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I'm an author and arts administrator living in New England with my family and pugs. I'm also a caffeine addict and voracious reader. My latest middle grade fantasy novel, COMET RISING, is available now from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky!

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Adventures in Commuting #6 1/2: A Day Late and a Few Cards Short of a Full Deck

Alright, I admit I was mistaken.  The crazies were not out in full force yesterday.  That was only the advance team.  Today, however, the reinforcements have officially arrived.

In the form of more cartoon characters.

There were several sightings this morning of famous cartoon super heroes such as Batman, Superman, and Spiderman standing on overpasses holding signs and waving at commuters en route to Boston.

Presumably, they did not get the memo that the alien invasion of Lite-Brite Mooninites was yesterday.

What’s next? The X-Men?

Adventures in Commuting #6: Mars Attacks…Boston

The crazies are out in full force today.

First up, space invaders unsuccessfully attempted to bomb several bridges in Boston but did manage to disrupt traffic and subway service throughout the city.

Seriously.

For those who haven’t heard (and most of you probably have), an advertising stunt to promote an Adult Swim cartoon featuring black boxes with lit up space invader-esque creatures placed on the infrastructure of several bridges caused near panic today.  In an attempt to thwart this alien invasion, bomb squads were called in, part of I-93 was shutdown, buses were diverted (and promptly got lost), and at least one of the offending “devices” was blown up.

Thank you Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Perhaps they’re responsible for the Big Dig fiasco too?

Clearly someone neglected to tell the appropriate authorities about their innovative, though rather insensitive, advertising campaign.  According to officials at the parent company, the “devices” (more commonly known as Lite-Brites) have been in place for 2 to 3 weeks and are also in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, among several other major US cities.

(To paraphrase Leonard Cohen: First, we take Chicago, then we take Boston!)

I’m just glad this didn’t screw up my commute, though I pity anyone else who was caught in that mess.

In other random “crazies” news, at North Station in the middle of the waiting area, this girl whipped out her toothbrush and started brushing her teeth! During rush hour, no less! I’m all for good oral hygeine, but cleaning your teeth in a crowd full of people is going a little too far.  Especially when there’s a restroom right around the corner (which was nicely pointed out by the universal bathroom sign.)

At least she didn’t floss.

Adventures in Commuting #5: No Touching Please!

I was on my way to class the other night on the usual overly crowded B-line sandwiched between two male strangers (that’s what I like to refer to as a “Manwich”) when I noticed one of them was acting a little odd.

At first glance, this guy seemed fairly average.  He was about 5’9″ or so, probably in his mid-twenties, well-dressed (nice pants and nice shoes), and decent-looking.  Except for his coat.  It was a cross between a military style coat and a parka.  There’s something about a guy, who is not a resident of an Arctic state, province, or country, wearing a fur-trimmed hoodie that just rubs me the wrong way.  I don’t know why.  It just isn’t right.

Anyway, I noticed he kept looking around and seemed a little agitated.  There’s plenty of people who are afraid of tight enclosed spaces and being packed like a sardine in a subway train that’s speeding through the underground of Boston could very understandably make that sort of person a little panicky, to say the least.  Then I realized that, though he was looking all over the place, his eyes kept coming back to the red T-shaped pull-brake on the wall of the train car for use in emergencies.  No one else on the train seemed to notice this guy’s strange fascination with it.  So, I tried to ignore it.  After a couple stops went by, he began to stare at the brake intently.

And then he reached out and touched it.

More like “caressed” actually.  He slowly reached out one finger, staring it down all the while, and lightly ran his finger over it.

Really freaking weird.

Of course, I now was terrified this man was about to pull the brake, stop the train halfway between two stops, and I’d miss my class!

My question is this:  why is something like that SO easy to access?  I know it needs to be accessible in the event of an emergency, but shouldn’t there be a case or something around it like they have for other emergency equipment?  Break the glass, pull the brake.  Not just “Anybody could pull it without warning or need.”  It just seems far too easy.

