Please stand clear of the closing doors. Before SocialJerk makes you.

14 03 2011

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?

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14 responses

14 03 2011
Dr. Mom

No, I would not clip my nails in someone else’s house.

Nor would I, if I were a man, use my electric razor to shave my beard on the subway (true story!).

See this morning’s NY Daily News for an article about how much money the city loses from people not paying their fares!

14 03 2011
socialjerk

I missed it in the Daily News, but I did see on NY1 that the city estimates that a third of riders on some lines don’t pay the fare. Damn my proper upbringing!

14 03 2011
Nectarine

1) Ok, for starters, I am jealous! In Toronto, the trains do stop overnight (and cut out an hour before last call, explain THAT one to me?)

2) I work in a suburban town outside the city, so we are expected to drive to all appointments in our own vehicles. Now to some, this may sound like a luxury, but I am a public transit girl at heart. I would love to be able to sit on the bus and go through some emails on my blackberry, or read a book as opposed to dropping $50 at the pump before spending 20 minutes fighting with my GPS. And driving on snowy days. Or rainy days!

3) I don’t think fare skipping is nearly as common here.

4) I have totally had a client riding in my car and start BITING her nails, and peeling them off with her teeth. INTO MY CAR! No clippers necessary.

14 03 2011
socialjerk

I will never understand stopping train service over night. Especially in cities where drunk college students (and others) run free, you would think you’d want to encourage late night public transportation. I am very happy to live in a city where I don’t have to drive. I don’t think I could hack it in the suburbs. Though when two or three “Out of Service” buses pass me by in a rainstorm, I do kind of start wishing for a car.

And I might die if someone did that in my (imaginary) car. Or throw up. But that would be even less sanitary. A friend of mine had an experience in high school where she was on an almost empty subway car, when a nearby man decided to start…pleasuring himself, to speak delicately. I think that’s the worst scenario. Fortunately the advent of cell phone cameras has led to a lot of guys who choose to do that being, at the very least, embarrassed in local newspapers.

14 03 2011
Fi

I”m so jealous. The public transport systems of NY, London and Paris (not been anywhere else) are AMAZING. Car is totally unncessary.

There’s no way as a worker you could rely only on it in my Big City. There would be at least 3 or 4 five kilometre walks in between transfers lol. Sweaty!

Town planners in Australia ought to be ashamed of themselves. As should NY fare evaders! How ungrateful!

16 03 2011
socialjerk

I don’t miss driving and having a car at all. I had one when I lived in a suburban area for school, and I don’t think I could go back. I left it at my parents’ when I graduated, and my dad drove it until it broke down in flames on the side of the road. But that’s another story…

Ungrateful is definitely the word! So many people seem to take it for granted. I guess the fare hikes that all the evasions cause don’t bother them (for obvious reasons.) It’s good to hear from people like yourself to remind me not to do that 🙂 (Take it for granted, not skip out on paying my fare. Catholic upbringing, like I said.)

15 03 2011
nechakogal

Consider yourself lucky socialjerk, in Vancouver the transit police are so plentiful the trains are boring as h-e-ll and on the so called rapid transit it takes you longer than a trip by horse and buggy to get to some destinations. There are even scarcer options here in the north.

Loved your blog, felt like i was there with you.

16 03 2011
socialjerk

Thanks very much! That’s good to hear. (Though I wouldn’t want you to feel like you were there with the preacher, or the nail clipper. Scary/gross.) But I have to admit, things are rarely if ever boring.

16 03 2011
cb

View from London as a confirmed public transport user – I don’t actually have a driving license let alone a car – our tube network stops overnight as well. They blame the age of the ‘system’ and do all the repairs and maintenance overnight (theoretically – often they overrun). Some of my most interesting ‘people-watching’ experiences come from the night buses (which run along the tube lines after the underground network has stopped)… all sorts of interesting drink fuelled sing-a-longs. Kind of an extension of the pub..

For me though, there’s really no point in having a car in London. I work in the centre of the city and I live about 5 mins walk from three stations and have a bus stop outside. It would take me much longer to get around London with a car! (and I rent out my parking space I got with my apartment which is a nice little earner as they are quite rare!).

Although occasionally someone with REALLY strong body odour issues arrives on the bus and even though I think I have a strong stomach, it can lead to me having a bit of a nauseous moment and paranoia that I arrive at work smelling 😦

16 03 2011
socialjerk

The fear of catching bad train smell stretches across the pond, my friend. They do most repairs of the subways in NYC on the weekends. Occasionally it can be a bit of a nightmare, but they’ll also put shuttle buses in service, and sometimes you just have a little adventure traveling to places you never intended to go!

And is it weird that my first thought when you said “Night buses” was Harry Potter?

17 03 2011
cb

Trust me, there is nothing magical about them.. unless you thrive on the smell of stale (and fresh) alcohol..

16 03 2011
Carolyn

Okay, from the thriving metropolis of Calgary (pop. just over a million). We pay (are you sitting down) $2.75 a ride (before passes, etc.). And yes, the bus/ trains stop after midnight to about 5:00 a.m. Leaving plenty of time for women who have missed the last train to be sexually assaulted on the platform (unfortunately true story). On the good side, the city is soooooo big square mileage wise that nobody expects a professional to take a bus/train anywhere.

16 03 2011
socialjerk

We’re at $2.25 a ride, with 30 day unlimited cards at $104. They went up from $89, at which point I had to be resuscitated.

That’s a pretty scary aspect to shutting down public transit at night that I hadn’t really considered. Is there much of a police presence?
(Positive story- I used to intern with a social work student whose boyfriend intervened when a woman was being sexually assaulted on a subway platform. He ended up getting slashed with a box cutter, but he and the women were ultimately OK. I thought that was pretty awesome of him.)

17 03 2011
Carolyn

Way awsome of him. And no, there is not a lot of police presence at that time of day. ‘Cuz you know they are really there to catch the people who sneak onto the train for free. Which means the trains need to be operating for them to be operating. And apart from right downtown, the stations are away from the roads, so you would not be able to see the platforms driving by in a police cruiser.

Monthly passes are $90 and you can get a book of ten tickets for $24.00. And unless my car is dead, or we are attending something right downtown (or at our exhibit centre — where home shows, car shows, etc take place, Stampede Grounds) you wouldn’t catch me on public transit for all the tea in India (there’s more there than in China).

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