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.

Wreck, Draft

She widened her eyes, then squinted.

A single point appeared from deep within the tunnel.

She stood near the middle of the platform, northbound side. Not too many people waited around her, just a few latenight commuters, a few awkward couples on midweek dates.  She held her arms slightly away from her body. Her jeans clung to her legs and her back felt sticky underneath her lightweight t-shirt. Sweat pasted her hair to her forehead. The summer heat had seeped through the streets down into the tunnels, turning the underground maze into a giant steamroom. No one talked; no one held hands. Everything perspired.

Her heart raced.

The approaching train pushed hot air through the station. Its nearing, thunderous momentum shook the platform. The train’s lights grew larger and soon she saw its whole face. She saw the front windows; she saw the door you can’t open from the inside. She saw the driver. She took a deep breath.

She timed it.

She closed her eyes.

For a split second, her body stayed mid-air.

Silence surrounded her as the train slammed into her, punched that last breath from her lungs,  bumping her forward a few feet before she fell onto the tracks.

She figured not to jump over the space between the rails, on the chance of the train passing over her and maybe even allowing her to survive. She tumbled and bounced between the rail nearest the platform and the far rail.

And, the third, high-voltage rail.

The brakes screeched. The train lurched. But she did not hear or feel this. She did not hear witness screams. She did not hear voices of loved ones in her mind or see flashes of friends’ faces. She did not smell her skin burn.  She did not feel ribs crack or organs crush or limbs sever or her own breathing arrest; her own corpse, a tattered lump.

Her eyes fell open.

Public Performance

What I’ll miss: Street performers
The good ones. I’ve seen some acts that would blow away much of what I’ve seen on television. I know that’s still not saying much because a lot of television is crap these days, but the musicians and dancers I’ve seen on the street? They should be on television or in grand concert halls or other jam-packed venues. That aren’t subway platforms. And they should be getting paid a whole lot more. The other day at the Delancey-Essex stop on the F line, I only had 50 cents, and I made eye contact with the guy as I dropped the change in his guitar case. He was good. Inconsequentially cute, and quite talented.

What I won’t miss: Exhibitionists
The entire range, from public displays of affection to other stuff. Now I totally want to gag.

Beginning a 30-day Series

Basically, this is a month-long list of things I will and won’t miss about New York City.

What I’ll Miss: MTA

So, in my 6+ years of living here, I’ve paid between $81 and $89 for a monthly transit pass. That beats a car payment plus insurance plus gas plus possibly parking. Plus maintenance: oil changes and dent removal from all the people “tapping” my bumpers while parking. Mass transit is definitely more cost effective for me.

I really like stepping onto the subway into a mass of strangers. The history and experience is so vast and varied. I remember the one time the one guy gave me a thumbs-up when he saw me reading the Book of Mormon. And how one visitor from another country opened up to a few of us who happened to be sitting near her on the D train about how NYC makes her feel like she’s in a cage. We all looked at her and then at each other and we chuckled and then we told her about how she might get used to it, and that it’s not all that bad. I ran into a clown on a bus once. Crosstown. We talked a little bit about life in the city. In the first few months of living here, I was waiting late at night for a bus on the Upper West Side with a woman I didn’t know. Seemingly out of nowhere she shared with me her feelings on marriage and relationships and waiting for the right guy.

You wish these people luck, or to take care, and the connection is instant but fleeting, kind of how fireflies blink in the warm stillness of a summer night. You catch one in the hollow of your two hands and peek inside, hoping it will light up again. At the very least is the faintest of flickers, a mere trickle of a trigger perhaps after many months, and the waking dream stirs a deeper nostalgia. The consciousness slowly conquers. I remember.

What I Won’t Miss: MTA

So there was that strike during that one winter. And there was also the time that the A line from 168 Street to 207 Street was under construction. Oh, that was more than one time? That was constantly? And then that always resulted in incredibly late nights if I took the shuttle bus.

Oh, and there was that one time when whatever express train switched to a local track or the blue local switched either to the orange or yellow local and I ended up connecting 4 different times and getting to my destination easily an hour later than I should have. Oh, wait. That was more than one time, too?

Also, sometimes subways are stinky. People eat and make a mess, or a homeless person decides to set up camp in the corner of a car. Or vomit and booze infuse the air. Or people fart. Or the air conditioning doesn’t work.

Fights. Hair pulling. Obnoxious teenagers whistling and yelling very, very loudly. Other very rude people. I won’t miss that.

Sometimes My Muse Takes a Vacation

by Alicia, Guest Blogger

May texted me last week to ask if I would guest blog. My reaction was somewhere between excitement and fear. This is May’s blog after all. I needed something fitting for her blog. Something smart and poetic and thought provoking. That’s a tall order from someone so short…

So last Wednesday, after she asked, I got off work and headed for Inwood to see an outside production of Merchant of Venice. (It was amazing. And it was free. I really love New York). While I was on the train, my imagination was totally taken over by a vision of a woman sitting in a dark room. Alone and deeply distraught.

I got out my Moleskine notebook, the one that May’s been encouraging me to buy, and began jotting down the scene. It wasn’t great writing, but I had to get the idea down. I could make it pretty later. Satisfied I’d captured it I sat back, basking the great post I’d have for May’s blog.

I thought about the scene for several days. I let it stew, if you will. And then on Monday I decided it was time to give it birth. Let it live and breathe through my writing. I opened a word document and looked at that flashing cursor and found that words didn’t want to come play. Maybe they were napping. Or hiding. It’s hard to say exactly.

I struggled, maybe even broke a little sweat. And then it started coming. Words filled the page. Backspace. Look up a word. Move this here. Delete. Make it flow. Let it sing.

And there it was. This little piece that was neither a poem nor a prose. I looked it up and down with a critical eye. I might have given it a voice, but it wasn’t really mine. Too many questions lingered for me to really take ownership.

What happened to her? What is her story? Why is she bursting with these disturbing emotions? Why is she sitting alone in the dark with that tiara in her hands?

She won’t tell me. She won’t even acknowledge my existence. I’m left in the dark, just a different kind of darkness than the one she’s living in. Sunshine is beginning to come through her window, but it won’t enlighten me. The story has come to a staggering stop. Is this writer’s block? So not cool.

So I’m left with no great, poetic post for May’s blog, only the frustration of an imperfect creative process.

I Guess You Had to Be There?

I need to recap a conversation. My friend, Deena, the one who posted that video of me and her simulating an OK Go video, talked with her cousin. Her cousin saw the video. She and Deena talked about it on the phone. Her cousin asked who the little girl was in the video. Her cousin asked if Deena was babysitting. Deena explained it was her friend, May. Deena asked her cousin if she wanted to know how old I am. Her cousin said, sure. Deena said, 33. Her cousin said, Oh, 23? Deena said, no THIRty-three. Her cousin said, Wow, I hope I age that well. Deena recounted this story to me, and I laughed until I almost cried.

I did explain to her the night before that sometimes when I’m with friends on the subway, I’ll ask one of them in a little girl voice, Can you please help me find my mom? It turns a few heads. And for some reason I think that’s hilarious.

It’s time for bed. And, it’s time to sleep in. I am so pooped. Internet, I promised to catch you up on some things. If you want to know about other things, we’ll have to converse in person or via phone or personal email.

Seminary graduation was tonight. Never a prouder moment. I’m really going to miss my class.