Fortunately, after continuing to gaze longingly (for lack of a better word) at the brake for another stop, this particular oddball got off at the Kenmore stop.

But the bad-touching on the train didn’t end there.

When we stopped at Kenmore, another young man boarded the still very full train.  As anyone who rides the Green line knows, there are certain places on the newer train cars where, unless you have abnormally long arms, you will not have anything to hold onto except a wing and a prayer.  This young man was unfortunate enough to be forced to stand in one of these spots near the doors.  Since he was tall, his solution to this problem was to hold onto the plastic molding jutting out above the doors that shows the Green line routes.

This is, as a general rule, a very bad idea.

Most transportation-related things in Boston are made from shoddy materials (the Big Dig being a case-in-point) and the T is not an exception.  The plastic on the train cars is just not built to hold up a grown man clinging to it to avoid falling onto the people next to him.

Naturally, he broke it.

It fell right off and smacked him on the head.  It’s like a car crash you know is about to happen and you can’t do anything.  You see this person reaching for that plastic rim and you know what’s going to result, but you can’t stop it because the train is too crowded for him to hear you anyway.  The poor guy now had to go from holding on for dear life, to desperately trying to prevent what he was formerly holding onto from falling on him or anyone near him.

And this is why you should always keep your hands to yourself while commuting.

 

Adventures in Commuting #4: My 2007 MBTA Wishlist

Dear MBTA Powers-That-Be,

I regret to inform you that 2006 was not a banner year for your transportation services.  Subway trains were consistently behind schedule or non-existent and the commuter rails were nothing more than oversized ovens on wheels during the summertime and subzero meatlockers the rest of the year.

And I won’t even go into the whole “Charlie Card” debacle.

Since you are raising the cost of my monthly pass by $40, I have a few suggestions on how to spend that extra cash by improving services in the coming year:

1.  Forget Charlie. Seriously, let him go. Get with the program—Teleportation is the wave of the future and that’s what I want to see.  Choose your destination, enter your credit card, and, presto, instant arrival.  Now that’s what I call good customer service!

2. Climate control is a good thing. If I wanted to bake, I’d put my head in an oven, not my entire body in a commuter train.  Please, please invest some of the extra money you are now charging us to ride the T into working (this is the key word here) air conditioning and heating units.

3. Ending Green Line service at Government Center is not. Hello? North Station is a MAJOR hub of transportation! Why the hell are you making Government Center the end of the line for any train???

4.  “Love that dirty water…”  Um, yeah, not so much. Can you please get rid of those mysterious yellow pools of water that keep reappearing in the Symphony Station?  I don’t want to know what they are, I just want them gone!

5. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t make an “on-time or your money back” guarantee when you know perfectly well that the majority of the trains are not even close to being on time.  You are setting yourself up to be scammed, you have been scammed (out of thousands of dollars that could be put towards actually improving services!), and you know you’ve been scammed.  Stop the madness!

6. Popcorn, please! There should be popcorn and ice cream vendors in EVERY station.  If you’re going to make us late, the least you can do is keep us well fed.

7. Run more “B” trains during rush hour. More people take the “B” than any other Green Line train.  It runs to two large colleges and many other lovely stops along the way.  Having one “B” train during the 5:00pm to 6:00pm hour and 10 “D” trains is simply inexcusable.

8.  There really is no need to carpet the T. Please bring back the black vinyl seat coverings on the Red and Orange lines.  The new gray-rainbow-swirled carpet-like seats are not pretty.  At all.  Not only do they stain more easily, but you won’t be able to patch them up with black duct tape as you could before when young hooligans inevitably went razor-happy on them .

9.  Say what? Don’t bother making announcements on the current PA systems in the stations or on the trains.  All we hear is “Waaa, weh, waaa, weh, waaaaa.”  Upgrade or bust!

10. Anger management training. Some of your conductors are very pleasant people, others not so much.  Screaming over the PA system (which as noted above, we can barely understand anyway) is not effective.  Singling people out (“Hey you – yeah you with the black backpack! Stop obstructing the doors! Don’t you look at me like that! Don’t you make me come back there!”) is even less effective. And the scare-tactic of trapping people in the doors and dragging them, though definitely more effective, isn’t quite legal and will only cost you lots of money in lawsuits.

