climb up ladders.”

Now this is great advice, and I feel so much better after reading it. Because lives can be saved. And it solves one of the many moral dilemmas we face each day as we ride the Red Line.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Moral Crises on the Red Line, Part I

Every now and then the ride to work provides a glimpse into my innermost psyche, a snapshot of the person I truly am, and it’s not always pretty. Take this week, the week following the great blizzard of ’13. As one might imagine, the T was pretty crowded this week. One day, as I sat with my nose in my magazine, a man sat next to me. As we all know, the seats are kind of tight together, and while he wasn’t a terribly large man, I certainly was cognizant of someone landing there. He had a bag that he put on the floor between his feet, then he put his hands together and clapped them, silently but rapidly, much in the way someone might if they had, for example, a mental illness.

I didn’t think much of it. As I said, I was concentrating on my Harper’s. Although it pains me to admit this, I didn’t really pay much attention until I smelled him. You know the smell: eau de homelessness. Now, there is a part of me—my heart—that goes out to someone in that situation. A part of me that cannot believe we live in a society where some people do not have a roof over their heads on some (most?) nights.

But then there is also that other part of me. The selfish part, the part that doesn’t want any trouble. The part that, for an instant, looked across the aisle at empty seats and actually thought, “Should I move?”

I didn’t move, but not because I am a good person. I didn’t move because I didn’t want to be obvious. I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings and I didn’t want my fellow riders to see what a lowdown, selfish, elitist snob I am at heart. He got off the train at Park Street, after some additional unusual behavior involving his hands.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Oldsters and Cool Dudes

Just before Christmas, it happened for the first time. I didn’t exactly run for the train, but when I entered the station and heard the familiar announcement—“The next Red Line train to Braintree is now approaching”—I knew I had a chance to make it if I walked briskly.

I was one of the last people to step aboard, and despite my earlier-than-usual schedule (I was going inbound, to work), no seats were to be had in my car. I walked down the center aisle a few steps just to see if there might be some empty space somewhere, then retreated to reclaim my original position near a pole and a door.

A young woman (by young I mean, twenties) sat in the first seat, just to my left.  Out of the corner of my eye, I sensed her look at me once, then a second time. I glanced down and my gaze met hers. The sweet young thing looked up at me and asked, innocently, “Do you want to sit?”

Do I want to sit? How the hell old do I look? That’s what I wanted to ask. But instead, I said, a bit too quickly, “Oh, no, thanks. That’s okay.”

And so passed my first experience on the train as an old person.

Looking back, I have had young men offer me a seat here and there from time to time. But this was the first instance of another woman sensing my fragility and offering some comfort. Part of me wanted to sock her. The other part really, really wanted to sit down.

The whole incident made me reminisce about my own youth, and the many times I offered my seat to an elder (but, man, is it scary to think I'm an elder).  Rarely did anyone accept the offer, and now I sort of know why. No one wants to appear needy or vulnerable. No one wants to owe anyone anything, or be indebted to them. 

Which is why I will always regard the cool dudes as the most kind and generous souls on any form of public transportation. The cool dudes don't ask; they just get up. They are sitting right there in front of you, so you are the only person who can possibly take their seat. They stand up, their ear buds hardly shifting, there is absolutely no eye contact. They lightly grip the pole near the door, like they are going to get off soon, anyway. They don't need to speak, their aim is true. Long may they ride.