Since my adventure in Chicago the other weekend and my post about it on Monday, I started thinking and comparing my experiences with public transportation, specifically trains.
When I was growing up, my hometown really didn’t have any type of public transportation. Mainly because it was so small, none was really needed. We walked places, rode our bikes, or mooched rides from friends and parents. So up until I left for Barcelona, I never been on a train, in a taxi, or on a city bus…. or an airplane. So in that one summer in Barcelona, I rode in my first taxi, used the metro and the bullet trains and conquered the bus system. And I fell in love with public transportation. Firstly it was a green option – less cars means less population. I didn’t have to worry about parking or gas (at this time I owned a 1997 Chevy Blazer – a smaller SUV/baby truck – making it a gas guzzler) and I didn’t have to worry about trying to navigate the streets at crazy speeds along with crazy drivers. My city driving skills are bad enough.
It was also cheap. I would just buy transit cards with unlimited rides for 30days. It cost around 20-30 euro which wasn’t bad at all, especially since you could use the card on both the metro and the buses. And I would take the metro/buses multiple times a day.
Taxis were cheap to0! I don’t think I ever paid over 10 euro the entire time for a taxi ride. They got you were you needed to go and fast. I learned on my first day in Barcelona, that in a taxi, you hold on to the “oh shit” handle whenever possible, if you are stuck in the middle in the back seat, you hold on to the seat or your friends’ knees. These guys go fast and they can bob and weave through traffic like nobody’s business. I usually only took taxis at night when the metro was closed or if you couldn’t get to a club/bar by metro/foot easy. Also you don’t tip them. Which is strange. But they have the tip included already in their meter. So you get in a taxi and the meter would read like 2 euro already – that is the tip. Made things a lot easier.
Now, metros. Metros or subways were my favorite type of transportation. Mainly because I had never been on one before, but also it had this grungy, dirty romantic notion about it. I loved the noise, the speed, and the people you would encounter. In Chicago, when I was sitting on the Blue Line, I noticed something small but very different than the metros in Barcelona. No one openly stared. I noticed that right way, because in Barcelona, everyone stared openly at each other on the metro. It wasn’t like a violating or prying or bad thing/feeling. It was passive. Like watching a movie, or getting a glimpse at this random persons life, even if it was for a few minutes. However, on the Blue Line, that was not the case at all. If someone caught you looking/staring at them, even for a moment or in a passive away, you got a dirty look or a look that clearly said “Why ya lookin’ at me, punk?” It was an interesting cultural thing to me – we tend to keep to ourselves, we are more guarded to an extent, and we are a little more wary about other peoples motives. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I just think it’s interesting.
To demonstrate this I’ll get you two experiences, one from Barcelona and one from the Blue Line.
While I was there, I was taking classes for college credit. One of my college classes was a photography class (go figure). That week were were talking and learning about unique ways of physically taking a photo. One of the photographers we talked about was Joan Colom. He was a Catalan photographer who took his photos without ever look through the view finder. He would keep his camera at waist level or even hidden in his shirt sleeve – so he was just slide the camera in and out of his palm.
People act differently if they notice a camera lens pointed at them. It’s just a human fact.
I loved the idea because it was like he capture a true moment in time. So I decided to apply that concept to my homework for the week. I would play up the part of a tourist and go to the metro and take pictures incognito. I knew I looked like a tourist already because of my dark dyed hair, my pale skin and a cast on my left hand (I had broken my hand two weeks before I left – stairs are evil mofos). I had my school bag on my shoulder, a guide book tucked in my elbow and my camera around my neck – like a tourist. So after class I went to the metro and sat on it for over two hours, getting on different lines at random, sitting and standing.
Since my camera was around my neck and the metro moved and swayed, I would occasionally have to hold it closer or more securely – that’s when I would take a picture.
While this was going on, everyone stared each other. Curious – where were they going, where did they get that shirt, oh that’s a tourist, hey they are from France, etc etc. Because I didn’t look like a local, most locals assumed I didn’t know Spanish – but I’m pretty fluent. I could here them talk about me – What did she do to her hand? Is she going to school here? Do you think she understand Spanish? Why isn’t she sitting – her hand is broken? Do you think her camera is on?
Yes, yes, my camera is on. Thank you for helping me with my homework.
I didn’t get caught until a family from Belgium noticed – because they were staring at me and I was kinda staring at them and the father heard my shutter click. Oops!
Chicago – Blue Line
I got on the Blue line around 2:30-3 in the afternoon. I had a small backpack and a small duffel – however they were a huge in convenience not only for myself but to others around me. The train itself was almost identical to the metro in Spain. Which was comforting. when I got settled in, I started looking around casually – seeing who else was on the train. There were a few school kids, a couple of business looking people, some obvious tourists and then “regular people” – most likely locals. These people stared at their smart phones and had their headphones in. The guy across from me had an interesting shirt on – I’m also a designer so cool shirts intrigue me! So I was staring at his shirt. And then the guy caught my eye and gave me a hard look and then put on his sunglasses. I’m sorry dude, I liked your shirt. I’m not going to mug you. Then I noticed people would look around quickly with their eyes – not moving their head to avoid detection – and if they met someone’s eyes or even my own, they would quickly look away.
That’s when it hit me about how guarded we have become and self-included people. If something doesn’t pertain to our immediate lives – keep it at a distance. Even small chat was like taboo on the Blue Line. I’m sorry I’m on this rickety thing for another 40 odd minutes, I’m okay with some small chat. I even saw three people with ACEN badges on their bags on the blue line the same time I was on it and I couldn’t talk to them because they did not interpret my awkward stare as a look of “Dude! I wanna talk to you! I’m going to ACEN too!”
Well friends, those are my thoughts and experiences with public transportation. Comment on this if you had similar experiences or want to share some thoughts about public transport!!!!