Thank you, MBTA, for listening to me air my grievances and I do hope you will make this New Year happy for all riders of the T and take my advice.  Especially the one about teleporting.

Sincerely,
MarcyKate

Adventures in Commuting #2: Just Call Me MapQuest

I must look like a very friendly or at least very knowledgeable person because people constantly approach me and ask me for directions when I’m in Boston. And only in Boston.  Anywhere else, no one bothers.

Granted, I spend a large amount of my time there, but I’M FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE.

It’s not that I don’t like helping people—I do—but I’m probably one of the worst people to ask for directions, even in Nashua, and I’ve lived there for over 23 years!

Besides, when I’m in Boston, I’m not out gallivanting around the city noting each and every landmark and T-stop just so I can impart the information in my presumably photographic memory to the next passerby who’s just as lost as I am.  I’m either in a basement level meatlocker (er, office) or in a classroom.  I’m quite stationary.

I know three directions in Boston: Symphony Hall to BU, Symphony Hall to North Station, and Symphony Hall to Alewife.

That’s it.

If you’re not looking for something along one of those routes, I’m afraid I cannot help you!

Now, don’t get me wrong, if I’m the only one around, I cannot fault any poor lost person for asking me for directions (lord help them though if they actually follow them!). I get lost in Boston all the time, so I certainly do understand.

However, that said, there was obviously no need for today’s brief commuting adventure to have ever even happened in the first place.

I was standing in the North Station waiting area minding my own business as I listened to my iPod and watched The Garden security attempt to corral Celtics fans waiting to go to a game (there’s a story all on it’s own!), when a girl comes up to me and asks me where Track 8 is.  Sounds innocent enough, right?

Well, of course not!

Let me explain all the things that were wrong with this situation:

1. All the tracks are VERY clearly marked on the doors.  All she had to do was look up.

2. No trains were boarding on that particular track at that time nor the 10 minutes before and after this incident (Romantic rendezvous, perhaps?? Track 8 isn’t exactly an exotic locale, but hey, who knows!).

3. I was clearly wearing headphones (gleaming white wires against a black coat is anything but subtle) and I was surrounded by a large number of people who were not.  In fact, I was the only one in that area who was.

Yet she still chose me.  She came right up, stood directly in front of me, and said:

“Wah, weh, wah, weh wah wah wah?”

Or at least that’s how it sounded over the music blaring into my ears (The Cure also isn’t subtle).  Then she looked over her shoulder and looked back at me expectantly.  Since she clearly wasn’t going away, I took out my earphones and said “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

She then huffily demanded “Where is Track 8!?”

I simply responded “Over there.” and pointed to Track 8.

Which of course was right behind her.

I think what irritates me most about this is not the fact that she asked me for directions to Track 8 or even her rudeness when I asked her what she had said, but that this is not the first time a person has come up to me while I’m in commuter-mode (Headphones on, book in hand, no eye contact) to ask me a question, despite plenty of other non-headphone wearing people standing around.  It happens ALL the time.  I’ve had people ask me such ridiculous things as:

Them: “What train did they just announce?”
Me: “Uh, Lowell.  It’s the one they just put up on the screen.”

Them: “Where are we?”
Me: “Did you miss the huge North Station sign outside and the one you’re standing next to?”
(OK, I admit I didn’t really say that, but I wish I had. I thought it, if you can count that.)

Them: “Do you know where the Lowell train stops?”
Me: “At all the stations listed on that map conveniently located right by the doors.”

And that’s just naming the recent few I can remember off the top of my head.  What are people thinking?  What on earth would possess a person to decide to approach someone who clearly isn’t going to be able to hear a word they say over someone else standing right beside them who is headphone-free?  And why does this happen to me on a regular basis?  Is it just me or does this happen to other people too?

It just seems terribly rude and I really don’t enjoy it.