Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tube Musings

I have now been commuting to work on the Tube for 3 months-it's the first time I've had a daily commute on the Tube since moving to London (suck it, First Great Western! I so do not miss you...).
I can honestly say that the novelty has worn off.  I don't doubt for a minute that it's still the best way to get around London, but the daily commute has forced a few observations about humans-some funny, some perplexing-that I'd never noticed before on my weekend journeys on the Tube. To wit:
  • Why, oh why, do men have to sit on the Tube with their legs spread sooooooo wide?  Truly gents, is this your sad way of trying to say to the world: "Look at how much junk I have between my legs, world!  The only way I can possibly sit here comfortably without crushing my man-bits, is by spreading my legs obnoxiously wide to give it the space that is needed!!"
  • Tourists:  Dear tourists, for the love of god:  Stay off the Tube during rush-hour.  The museums don't even open until 10am, but yet you insist on clogging the tube when there are hundreds of thousands of us trying to get to work.  Nevermind the fact that the Tube can't even cope with the strain of Londoners using it during their commute already, now you have to overload it even further-with your prams, backpacks, and maps spread wide.  Don't even get me started on stopping in the middle of the stairs, elevator, or platform-for NO APPARENT REASON-while the rest of us have to stagger around you so we don't run over you.
  • The urgency of your need to get from point A to point B via the Tube is directly proprtionate to the likelihood that the Tube will be slow, delayed, or simply suspended due to signal failure, an ill person on the train, or even a body under the train.  Go figure.
  • One must acquire Tube Face as early into their journey as possible.  Tube Face is the way making the world think that you are lost in thought, in your own world, or simply not paying attention-largely so you can appear to be ignoring the crazy person next to you-or made to not feel like you should give up your seat to someone who needs it.  But the reality is: you're still paying attention to every little thing going on around you.  Hopefully, no one notices you blinking, or your ruse is up.
  • Just like death and taxes being inevitible, it is also inevitible that you will end up sitting next to the smelliest person on the Tube when you have your choice of seats.  Just the other day, I took a seat inbetween two men-one of which smelled of dead cow due to the leather jacket he was wearing.  The other, smelled of ash tray and booze.  Lovely.
  • If just one more person tries to barge on the Tube while there are still those of us trying to get off, I may have to commit to a random act of violence.  Wait.  Until. Everyone's. Off.  Thank you.
I've observed on more than one occasion-and even commented in my blog-that Living in London is turning me into a rude asshole.  (For the record, I don't think it's "London" doing this to me, but rather life in a big city.)  Unfortunately, I can't help but think that my new commute is going to make me even ruder asshole.  I fear for loosing my humanity; but, in the grander scheme of things, I guess I've really just traded my road-rage from when I was driving in the US to Tube-rage.  I suppose it's just the difference of having an anonymous shell of a car around you versus the face-to-face confrontation of public transport.

Good times.


  1. Nice post. Your observations hold true universally of life in a big city and mingling in a diverse public crowd beyond one's little carefully curated bubble. I recall much of this from my years growing up in Berlin and riding the U-Bahn there. And riding the Seattle Metro buses isn't any different. The only thing you left out in your list is the seemingly random harassment of some by security guards and police.

    It's for those reasons that for many years the thought of traveling to NYC had absolutely zero appeal. The defenses and 'tube face' you acquire are stressful. But over time I've become to miss the energy and diversity that these big cities bring with them. So it remains a love-hate relationship.

    I had to chuckle on your first point. In fact the other day while riding home on the bus I saw this guy (who is a regular) in his cheap JC Penny suit, cheap shoes, tie, sitting just like you described. And immediately I had a visual that I'm currently translating into a little post card, with such a guy on one side, labeled 'Corporate Amercia's GI' and then some fresh / modern guy with style and spring on the other side.

    Already staged and shot the key image with the help of a friend: - still working on the other one.


  2. The last point annoys me to no end, except in my case it's people barging onto buses in a midwestern college town. The Midwest is stereotyped as unfailingly polite, so I don't know if it's college kids who grew up in the burbs never taking public transportation or just a quirk of this city, but people seem to think that it's perfectly acceptable not to wait. I also blame the bus drivers, because in other cities the driver will tell the bargers to wait until other passengers get off. I've never seen a driver do that here. The first point is also universal wherever there is public transport (what's up with that, guys?).

    The rest are usually unique to large cities, especially the tube face. I would add to that perfecting the art reading your blackberry, kindle, etc while simultaneously keeping an eye on your surroundings but appearing to be fully engrossed. It's definitely a skill!

  3. @Jan, great image! That's definitely what I'm talking about!
    @Moni, a good number of Tube stations actually have staff with bullhorns on the platforms-to remind people to let others off the train first. I don't think it's working very well! :)

  4. I had to laugh at several of your points. Some of it is very similar to what I experience riding public transport in Cleveland, especially trying not to notice the crazy person next to you and dealing with tourists during rush hour. Except in Cleveland, it's not so much tourists as it is people from the suburbs who don't come downtown very often and have no idea how to drive in it or what to expect from us city-folk.
    I have to admit, though, that your first point of how men sit on the Tube would be just fine with me. :)