I’m sort of in love with metros. Is that weird? I think it’s weird.
Not the smell of over-heated metals rubbing through windy sub-urban tunnels. Not the awkward and illicit encounters late night rides usually provide. And especially not the whole disease ridden, modern-medicine fail, where the zombie-apocalypse starts aspect of the metropolitan transit systems.
Those scare me. What I love is the spider-web. You know, that physical trace of lines we dig like war trenches into the ground, publicly cementing the makeup of our society. It is the connection, the shuffling of hundreds and thousands into straight lines and round bends, all shuttling together and forward towards something.
Uniformity in the dense complex of human society. Mmm.
So, I thought I’d highlight a few systems I’ve had the dis/pleasure to ride:
The Tube (London Underground)
Starting with a classic. London’s metro system is the oldest in the world. It looks a lot like the underground rails in every Big Brother movie ever. Smooth, well-operated, fairly clean, and with a uniform styling that combines English sentimentality (read: frosty) with an impatient, endless queue. And villains creeping in plain sight.
The historic stop mosaics are a nice touch. As is the music. The spacey sounds of The Beatles tumble in ceramic drenched reverb, and more often than not a young guy with an acoustic can really play. Mid-day commute transforms into an artistic, day-dreaming escapade with musical accompaniment.
The Tube covers the massive metropolis of London fairly well, spider-webbing with over 15 dedicated lines. Easy to get lost, but don’t worry, the staff are helpful, if brief.
The issue with the Tube, though, is the price. Maybe it was my $ to £ conversion rate, but maybe not. The Tube is a by-distance fare, meaning the longer you go, the more expensive it gets. I found the money drained from my wallet with incredible speeds.
- Pros: Clean, goes everywhere, full of life
- Cons: Costly and overcrowded
Ah, Parìs. Baguettes, homeless men pissing, thief-ridden vestibules. Five minutes to…the Lourve, Notré Dame, tour eiffel, Napoleon’s tomb, Musee d’Orsay, and like, a hundred other amazing things. It’s a heartfelt place, city and metro alike, and walking or riding through evokes countless emotions.
The Paris Metro was cheap, too. One ticket goes anywhere. The young French men court every decent looking woman or man aboard. People read Sarte, one hand up to keep from sliding with the bends. In winter they are somber, cold, darkly clothed.
I spent a New Year’s Eve on the Paris metro. Riot police surrounded the Champs-Elysees, old couples uncorked champagne in the street. The metro was elbow to chest full, falling down, drunk and sublimely ecstatic.
The Paris Metro is the standard against which I hold all other public transportation systems. It services every aspect of the city and beyond. It is chalk full of social issues, art, and commotion. A true web of burgeoning humanity.
- Pros: People watching, cheap, you are always walking distance to a stop
- Cons: Homeless sleep in stations, sketchy
My current transit system, BART is a unique endeavor. It connects San Francisco, Oakland, Emeryville, and Berkeley in the specific “Bay Area,” and a host of large outlying cities.
It is, more than anything to me, a commuter rail. BART helps to propel everyone towards the beating heart of San Francisco. However, unlike the webbed abilities of the Tube and Paris Metro, BART is fairly straight in its approach.
It’s a double edged sword of course: as large as London is, the entire Bay Area, stretching from San Jose to Marin, from the sea to the distant smoky hills of almost central California, is enormous. Having one spider-web service the entire area would be a massive undertaking. So instead, BART has large hubs in which many people go to primary, socially important places. Base of campus, UC Berkeley. Union Square, San Francisco. Etc.
As for the mechanics of BART, they are alright. I find the prices reasonable but occasionally high. The system is per distance fares, like London, so farther you live outside the center the more it costs to get in. The vehicles are neither laboriously slow or lightning fast, the cars are crowded but not to the degree they could be.
BART has some seriously gross stories, often including a lot of vomit. Personally, it has always been a pleasant experience. I find that due to the lack of web, the bustle of humanity is not quite as visible. The stations themselves are utilitarian concrete structures, devoid of art or decoration or shops.
- Pros: Connects the Bay Area, medium prices, medium cleanliness
- Cons: Not many stops or lines, often slow
Thanks for reading. I’m sure these cities appreciate it too! Do you like the metro? Is my minor obsession unwarranted? What are your favorite systems? Keep your eyes peeled for the Boston, Berlin, and Prague post, coming to a internet near you soon! And please remember to mind the gaps.