I've begun to ride the bus in Los Angeles instead of using my car (which I plan to sell shortly). I would LOVE to use the subway, but alas, I live on the Westside and apparently it is too hard to build a train system through here in a small amount of time for a reasonable budget. (There are virtual reams of paper devoted to this very topic on blogs all around LA, so I don't need to recount any of that here.) So the bus it is. And while on the bus, I thought about all the cities I've been to and the different public transportation I've used and which ones I like best.
So here is my Top Ten list of Favorite Public Transpos:
10. CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY (CTA)
(I had a hard time choosing this over the LA Metro system as I have been on both only once. But I chose Chicago because the LA Metro trip I took was just to waste time while on my 1 1/2 lunch break for jury duty downtown 10 years ago. There was a metro station right there, I hopped on, rode for 1/2 hour, turned around and came back.)
18 years ago I went to visit a friend who lived in the suburbs of Chicago (my first time in the Second City) and we took the train into town a couple of times to see museums, walk around the city, go to see some improv (at where else?) and generally be tourists. The concept of getting on a train instead of driving and trying to find parking seemed really magical, so grown up, so like what I'd always seen in tv and movies. I loved it. It also seemed so darn easy! The trains let you off close to wherever you wanted to go and you could talk or read or sleep or whatever you wanted to do! Just great. I don't remember much more about the train except that it sparked a positive feeling for mass transit train travel that still goes strong to this day!
9. MASSACHUSETTS BAY TRANSIT AUTHORITY (Lovingly known as "The T".)
I've been to Boston only twice. The second time was for a funeral for Kurt's cousin who I had never met, but as we were engaged at the time, of course I went. It was also the first time I had met his mother so there were some interesting mixing of emotions. We flew home from that trip on United flight 175 on Sunday, September 9, 2001.
The first time I went to Boston was in the summer of 1999. The Museum of Fine Arts had en exhibit of 150 paintings and drawings by John Singer Sargent. The show had started at the Tate in London and then was in Washington DC and would finish in Boston. I had to see those paintings. I flew out on Friday and had tickets to let me in first thing on Saturday. I took the T to the museum and was so excited to be on a train, carrying me to see breathtaking works of art. I spent hours drinking in the portraits and the water colors and the drawings. I must have gone through each room about three times, spending the most time with Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Then, in my drunk on Sargent haze, I got back on the T and went downtown to look around at the city, and eventually back to my hotel. I'm so glad I took that trip.
As for the T itself? Couldn't tell you much except again, I loved how you could just walk to nearby stations and be transported to amazing places to see amazing things. I didn't have to navigate streets and parking and other drivers, I got to relax and enjoy the whole Seeing Art and Seeing Boston thing.
(I was reading on the T website that they are rolling out free wifi on their trains! God, that rules.)
8. METROPOLITAN TRANSIT AUTHORITY (Otherwise known as the New York City Subway System.)
Famous the world over as a character in zillions of movies and tv shows, the NYC subway (as far as I had learned before I ever laid eyes on it) is a grimy, hard-bitten dangerous necessity in the lives of millions of people in the city of New York. The first time I went to NYC was in 1998 for the premiere of Godzilla at Madison Square Garden. I was there for about 5 days and loved every second. It blew my mind that you could stand on a street and wave and a taxi would stop and pick you up, just like in the movies! Jacquie and I took the subway out to Brooklyn one night to have dinner with my old friends Dave and Digo. We had a great evening and ended up taking the subway back at 2am, both of them assuring us it was perfectly safe, which it was. How great that you can hop on a train across NY to visit friends for dinner and back again, costing maybe a couple of bucks all together.
It wasn't until I was back in the spring of 2001 working on a movie that I used the subway much more often. I met my mom's first cousin Caroline and her husband, Arnold Roth, on that trip and they were so kind, having me to dinner and making me feel part of their immediate family. (They live on West 72nd street, in the building next to The Dakota -- so New York!) I was staying at the Mayflower hotel and walked the ten blocks to their place one Sunday to meet them for brunch. They were waiting for me at the subway entrance near their place and down we went. Down into the tunnel and down town to a restaurant near CBGB, which I had never heard of. (I grew up on a rock on the middle of the pacific ocean, don't forget...the land that musical time forgot.) We had a lovely brunch with their sons and sons' families and then subway'd our way back uptown. Wonderful.
