Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A rare venture into public transportation

So how many human years is equivalent to one car year? The reason I ask is because lately my car has been kind of falling apart, and it's only 5 years old. There are some strange squeaky sounds emanating from my dashboard. My always helpful colleague diagnosed it as a rat running around in my dashboard. He might be right too. Then, suddenly, all the audio speakers on the left side of my car stopped working. And finally, the day before yesterday, the window glass on the passenger's side of the car fell right into the door.

Yeah, sounds strange doesn't it? But that's exactly what happened. There was a loud bang and the window glass went crashing inside into the cavernous space it usually emerges from. So, I called up my dealership.

Me : Hello, yeah, I have a problem. My car window just fell into my car door. I can't get it up. The window, I mean.

Car dealership lady (obviously in the throes of merriment) : Ha ha really? Well that's not a good thing now is it? Hey, you are lucky, at least it's not winter otherwise things might have gotten a bit cold for you in the car.

Well yeah, I guess I was lucky this time. But I wasn't so lucky last time when the driver's side window fell down. In winter. And the time before that, when it fell during an entire week of non stop rain and I had to drive around with a garbage bag stuffed into the window. So yeah, I guess I WAS lucky. THIS time. Damn fool woman.

The pregnant pause in the conversation got to her. She sobered down.

Car dealership lady : Ok, so when do you want to bring her in?
Me : How about tomorrow?
Car Dealership lady : Sure, you can come in at 7:00 am.

The die was set. I was gonna have to use public transportation. SEPTA. Now for me, using SEPTA is kind of a joke. I only take the train to commute to work when my car is out of action. This is because the train that takes me to work takes about 1.5 hours to travel a distance of 25 miles. Apparently the route from Western Philly to Eastern Philly goes through Calcutta. But heck, I had no car, so I had no other option.

So I boarded the train, and luckily found a window seat. You know what, even though I am not usually one who relishes the thought of spending an hour closeted with the human race, if I absolutely had to do it, I would do it in the morning. In the morning, people are much less objectionable to me than they are later on in the day. Much quieter too, none of those annoying cellphone conversations, none of do you call it...acting human, which is nice. And they are clean scrubbed, nice smelling, men with their hair freshly gelled, women with their hair freshly washed, it's all nice n clean. Except the train itself.

The one good thing about being a male foreigner is, I guess, you are the last choice of anyone seeking to share a seat. So, if a train is almost full, you might still be in luck because most Americans would prefer to squat on the floor rather than sit beside you. It's not as good for female foreigners though. They are one step higher up in the food chain.

An elderly gentleman entered the train, wearing the strange combination of an immaculate suit and a straw hat. I wondered if he had dressed in the dark and put on the hat by mistake. He looked like he was going to a convention of very upscale fishermen.

Finally, a middle aged guy came up to my seat and sat beside me. He started to read the free newspaper they keep at the station. I spent the next few minutes trying to peek at the headlines.

Someone boarded the train at a station, walked up to someone already sitting in a seat and showing a display of immense joy, clasped the hand of the second someone. I wondered how difficult it would be to feign excitement at seeing the same person on the same train at the same time of day over and over and over again, day after day.

An advertisement on the compartment wall caught my eye. "Station Square brand new apartment homes. Life is a journey, climb on", and there was a picture of a railway track. Now I am no marketing genius, but why in freaking hell would you sell apartment homes to a SEPTA train commuter by comparing life in those homes to an eternal train journey? When a guy is sitting on a train with some blackish goop of indeterminate origin under his shoe and some unidentifiable stains on the seat beside him, I would think that the last thing that would persuade him to embark on an apartment buying frenzy is the feeling that when he gets home it's gonna feel just like the train he just stepped out of. It's like selling an apartment to a plumber using the tagline "Life is a toilet bowl....get flushed down it."

I looked outside and saw more advertisements on the station wall. "Only a short commute away from your money", said a Bank of America ad. "High Speed access to the future", said an Arcadia University ad. I wondered if it was a rule that every advertisement in the vicinity of a train had to make a reference either to the train or the train commute. "Start a steamy relationship", said a Wawa coffee ad. Ok, that was better. Creepy, but better.

I had to change trains in Temple University. The air was muggy and warm as I stepped out. Suddenly, the dirty air conditioned train seemed to be a better option. Within 5 minutes, I had boarded the next train.

I reached work an hour late. The same colleague who advised me about the rats in my dashboard came to pick me up at the station. The train journey had made me tired and cranky, and it was only the beginning of the day. But at least I wouldn't be taking the train back home. No, I had already decided on a scapegoat to tag along with.

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