Boarding the Frontrunner

Monday afternoon I stood on the Frontrunner platform, waiting for the train home. The train arrived, and as the doors opened, I stood to the side, because I have a very useful habit of courtesy when it comes to public transportation.

I waited for any deboarding passengers while I watched two patrons get on without waiting. The first passenger was an Asian-looking man, and the second passenger was a Caucasian-looking woman. When the man boarded first, the woman called out to him, “Hey, ladies first!” The man briefly looked over his shoulder and mumbled that he was sorry. Then the woman replied, “That’s okay; it’s the American culture.”

Maybe it was because the news of inaccurately racist comments toward the newly crowned Miss America was fresh on my mind (for instance, instead of hearing spelling bee jokes [which is somehow less offensive to me because Indian Americans have dominated spelling bees recently, and I love it], all I read were terrorist/Muslim remarks) that this little scenario rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s my slightly progressive way of thinking where I never assume “ladies first”; there are times that I’ll let men on the train before me just because I feel like being kind.

I don’t know anything about these two individuals. It’s interesting that the woman assumed the man wasn’t American, when it could be that the man just didn’t see her, or that he didn’t feel like being kind at that moment, or any number of reasons. It’s also interesting that with whatever assumptions the woman made, she felt prompted to “teach” the man about American culture, which: is this type of etiquette/courtesy a strictly American thing? Why was what the woman said so disparaging to me? Maybe the woman was trying to demonstrate to the man that she was trying to be more understanding, that she was trying to make up for yelling at him.

Am I assuming American exceptionalism where it wasn’t there, and maybe I should just conclude that the woman was trying to be more understanding of someone who wasn’t like her? Do I assume that she thought she was extending a kindness when she did not know its core was offensive (then, offensive according to whom)? Is that closer to the “American” culture?

At the same time, if I had an experience where someone had not observed an “American” custom with me, I would try to be more understanding and think that person perhaps came from a different culture.  Maybe that person wasn’t raised that way, but that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t necessarily American. And then I’m still left wondering what counts as American, and what doesn’t.

Therein lies so many more assumptions.

Keeping Warm this Wretched Winter

When I got out of work this evening, there were actual puddles on the relatively snow-free sidewalk, evidence of molecules moving, releasing heat. Wispy clouds veiled parts of a blue sky, and the air didn’t make my teeth hurt.

Yet I looked at the forecast earlier in the day, and Saturday’s weather promises “areas of frozen fog.”

Weather, what the HELL is that? I chatted with a friend today, and she said frozen fog sounded dementoresque. She said I should catch a dementor. So that’s what I’m going to do on Saturday. I’m going to tame it and give it a clever name.

The air has been frigid these past couple of weeks. Near zero degrees. Sometimes it rises all the way up to the 20s, sometimes a warm winter front comes through and dumps two easy feet of snow, dragging a hawkish train of more bitter coldness.

I do not get along with this weather. I fight it, stand up for myself. Here’s how:

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  1. Thermals under my pants. My coat isn’t quite long enough to cover all of my legs, so these help.
  2. Two pairs of socks, because there’s nothing I hate more than cold feet. I can’t sleep or work properly when my toes are frozen. I get mad at Frontrunner more easily when my toes are frozen.
  3. A wool layer is good for shielding the cold and trapping heat. I’ll wear this over a shirt, which I’ll usually wear over thermal tops. When I say I like being warm, I don’t mess around.
  4. TWO scarves. I unfold one and wear it like a cape over my shoulders. I’ll wrap the other one around my neck then over my head so that it covers my ears. I also hate when the cold pierces the insides of my ears.
  5. Another layer, usually waterproof and looser-fitting, over my pants. It helps to shield the wind that tries to wrap around my legs. In your face, winter weather!
  6. High, insulated, waterproof boots. These come just below my knees, and I pull my snowpants over them. This combination prevents my feet from getting wet. I’ve had to plow my way through foot-high snow on the sidewalk next to my work building.
  7. The coat is the final layer. I zip everything up and seal everything in. I’m ready to wait for the bus and/or the train. This picture looks like there’s an alien creature pushing through my stomach, but no, it’s other layers that keep me nice and warm.

Not pictured:

  • Gloves: Having cold hands is almost as bad as having cold feet.
  • Earmuffs: Again with the ears, but they ache if they’re cold. And then I cry.
  • Aliens keeping me warm from the inside.