Later on one of those Spring 01 work trips, Kurt came out to visit and we decided to go see Coney Island. We took the subway all the way out. It took about an hour and was a fascinating journey below and above ground. I loved seeing the neighborhoods change on they way out there. We rode the Cyclone where the carnies are almost as frightening as the ride, we rode the Wonder Wheel, swinging car, of course, where any thoughts of "OSHA" must be put right out of your minds. (Oh and if you click onto that link, holy cow--be warned of the jingle that plays automatically--that is some classic jingle.) We ate Nathan's Hot Dogs, watched a very dirty looking plushy Pikachu try to con kids into taking photos with him (Yeesh!) and probably had some ice cream before heading back to Manhattan on the subway.
I loved the ease of subway use -- there seem to be entrances on every block. You can get anywhere you need to go within a short walk of wherever you are. That to me is phenomenal. As for aesthetics, the NY subway leaves a little something to be desired. It's a workhorse, not a showhorse. But it got me wherever I needed to go. And how can you not appreciate a subway system that has a very famous song written about one of its lines? Listen here.
7. DOPRAVNI PODNIK HL. M. PRAHY (Otherwise known as the Prague Public Transit Co. Inc.)
In the early summer of 1992, I was traveling on my own for three months, again backpacking/youth hosteling through Europe. I had visited a friend in Bavaria, then got on a train to (then) Czechoslovakia to visit Prague for a few days. The whole way on the train into "Eastern Europe" (oooooh, cold war hadn't been over too long!) I read through my travel books, preparing myself for the new country. But not just a new country, a whole new alphabet. I knew I could find my way to the youth hostel agency, but I was worried that the subway system would be confusing, what with the new alphabet I had to work with. I psyched myself up, pumped myself full of confidence that of course I could do it and hadn't I left plenty of daylight in case I couldn't?
I got off the train, went down to the subway and was confronted with the subway system map. I just started laughing at myself and my misguided fears. Please look closely (and click for bigger) on this subway map. There are three (3) lines. Line A, Line B and Line C. Yeah. I think I can figure it out.
Confidence firmly established in my brilliant navigational skills, I bought a three day student pass (which was probably about 85¢ at the time) and got on board, getting off exactly where I needed to go, probably with a transfer thrown in for good measure. I walked out into the beautiful Prague sunshine and got out my book with the map showing the hostel office and then got a bit confused. A young man was selling fruit nearby, I walked over-- (You have to know I was blonde and had a big backpack on plus a smaller day pack in front, quite the youth tourist give-away.) -- and smiled and pointed at my map and the address and he said "Oh, sure, that place is just down that block and over a few more blocks." Perfect english with not much of an accent. DUDE! I laughed again and said thanks and went on my way.
I found the hostel office and booked a stay in a place that was $5 a night and breakfast, but a little off the beaten path. I took a bus/tram to the end of its line, where the hostel was located, and have never been stared at so much on my whole trip. Was it the backpack? The blonde hair? The fact that I was a young foreign woman alone, riding this very local tram? Who knows. But I felt perfectly safe, and found my hostel, it was in a boat house on the river with the BEST SHOWERS I had through my whole trip. I took that tram in every day to see the sites and enjoy Prague. At the tram stop near my hostel was an ice cream vendor. A double scoop was about 20¢. Yum! I knew I would walk it off during the course of each day.
Prague is a gorgeous city, I highly recommend it.
6. WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY (AKA, the Washington DC Metro)
Last Fall I was working on a movie in Washington DC for a few weeks. I was lucky enough to have weekends and a few afternoons off. When I did, I used the subway a few times to get around and see some sites. I guest blogged for Metroblogging DC while I was there and complimented that fair city for a fine subway experience. (This was my first time there.)
It was late summer and quite warm during the day. I loved that the subway cars had air conditioning, carpeting that looked new and clean, cell phone reception underground (!!) and the people were so polite (or just very well trained) as they stood on the side of the open doors to make room for people getting off the trains and then moving to the center of the cars instead of stopping immediately. This is some seriously good mass transit etiquette.
The best part about that trip and that subway system was my stop's name: Foggy Bottom.
Please tell me about your favorite mass transit experiences in the comments.
I'll soon post #5 - 1.
Any guesses what #1 will be?