Sunday, April 12, 2009

Taxis vs. Public Transport

Today, Easter, I took a bus uptown to work. This is a new vista for me, public transport. The bus was late, crowded, and since it looked like the Crips and the Bloods had set up house there, I stood for most of the trip to 57th Street. Taking the bus is so, well, real. I looked up to read all that billboard drivel that lines the walls above the windows. There was a quote from Shakespeare, from THE TEMPEST: "o brave new world/that has people such as these in it" or something to that effect. I looked around. Yes, it is a brave new world. Indeed.

I'm trying to make the best of my own new world order. As I waited for the bus today (for example) and it didn't appear for 15 minutes, I decided that this waiting was teaching me patience. When the bus stopped, and the lady in the wheelchair showed up from nowhere and held us up another 7 minutes as she boarded, I knew that patience was joining hands with tolerance. Kum-by-yah.

When I hail a cab, I thought,I place myself alone in the universe, above and disconnected from humanity except for the driver. I'm a person with nothing on her mind but getting to the next place and nothing to do but think about getting there until she gets there, an exercise in abject narcissism. Taking buses and subways is like playing bumper cars with humanity; wherever you turn, walk, run or sit, humanity cannot be avoided. At any moment you can be threatened, approached, asked to move, offered music (for a price). The process of getting someplace cannot be disconnected from the triumph of arrival. In fact, it makes getting there -- alive and in one piece - that much sweeter, and often punctuated with a triumphant sigh of relief. You have really achieved something.

I do not miss my taxis. Taxi TV was repetitive and dull and featured Regis Philbin; the credit card system never worked, or drivers lied about it not working in order to get cash. One in five taxi drivers has not bathed in recent memory and one in two insists on talking on his Bluetooth so you are five times more likely to get into an accident. I have been in at least one taxi accident per year since I've been in NYC. On one particularly hot summer day, a bike messenger, reacting to my driver cutting him off, actually ripped a window out of my side of the cab, leaving me covered with glass, and obliging me to wait for the cop who was invariably summoned. I have been hit on, yelled at, lectured and opined in cabs until I couldn' t hear myself think.

There is a delicious anonymity in taking public transport. The bodies are there, but no one really wants to talk. We're as random and singular as atoms in a laboratory, except we have a certain degree of choice. You can move away from the person who stinks (usually) and everyone is on his way somewhere other than where you are going, so they tend not to bug you. If they do bug you, cops get off and on the trains and buses with some regularity and they let everyone stare at their guns. And now I only have to count my quarters to make sure I have the right fare, rather than having to dig out a 20 dollar bill, which is what my bank machine gives me, to cover a 5 dollar ride And how often do the drivers have change? You know already.

So, onward and upward. I am now as familiar with the M11 and the M23 as I am with the floorboards in my hallway. I eagerly await the advent of the Second Avenue subway. More horizons to conquer!