Wednesday, June 22, 2011

6-22-11: The Thrill of Mass Transit for Rural/Suburban Youths

I grew up in two places: a cow town in New Hampshire with a large state university, and an old farming town in Fairfield County, Connecticut populated by “new money” white collar outsiders who work in Manhattan. Both places have their own appeal to different people. I liked both, not necessarily equally, for what they offered. I think many people who grow up in towns like these appreciate what the towns have and residents don’t really look for much change. They like the prospects of the big city, but are comfortable in their bedroom communities. It’s nice.

The only other time when I took mass transit to or from work, before yesterday, was in Bangkok, Thailand for two months while doing a project in college. It was great. It was fast, cheap, and convenient. We lived a short walk from a terminal station, so we always had a seat while we zipped through the city on a 20 minute train ride on the Sky Train to the hospital where we worked. Each train ride cost about 50 cents, if that. I'd do that again in a heartbeat.

Yesterday I took the T (MBTA) home from work. It was certainly convenient, since the commuter rail stops at the GE plant in Lynn, and I was lucky enough to not pay the $4.75 fare since the conductors didn’t bother to check tickets for the 20 minute ride into North Station. I paid $1.70 in total (subway and bus) and got home in just about an hour. Not too bad. It was nowhere as nice as the Sky Train, but it was nowhere near as bad as what I’ve seen out of India and China during rush hour.

I like trains and buses. I think they’re a wonderful escape from the torture of city driving. I’d rather take the bus or subway than drive in Boston 9 trips out of 10. The first time I drove into Queens, to drop my dad off at LaGuardia, I became physically ill on the way home. I’ve done it a few times since; it takes practice.

Mass transit is viewed differently by people based on their background. I think people who grow up in cow towns and bedroom communities probably feel the same way about mass transit that I do, but people who grow up in cities probably don’t appreciate the system for what it is. I don’t knock them for that: it’s part of the 20th century version of the American dream of owning a car and being mobile. The car is a normal good due to its convenience, but in a city it’s a burden.

For a semi-suburban (partly rural, partly suburban) youth, driving around your home town is just how you get around, and driving in a city with its traffic and constant rush is painful and detracts from the experience. You’d rather just take the train and enjoy it, even if it costs a bit more. The city is just an experience at that point.

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