Mattress commercials urge you to spend up and buy a comfy bed, because you spend a third of your life sleeping. Between living in New York, and being a social worker, I should probably invest in a Tempurpedic subway seat, as that seems to be where I spend the other two thirds.
If I could perfect a social work teleporter, I’d get so much more done.
I take two subways and a bus to get to work. Then I travel to home visits, school meetings, and ACS
ambushes conferences via train and bus as well. They used to pay for cabs for visits that were particularly far away, but that’s no more. I once had a family that moved to Staten Island, and I had to do a home visit before we could transfer the case. That was particularly exciting, because I got to take a bus to a train to a boat to a bus.
I’ve gotten to know the public transportation system better than I’ve ever wanted to. I realize I’m fortunate to live in New York. Sure, trains are dirty, the schedules get a little crazy over the weekends, and the fares are increasing to a point that I suspect my monthly Metrocard will soon involve some sort of blood tribute. But at least our trains don’t stop running over night. (Boston, I’m looking in your direction.)
Some, though, would say that my close affiliation with public transit has started to drive me a little mad.
When I’m on the bus, I feel like a total chump. Am I the only person in the Bronx who actually pays their fare? I stand near the driver, scrambling through my
oversized entirely necessary purse to get my Metrocard out. Everyone else, young and old alike, sneaks on through the back door. Some even get on in the front, pretend to look for change for a moment, then shrug and sit down. So many people seem to think that the $2.25 was not a fee, but a suggested donation, like at the museum.Perhaps it’s residual guilt from my Catholic upbringing, but I just can’t imagine.
It’s not any better on the subways. Unaccompanied teenagers are routinely ticketed for jumping the turnstile, that’s true. But children with their parents duck under the turnstile unnoticed.
Infants and toddlers in strollers, anyone small enough to sit on their parent’s lap or be held, are not expected to pay. But some of these kids riding for free are filling their mothers in on their big day at junior high while sipping a latte. My mother still considers me her baby. If I’m traveling with her, will the MTA consider me that as well?
This wouldn’t be so bad if the eleventeen year old fare jumpers were sitting in a lap and not taking up space. But no. Somewhere along the lines, the expectation shifted from giving seats to the elderly, pregnant, or disabled, to giving seats to seven year olds.
When I took started taking the public bus to high school, I had a daily routine. My friends and I would get on, sit down for one stop, then be booted out of our seats by old ladies. I have not been allowed to sit in an actual seat at a family event, on a routine basis, since getting out of a high chair. The younger generation is expected to allow the older to sit. It’s a little show of respect. (In return, we get to imitate the aunts’ accents for the amusement of friends, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Now I see middle aged people giving up their seats for elementary school kids, while the parents smile and nod. It’s quite puzzling. And yet, when the most pregnant woman I have ever seen (she might have been crowning) got on a crowded train recently, the only person willing to give up their seat was a less pregnant woman.
And then there’s the entertainment.
If you live in New York, or, I imagine, any city with a large system of public transportation, you’ve had the experience of almost getting kicked in the head by a dance crew of 15 year olds who do back flips down the aisle and swing around poles. It’s entirely normal for an entire mariachi band to enter a train car and play between stops.
Some entertainment is unintentional. Just the other day I got to listen to a street preacher, who started off extoling the virtues of love, and gradually worked himself into a frenzy over the fact that, “You people don’t want to hear about HELLLLL??! Because you’re going to HELLLLL!!!!”
I switched cars, but he followed me. Someone must have given him my name.
I have seen adults clipping their (finger)nails, mothers cleaning out their children’s ear wax, quick diaper changes, and a bull dog in a child’s stroller.
That last one was kind of awesome.
Overall, public transportation is kind of my home away from home. Come to think of it, the subway system is an actual home for many people. So let’s try to act like it. Walk on the right, and just be considerate.
You wouldn’t clip your nails in someone else’s house, now would you?