Tuesday, December 02, 2008
I'm trying to write another essay for Smile Hon. It's for their transportation issue.
I don't currently have a car so it has forced me to depend on other modes of transportation to get around the city. A lot of the time, this dependence is on my partner, J, who has a car. But I'm afraid of driving stick shift in the city so I find myself interacting with a lot of strangers when I have to get from point A to point B. It makes for some interesting stories.
1. There are varied reactions to my habit of biking to work when it's not too cold or wet outside. It's a very pleasant, mostly safe two mile ride and I have a nice bike, thanks to a friend. All last year, one of my colleagues asked if I wanted a ride home, as if I would prefer it. My chair thinks it's "just great" that I ride my bike because I'm being environmentally conscious. I guess I am but her comment usually makes me feel like a little kid. Other co-workers think it's cute. I guess either I'm crazy or they are. Is biking something little kids or hippies do, not adults with jobs?
Anyway, when I bike to work, I take the same route every day. I'm pretty religious about it even though it sometimes drives me crazy. Since everyone is slammed up against each other in the city, the ride passes through a different social class just about every time I change gears. There are the maintenance guys across the street as I fasten my helmet, the up and comers at Hopkins, trying to get to class at Homewood or to the hospital for their rotation on the number 3. I pass by the mentally challenged guy, Eddie, always waiting at the same stop at the corner of 39th and Charles. I wave and then try to avoid getting doored while I pass by a high rise of condos built by some famous person I've never heard of and people waiting on the other side of the street to get downtown. Until I get to Guilford. Guilford is chock full of mansions. There's the dog that barks so consistently at me that I'm disappointed if he breaks up the routine. He's held by an electric fence, I gather, but he hates me so much that it feels good. The people in Guilford are always having work done on their property. Watering, weeding, mulching, roofing, painting, siding. The occupants must be so content in their little islands that the maintenance guys are the only ones I ever see outside in this neighborhood. Finally, I pass by Loyola - always the same conversation at that bus stop about wages and schedules of the cafeteria workers. And then, finally, I get to school.
2. The MTA bus situation is a total mess. With Baltimore's extensive trolly system now gone except for a single, lonely light rail line, the city was left with buses to transport its people. The bus system is still costly and time consuming as they compete for space with the other cars on the road. It is vastly underfunded and when a driver doesn't show up to work, that bus doesn't run, leaving people stranded for hours at a time.
The most interesting time is when the bus does finally arrive. Usually the passengers are in a foul mood anyway because waiting for the bus, even if it is on time, is cold and excrutiatingly boring. But when people have been waiting for over an hour, they get downright hostile when they finally get on the bus. In society it is incredibly rare that people actually see a system at fault instead of individuals. Usually we take out our frustration on the first person we see when something goes awry. But blame placement is crystal clear on a late bus. The face of the organization, the driver, just saved your ass! If you ever want to engage in a conversation about the dysfunction of the city, get on a late bus. You are guaranteed to see a lot of pissed off people ready to talk, if not mouthing off about the corruption and misplaced funding of public services. Indeed, a city that can't transport its people is headed for disaster.
The best time I ever took the bus, though, was election night, 2008. I had taken the #27 to a party on Paca and then needed to take it back but up to Hampden. It came early on the way there and 30 minutes late on the way back. Knowing that Obama could win the election, I desperately wanted to get back to the tube and see if he had won Ohio and drink some more. As I waited on Howard by another old, abandoned theater, a homeless guy slept on the bus stop bench. The rats stayed out of my way and the leaves danced with anticipation of the night's finale. When the #27 finally showed up, the bus driver was filling out some sort of report - there had been an incident but I couldn't figure out what, exactly. So we parked several times to get the paperwork done. We then had to give her directions because she didn't know the route. But no one cared because our man could win, and we finally got to the Avenue. A couple $2 Yuenglings made everything all right. The election was called about 30 minutes later to huge roars at the Hon Bar.
3. A consortium of colleges in Baltimore fronts the money for the Collegetown bus. It runs up and down Charles Street several times a day stopping at the different campuses, usually in an old yellow school bus. It's the least glamorous form of transportation I take, but it's free, so I could care less about the aethetics. I pick it up at Hopkins, near where I live, and take it north to my campus or to the mall in Towson when I need some work clothes. There are very few stops so it's faster than the MTA.
The only drawback to the Collegetown bus is that there are, well, college students on it. Which would be fine if they never drank alcohol or talked. But they do both and if it's late at night - any night - they're really yapping it up. This usually makes me feel sort of embarassed and old. But sometimes there's some good material in there. Recently, three girlfriends discussed a night of casual sex. One of them, after a tryst, had shooed her suitor with the reminder that they both had an Italian class early the next day. Got him out by the skin of her teeth! Ciao, baby. I need to spend more time at the mall.
4. I rented a car to travel to North Carolina. I returned the car and was offered a ride. I needed to get to work so one of the employees drove me the two miles up Charles. We talked about the city and its (mostly poor) economy. As I was going on about unemployment rates and the service industry, he summed it up quite easily, "there's no love." He's right.
Okay, that's all I have for now.