The ultimate goal is to layer up so that I’m like Randy from A Christmas Story and I have to say, “I can’t put my arms down!”  and Reilly will say, “Well, put your arms down when you get to work.”

So far this system of layering has worked this winter. I haven’t yet gotten sick, and it seems that my fist just now shot out in some sort of reflexive action to find the closest wood-like surface to knock on. Bring it, January. I’m ready. Dementor, I’m coming for you.

I hope everyone else is keeping warm.

Open Letter to … Oh, Who Cares

To Whom It Does Not Apparently Concern,

I know that no public transportation system is perfect. Things happen. Trains break down or even get stuck on the tracks in the “narrows” between Draper and Lehi like the southbound train did this evening. I don’t even know how that kind of a thing happens, but I’d like to understand why it did. Because seriously, if trains were running every hour southbound all day without incident, I wonder what happened. Was there a snowdrift? Could the train’s momentum not push through a snowdrift? I guess I could just jump onto a news website and find out what happened, but it’s so much more fun right now to vent.

The conductor did say that “bus bridges” would pick us up from the Draper station and drop us off at the stops farther south. I was fine with waiting at the stop, because I texted the situation to my husband, and he offered to pick me up.

I was fine waiting in the warm train, away from the frigid air, until the conductor announced (and apologized) that the train would have to go back north. He said that everyone would have to get off the train and wait for the bus bridges. I even bundled up and felt prepared to wait in the cold. Somewhere between zero and ten degrees Fahrenheit. Reilly found the address to the station online, and he texted me that he would pick me up soon.

That text came at 5:44pm. We got kicked off the train at 5:58. Draper’s not that far away from Orem, and northbound rush hour traffic isn’t as busy as southbound, so I guessed Reilly would arrive in about 20-25 minutes, which meant 6:05-6:10.

The wait went beyond that range of expectation, which means that I got that much colder for every minute that I waited past 6:10. I was perfectly cozy in my many layers before then. And then somehow my toes froze inside my insulated boots, which means the insulation worked the wrong way.

So Reilly didn’t get to the Draper Frontrunner station until 6:27, which means it took him 43 minutes from Orem. The station looks to be quite in the middle of nowhere, and I wondered if people who’ve never been to the station could easily find it. The answer is easily no.

Thing is, dear Emersonian eyeball of public transportation: Just because you name a road “Frontrunner Boulevard” doesn’t mean the Frontrunner Station is automatically easy to find. Online, the station location is 12800 S 500 W, but the street names do not follow this grid address system near the station. That extra 17 minutes in the cold really isn’t anything to whine about, but if public transit in Utah is to be efficient and comprehensive:

  • Mark Frontrunner (and bus) stations with signs at the freeway exits
  • Use signs en route (from the freeway exit) to clearly direct public transport commuters to Frontrunner stations
  • Provide better online maps/links for Frontrunner station locations
  • Update the website immediately with alerts or route changes

It could have been worse, definitely, but no one should get lost looking for a Frontrunner station, especially if so many people rely on Frontrunner to get to and from work, and especially if another situation like today happens and people don’t want to keep their friends and lovers cryogenicizing out in Siberia because uncoordinated or lacking streets signs have caused the station to David Copperfield. Poof.

Things could be worse. I could be in Florida, stuck on Blanding Boulevard or the Buckman Bridge. I could be in Manhattan, in a Zipcar on the Westside Highway on the Friday before Labor Day.

But things are better now. My feet are warm again, and I can feel my toes.

So, I guess as long as the mercury doesn’t freeze, there will always appear to be a silver lining.

Thanks for letting me vent,

May

On Commuting

Dear Fellow Rider of the UTA Express Bus,

When the bus back to Orem is full and I end up standing in the aisle because it’s been one of those days and no one else wants to offer me a seat and stand for 40 minutes, and when your arm is hanging over the armrest into the aisle because the seats are too small and no one in Utah has the same concept of personal space/comfort zone as people do in New York City, and when the aisle is also too narrow because the bus itself has to be narrow enough to fit in a street lane, and when I have to stand for 40 minutes and shift my weight from one leg to the other, my butt will inevitably brush against your arm.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Yours truly,

May

I love public transportation. I appreciate paying less for gas/insurance/parking and getting to sleep and/or read on my way to work/home. Of course this way of commuting has its setbacks, but overall it’s great.

