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Mass Cramsit, July 20th, 1997 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: July 20th, 1997
"Mass Cramsit" [permalink]
    keywords: London, mass transportation, cars, metro, society
    soapbox #: 94
    written: July 20th, 1997
    words: 1348

"Mass Cramsit", an Essay

London isn't very kind to strangers. Well, the people are fun and very generous (especially if you're a beautiful couple going out on the town), but the ways of transportation are cryptic and alienating.

It could just be where I'm from, which is Dallas, Texas, where people laugh at the mere notion of mass transportation but put money into it anyway. Sure, we have a struggling bus and train system and there are a couple taxis driving about, but the primary form of transportation is the personal car. You know, your own car! What a fantastic idea!

Perhaps it's just the circumstances I encountered when I traveled overseas. I was already exhausted when I flew in, as the journey takes about nine hours from Dallas to London, depending on the tailwinds and how quickly the air crew can put in new screws to keep the aging jets together... So from there, I got a train into London from Gatwick, which wasn't bad itself. That was actually the most relaxing part of the journey, seeing how I couldn't sleep and it was hot on the airplane. And the two girls sitting next to me wielded obnoxiously loud Tamagotchis, like young knights with overly polished swords that keep reflecting sunlight into everyone's eyes, and you don't want to say anything because they're so excited about having their first sword and they feel like men for the first times in their lives... <grinds his teeth> Oh yes, so after the brief train trip, I had to take the underground tube to the location closest to where I was staying. And guess what time it was? Morning rush hour in the subway! In one of the busiest stations in London, Victoria! Oh, what a treat! So there I was, carrying my bags for the vacation, trying to move past walls and walls of people, some of whom didn't smell all that appealing. No ventilation, no circulation of air, no relief. Finally got on a tube train, a completely empty one, and it filled up so quickly that I had to stand up for most of the journey, apologizing for hitting peoples' feet with my bags. After that certain circle of Hell, I just kept going downwards. When I got to the tube station, I had to wait for my aunt to return from her morning duties, which was no problem. I tried to get a cab but it never arrived, and I was later informed that there's only really one taxi service that actually works in London, Radio Taxi (everyone is supposed to know that!). So I had to wait outside, looking American and touristy. ;)

I admit, this sounds a bit whiny, and if any Londoners read this, they'll probably giggle uncontrollably. Anyway, I'm just having fun writing this, exaggerating a bit for poetic effect and for sympathy (see, I'm the happiest I've ever been in my young life at the moment, because of her). But consider what I have to do to get to and from the airport. I put my bags in the car, open the garage door, and DRIVE in a four seat car to the airport! At approximately 75 miles per hour! So easy and so forgiving should anything go wrong.

I think this whole thing goes back to personality types. I just don't like public transportation in any form. I mean, it's great and necessary for cities like New York and London, but it's just not my thing. I hate people and I detest groups of people, particularly when I have to stand close to them with no air to breathe. Some people adore public transportation. I think they enjoy not looking anywhere in particular, trying furtively not to make eye contact, or perhaps they get off on testing the pH of their bodies after spending a few hours in a hot vacuum with sweaty people.

After getting my feet on the ground in London, however, it got much better. I learned where to go to use the buses and tube stations and whatnot, but I had a good motivation: going to see my love, Anna. The taxis we took were fun, weren't they, dear? <wink>

But I ran into more snags. Lewis and Clark didn't have this much difficulty when they went exploring new lands. The tubes close down at about midnight, and for a young couple getting acquainted with each other, those times aren't amicable. So after going to the tube station and finding my route closed, I just used the damn taxi from then on. Much easier, much more pleasant.

And then, when the most romantic week of my life was over, and I had to go home, I took the Gatwick Express (the FASTEST way from Victoria to Gatwick Airport) and...well...it broke down. For approximately two hours. So I missed my flight! And I had no frigging choice in the matter. Sure, I was booked on a later flight, but I could've been home faster and sooner, as I'm pretty sure the 767 took longer than the MD-11 would have. Oh well...

I guess it's not really fair to big mass transit cities, as they don't really have a grid of streets which reduce congestion of traffic. Dallas is very well networked, meaning you still run into traffic jams, but not as many, and only at specific times of day. Other times, you can go at ridiculous speeds down the freeway and get to places instantly. And the car gives you the freedom to do what you like, to avoid problems if they arise, and to have at least some control over your fate. If your car breaks down, it's just you who has the problem. It's not a whole train full of people who are nervously twitching and cursing and pissing off introverts who hate them because they're people anyway. I hate being put in the power of people who aren't interested in what I want and need to do.

Cars give you flexibility and choices. They let you go just about anywhere you like, and not just to fixed stops. In a properly designed city, they are invaluable for getting done what you need to do. Assuming you aren't driving in London, in which one can jog to a location faster than drive there during the day, you can take whatever you need to take without having to carry it around hundreds of other people. Freedom, in a small form.

Okay, I suppose it wasn't that bad once I had some experience using it, but everyone else expects you to know what you're doing, and I hate that when it's obvious there are times when everyone is new to something.

So be kind to Internet newbies...

I'm back in Dallas, where I should be happier, but for the moment, I actually would rather be in London because my enrapturing Anna (who of course is a tourist there as well, and also lives in a city where public transportation isn't very popular) is still there, missing me tremendously as well. I could grow to like a city of mass transportation if Anna was there, but let me tell you, when you come here, Anna, you'll see exactly why I prefer it (but you know this already -- Dallas is overly dependent on cars, however) to the Herculean task of moving in transit systems which require that you know exactly what you're doing and you know exactly where to go the first time and every time.

Sure could go for a sourdough burger about now. Guess I'll drive down the street for maybe five minutes and get one. Oh, you could get one too, if you don't mind finding a way to the tube station, getting a ticket, finding the right line, riding the busy train, waiting in line to put your ticket through the machines, THEN getting your burger.

Snort.


 
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