The Subway Is Not Your Personal Chauffeur

 

© Mae East 2012

I’ve started taking the train to “work” recently. I say that loosely, because although I am working, it is for free.  I used to take the train and subway regularly as a kid in high school, and I probably never really paid attention to everything that was going on around me. Sure, I looked out for my friends and lectured them on street smarts, but I’m sure I was pretty careless when it came to watching my own back.

The other day I sat there, as the train shot into the city and found it fascinating how different people are, even though we are crammed into the same environment. I suppose one could say the same thing for humans living on earth together, but in such a small and compact location, the differences in behavior were amusing.

Things I decided to never do on the train, based on observation:

  1. Wear headphones, at least not on both ears. I see people of all ages and demographics walking through the subway in a total fog because they do not hear what is going on around them. To be honest, it makes me nervous. They’d never hear feet pounding the linoleum behind them, or a warning call. Be aware of your surroundings.
  2. Be like the people who touch everything and then eat with their hands. I’m not a germaphobe, but don’t grip the handrails, door handles, ticket machines and escalator rails and then eat your apple. You might as well have passed the apple through the hands of five hundred people before gripping your fruit and taking a bite. Gross.
  3. Bring a million bags on the train and plop them all down on the ground. One, you’re creating an issue for people to get in and out of the train car without falling. Some people act like the train is their personal shuttle and there’s no need to be considerate.  You’re wrong.  No one wants to trip on your bananas. I’m making it sound like people are eating healthy here, and while I’m at it, no they aren’t.
  4. Pulling through one of the worst neighborhoods in the country, literally, and whipping out every electronic gadget you have. I suppose people aren’t watching the news on their iPads, because it’s a common trend that thieves walk down subway cars and simply slip your smartphone, iPad, etc., out of your hands and keep moving, exiting the train with your fancy devices and all your personal information. Maybe if you heard the guy coming and your bags weren’t scattered all of the floor, you’d still have it.  Be smart.
  5. Exhibiting a lack of manners. I have no problem moving out of your way when we get to your stop. You could not just nudge me. Maybe a simple “excuse me” would suffice. I’ll even stand up and not just slide my legs to the side, so you have more room. I feel like a freak when I say “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” or smile. I’m not a Pollyanna, even though that is one of my favorite movies, but a little common decency can get one a long way. Being rude just gets people mad at you. It’s almost like the zombie apocalypse has already occurred under the streets of this city. There’s got to be something they’re happy about, especially you, girl with cute shoes.

We all have somewhere to go and we all paid to hitch a ride, might as well be wise and pleasant about it.

Travel Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist, but I pretend to be one when I travel.

In preparation for our ten day European trip, I thought about our prior two trips to Ireland. We had taken large rolling duffels and then I wore a satchel as a day bag. My shoulders were sore and the bag was inconvenient. The second trip in particular was rough because we were caught in the middle of an epic snowstorm. When buses were stuck, we ended up hauling our duffels through snow drifts for what felt like miles to get to our destination. Well, we knew we wouldn’t hit snow this time, but I was not going to be an over packed American. I made rules that I was unsure that we could follow, and they are as follows:

10 Day strict packing list:

  • Carry-on suitcase each; only 1/3 full
  • Rucksack each; nearly empty
  • Money pouch (neck/waist-type)
  • Five pairs each; socks, underwear, tee shirts
  • One pair sneakers; worn there, not packed (I cheated with a pair of sandals too)
  • Two pairs of jeans each, wear one there
  • Two pair each either shorts or capris
  • One quart size bag of liquid toiletries each, each with a 3oz bottle of detergent
  • Small bag of shared necessities; nail clippers, tweezers, band aids, razor, bobby pins, etc.
  • Glasses/belts and other random requirements
  • Ipad, two cameras, eReader (Nook), chargers and spare memory cards
  • One 4-socket power converter.  Charged all electronics in one swoop each night.
  • A long cord aka clothesline

Score one for us. It was the easiest travel trip ever. Since we nearly missed our plane to Brussels, one of the key begging points in allowing us to board was that we had no luggage to check. We were able to fit both our bags in the same train luggage locker at each city we went to, saving time and money when we were unable to check into our room too. Halfway through the trip, we washed our clothes in our sink, hung them up on the cord we cleverly tied across one side of our bedroom and off we went the next morning, fresh, clean and with far less luggage then the over packed tourists who could barely lift the bags up and onto the train.

Laundry in Berlin

The worst would be seeing the retired couples with the elderly men hauling multiple enormous pieces of luggage behind his wife on crowded public transportation.  I gave my husband the go-ahead then and there to berate me if I ever got that bad.  I may not wash our clothes in the sink forever, but maybe one day if we’re fancy we’ll just pay to get them laundered instead.  Who am I kidding?  We’ll never be fancy.

Back to the packing list; for those who may question the possible excessive electronic choices, let me explain.

Ipad, a wonderful gift from our parents saved my shoulders in a big way rather than toting the heavy laptop as we did in years past. But, since there is not Wi-Fi everywhere and we found many Europeans do not offer it for free, the Nook was a great backup to access tour books, maps and translators that were pre-downloaded, thus eliminating the need for the internet and heavy travel books during the travel. In cities like Brussels, where we were limited on time, we used the Nook to do our own walking tour per Rick Steves, saving both time and money. When you have the opportunity though, I do suggest taking a real tour, Rick is wise, but he doesn’t know every nuance.

And there you have it. We came home with smiles, souvenirs that fit in our existing bags (including a real cuckoo clock) and never had to check a bag or pop a painkiller. This my friends, comes in handy when you’re sharing a six person sleeping compartment on a train.

Many stories to follow.

ABBA, J. Peterman and New York

I missed posting yesterday, but for good reason.  I was lucky enough to join my Aunt to New York to see a Broadway show.  She had won tickets to Mamma Mia.  I am a huge fan of New York City, but of Abba?  Not so much.  I do love many forms of art and stage, so I did not turn down the opportunity and in the end, I was really pleasantly surprised.

My musical taste skips the Abba and spandex generation altogether, but since I’m not technically a musician, I feel I have no place to judge the taste of others.  These people wrote the music that millions know and love today.  You should have seen the crowd at the end.  People of all ages compelled to jump out of their seats and frantically wave their hands and sing along.  I could’ve gone that far if I had a couple drinks from the bar first, but I did clap in attempt to maintain rhythm.

Speaking of which, it’s been some time since I’d been to a Broadway show and I was unaware that there were rolling bar carts next to the candy guy and the program sellers.  Maybe it’s one of the details you don’t notice at a younger age.  I suppose it’s a very good thing that I wasn’t scouting out the pinot grigio before Beauty and the Beast during my school field trip to the theater.  Regardless, I had anticipated a dated show and instead the updated one-liners and costumes gave the show a more current ambiance.

New York was chilly, and the fresh chill and flurries were a good reminder that even though the Northeast has had a spring-like winter, spring is not yet upon us. There’s still plenty of time to pull out the gloves and my nemesis, the ice scraper.  Still the train ride up was easy and the company enjoyable.  This paragraph is making me feel like I’m writing a J. Peterman catalog narrative from Seinfeld.  Wool peacock blue coat, large retro matching buttons, dark jeans and boots that both emulate New York style and provide walking comfort.  I hope someone gets why I just wrote that.