Here are a few comparison points of public transportation in New York City and Utah. These points are based on my experience. You may have a different background and observations.

Crowds
NYC: Reilly got to experience this when we visited in August. We went to a Yankees game and felt how tightly packed the subway can get. It’s the same during rush hour, except that people usually look really tired and cranky. Imagine when Yankees fans get to ride with the rush hour crowd.

Utah: I haven’t really experienced huge crowds on the bus or TRAX (the SLC public train thingy), since Salt Lake City and Provo/Orem are car towns and not pedestrian towns.  Also, I’ve ridden the bus on Jazz/Ute days, and because the bus I ride mostly serves people who work in SLC, I don’t have to deal with obnoxious fans.

Strikes
NYC: In December 2005, MTA decided to go on strike (even though many of us thought they were overpaid), and the subways didn’t run for a week. Because of good neighbors and home teachers with cars (friends from church who personally visit once a month), we developed a system of pick-up and drop-off spots at specific times, and I could get to and from work and home that week. When I first moved there in 2003, the monthly pass was $63. When I left in 2009, I paid $81. Now commuters pay $103.

Utah: I have so far only heard of all the money UTA gets, and that drivers/other UTA workers are overpaid, and people are angry because a lot of taxes or something goes to cushion the salaries of UTA workers? As a student, I started paying $50-75 for a semester, then $160 per semester (some contract with BYU had expired, and BYU encouraged driving to also pay to be frustrated with crowded and faraway lots). As a current rider of an express bus, the monthly fare is $189, which provides TRAX and local bus access.

Weather
NYC: Hurricane Sandy takes the cake. I’ve only experienced relatively minor tunnel flooding or little track fires that only delayed the train, or, at the very worst, these incidents caused me to walk to another station to take a different train. Once on an especially hot day I almost got into a fight with a guy because our hands kept touching while holding on to the same pole. We were both irritable.

Utah: I have yet to sit through a major snowstorm on the bus. The rain hasn’t been bad. Since I’m not the one driving, I get to nap or read.

Traffic
NYC: One great thing about the subway is not having to deal with street traffic. However, sometimes the bus was quicker than the subway. For example, church was only two stops away, but on Sunday, I would end up waiting for a subway longer that it would take to catch the bus. Also, when I lived closer to church, even walking was a much faster (and the only) option.

Utah: The bus is part of traffic, but there’s a lane just for buses, so often we clip along faster than the cars in adjoining lanes. Yet traffic sometimes comes to a complete stop, mostly because of accidents and rubberneckers and different bottleneck exits along the freeway. And Fridays, sometimes. Last Friday, it took an hour and 20 minutes to get home. It usually takes around 45 minutes.

Drunk/High People
NYC: These folks were sometimes scary. Sometimes entertaining. Mostly annoying. Once on a crowded subway (see above) I had to stand really close to a drunk guy. He breathed in my face, and I smelled his breath, and I probably would have failed a breathalyzer test from that.

Utah: Around the university, people act drunk or high a lot. But they’re just unbelievably happy BYU students. On the express bus to work, people are sober, mellow, sleeping, or reading.

Homeless People
NYC: All the time, everywhere.

Utah: On the Provo local bus, there would be occasional drifters that got on the bus. At the TRAX stations, I have walked by a few homeless people.

In NYC and SLC, I have walked the sidewalks and homeless people have asked me to give them money.

Lewd People
NYC: I’ve seen people making out, which isn’t that bad. The worst time was when I sat across from a man on the subway during my morning commute. His pants were undone, and he was stroking himself. I was reading the paper and he was in my periphery. Everyone else was reading sleeping. I quickly glanced at the guy’s face, and he seemed intent on my seeing him and getting a reaction from me. I raised the newspaper so I didn’t have to look at him. The next stop was mine, and I got off the train as fast as I could.

Utah: The worst instance I have witnessed was on a Provo local bus when some older, special needs guys sitting near the back were making loud fart sounds with their mouths and laughing. The bus driver told them to stop. Oh, also random anonymous people who leave random milkjugs of urine on the bus.

Panhandlers
NYC: Walking through the subway, asking for money: boys raising money for their “basketball team,” kids selling (stolen) candy, trying to stay off the street. People who say they have AIDS, armless people and war veterans, blind people, very sad people holding snotty-faced kids. Old ladies with cancer. People who just want something to eat. They always announce themselves with “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen!” Sometimes I gave them change.

Utah: Outside of sidewalk encounters in SLC, none.

Entertainers
NYC: Different than panhandlers. Dancers (hip-hop), singers (all-types), mariachi bands, instrumentalists, magicians. All on the subway. All skill levels. Sometimes I put change in their hats as they walked by me.

Utah: On different corners on different days in SLC, the same cellist. On BYU campus, wandering weird students with ukuleles and unicycles. I don’t give them money. No one on the buses or TRAX yet.

Other People
NYC: Random people at bus stops who tell me their life stories. Clowns telling me their life stories. The guy on the train that tried to flirt with me when he told me the Stranger (the book I was reading) was a good book. The guy who thumbs-upped at me when he saw me reading the Book of Mormon. People that I actually know, so we chat instead of tuning out the rest of the world. Tourists that didn’t know better about talking to me. People that I accidentally fell asleep on.

Utah: Nice people who offer their seats to standers. The senior missionary who asked if I was a student then seemed surprised when I told him I worked. The woman I sat next to one morning who decided to take off her shoes and try to sleep in an actual reclining fetal position. Her feet smelled and part of her body was on my seat. The woman whose arm my butt brushed against when I was standing in the aisle, because I shifted my weight from one leg to the other, and her arm was hanging into the aisle. We were both reading and she seemed to pretend not to notice. Maybe she liked it as much as I did.

Excuse Me

Right now I’m not at a computer where I can upload media. So the song list of songs I can’t live without will continue tomorrow. I’ll share a pretty fun story that happened this evening:

I went to Banjo Jim’s on 9th Street and Avenue C to check out Alex Brumel and Janel Elizabeth, the same duo I wrote about on Monday. I arrived about 10 minutes early and I sat by myself waiting for Becky.

A woman sitting at a table not too far away made eye contact with me. We smiled at each other. I then looked away and continued bobbing my head to the background music.

Becky and I were texting each other while she was on the M14 making her way across town. 

May: This place is NOT classy inside, fyi.
Becky: Want to stay or go somewhere else?
May: It’s fine, I’m excited about the band.
You are a really fast walker.
Becky: I’m on the bus. Sorry.
May: Awesome. Anyone cute?
Becky: 7th is pretty far from C. No, no one.
May: 10 Avenues. Like a mile and a half? Elders stopped me tonight. Trying to get me to look at the mysterious exhibit.
Becky: I guess I should have taken the L.

At this point, the woman who smiled at me before approached me and asked, “Excuse me, do you have a blog?”

And I said, “Yes, I do.”

“Did you write something about Alex and Janel?”

“Um, yes?”

“I read what you wrote about them. I’m Alex’s mom. It’s my job to see what kind of exposure my son is getting.” 

[I’m paraphrasing, by the way.]

“Yes, I really like them.”

“Well, you’re a very good writer. Are you a professional?”

(Blushing) “No, it’s just a hobby.”

“I remember reading something about being Filipino and four-ten? When I saw you, I figured it was you.”

We laughed.

I told her she made my day. She thanked me for writing nice things about her son.

She went back to her seat.

Then, I continued texting Becky.

May: I have a story for you. It’s pretty awesome.
So. The guy of the duet. His mom. Just came up to me. Asked me. Do you have a blog?
She said she read the blurb I wrote about them. Asked if I was a professional. I blushed.
Becky: Nice! When was that? Who is this band? I will never get there.
May: Just now. They’re sound checking.

Some people moved from one of the front tables and I grabbed the seats. Alex’s mom called out to me and asked if I wanted to sit by her and her sister, and I told her I was waiting for a friend. A few minutes later Becky walked in.

Then the show began.

They didn’t disappoint. I can’t get enough of their harmonies. And I like the quality of their voices. And their writing is pure and honest. And their songs are appealing and catchy and rich and complex and all it takes is one or two guitars and two voices that blend phenomenally. And, you can now download their songs from iTunes. So you should check them out.

I’m officially a fan. Mostly of Sue.

Just kidding.

Kind of.