Friday, August 24, 2012
As a public service for those planning a trip to the Boston area, I present this quick guide to The T, Boston's public transportation system.
The T was America's first subway system. The oldest part, dating from 1897, is the segment encompassing Park Street and Boylston on the Green Line. History literally comes alive on that stretch as descendants of the original 1897 rats can sometimes be glimpsed.
How The T Works
There are four main lines. They are color-coded. Here's a map!
The first thing you'll notice is that, even though I told you there are four color-coded lines, there are more than four colors on the map. Ignore the purple and the silver. The purple is commuter rail. Nobody within the city proper considers it part of The T. Its purpose is to keep people in the outlying suburbs from getting to work on time. The Silver Line likes to call itself rapid transit, but in reality it's just a stinkin' bus. You may find it useful if you wish to get to and from the airport, but that's mostly hearsay.
The next thing you should note is that some of the lines are split into multiple routes. The main reason for this is so that those people living along different parts of the Red Line can bitch about how the other train always arrives before the one they ride. For the Green Line, multiply by two and consider taking a cab.
Last, but certainly not least, note that Ashmont is listed as a transfer station from the Red Line to the Red Line. This is not a mistake. Should you wish to go beyond Ashmont, you will have to disembark from your subway car and get on a trolley.
The charming little trolley in question is the most pleasant ride on the system. This is to make up for the Braintree train having arrived first earlier in your journey.
What with Boston desperately trying to avoid becoming a world-class city, The T operates approximately 19.5 hours a day. Should you find yourself exiting a drinking establishment at the legally-mandated 2 o'clock closing time, you will be unable to get home via the subway. You will have to drive, instead. This is Boston's way of thinning out the population of college students. Likewise, if you've just been hired to work odd hours in some sort of service industry, you will be unable to get to your new job prior to 5:30 or so in the morning. This is because Boston hates you and doesn't wish to see you advance.
Etiquette On The T
Pants are optional.
If you feel the need to grope a fellow passenger, please do so in a discreet manner. Otherwise, we will have to hunt down an MBTA policeman. Since most of them are in squad cars driving around the streets, rather than in the subway, this will present a horrible inconvenience to all concerned.
We would appreciate it if you don't offer your seat to an elderly person or someone with an obvious physical disability. It makes the rest of us look bad.
It is OK to cut your toenails so long as the fragments don't fly into the sandwich being eaten by the person sitting next to you.
Smoking is forbidden. If you find that you've somehow fallen onto the third rail, however, we will try to make allowances.
If you're wearing a backpack, please try to hit as many of your fellow riders as possible with it. If you take it off, please put it on a seat so that someone else won't be able to sit there. This advice also applies to shopping bags and briefcases.
It is always appreciated when a baby stroller is positioned directly in front of the exit doors, so please try to do that if you have one. Also, everyone loves a screaming child, so please be sure to exacerbate all situations wherein you are transporting a crying infant by yelling at said child to shut the fuck up rather than using a soothing tone of voice.
Finally, if you are a man, it is your right to spread your legs as far apart as possible to accommodate your enormous testicles in a comfortable manner. If you can do so in a fashion that takes up a full seat on either side of you, that would be fine. Bonus points if you wear shorts and your testicles can actually be glimpsed by the rest of us.
The T provides multiple ways to pay your fare.
You can pay cash in certain situations, but this is frowned upon because The T employs many known felons and the temptation has proven overwhelming to them in the past. Therefore, in an effort to provide more fodder for landfills, you are encouraged to purchase either a Charlie Ticket or a Charlie Card. The difference between the two is that one will end up costing you more for each individual ride than the other. However, that inconvenience is made up for by the startling lack of service provided by the station agents who are supposed to be helpful in your decision of which one will best suit your need. When all else fails (I'd say it's even money) just hop the gate. Nobody cares.
(In case you're wondering why these things are called "Charlie" cards and tickets, it's because of an entirely illogical old song called Charlie On The MTA. The song was originally a campaign song for Progressive Party candidate for mayor, Walter A. O'Brien. A new "exit fare" had just been instituted, in order to raise revenues without having to upgrade existing equipment, and Charlie found himself stuck on the train because he didn't have the additional nickel to pay to get out.
Cute? Indubitably. However, as with most other things, progressives failed to consider the simplest answer in their rush to rail (excuse the pun) against the fare increase. To whit, a lyric from the fourth verse:
Charlie's wife goes down
To the Scollay Square station
Every day at quarter past two
And through the open window
She hands Charlie a sandwich
As the train comes rumblin' through.
If, instead of a sandwich, she had handed him a damn nickel, he could have come home immediately and that would have been the end of it.)
See Something, Say Something
In an effort to guard against possible terrorist attacks (of which there have never been any on The T, so it must be working) you are encouraged to "See Something, Say Something". What this means is that suspicious packages should be reported immediately to a T official (should you be able to locate one.) In theory, this will allow for the suspicious item to be removed, and safely disposed of, without any disruption in service due to inconveniences such as a bomb exploding and killing you. In practice, it means that your fellow passengers will curse you out because whatever line you report something on will then be shut down until the suspicious package is carefully checked out and found to be somebody's laundry.
As a final treat, here are some points of interest you may wish to explore on your journeys.
Station You're Most Likely To...
... Never Reach - Lechmere.
This is because not all trains marked "Lechmere" actually go there. The possibility always exists that you will be told to get off at Government Center, instead, and have to wait for another train marked "Lechmere", which may or may not end its run at North Station.
(By the way, despite the spelling, it is pronounced LEECH-meer, not leh-SHMEER. If you ask directions and don't pronounce it correctly, you will be mugged.)
... Wonder Where That Other Set Of Tracks Goes To - Boylston
There is a set of tracks at Boylston, visible from the outbound platform, leading down into some sort of secondary tunnel. No trains ever go on these tracks. It has been conjectured that those tracks may lead to Dante's fifth circle, but this is untrue. Boylston IS the fifth circle.
(OK, actually the tracks lead to a closed off section of line unused for around 80 years. Every so often, some wise guy suggests reopening that route for service, but it will never happen because it makes too much sense.)
... Get Caught In A Crowd Of Drunken Sports Fans - Kenmore and/or North Station
Homes to Fenway Park and TD Garden, respectively. If you're a tourist and somebody told you to go to "Fenway" on the Riverside line in order to get to Fenway Park, you've been had. Backtrack to your original point of departure, find that person, then punch him or her in the nose. After that, you can all go have some Chinese food at Orient Heights.
... Not Understand Why It's Called What It Is - Wonderland
Unless you know something about the history of that area, you will have no idea why the station is called Wonderland. There is nothing there bearing that name. There used to be, but I'm not going to tell you what it was. This station does, though, hold the distinction of having starred in a movie. That's more than you can say, so cut it some slack.
... Wonder Why There's A Station There - Bowdoin
It's about a one-minute walk from the Government Center stop on the same line and it's closed at night and on weekends. But, there it is! God only knows why.
(A close runner-up is Capen Street on the Mattapan-Ashmont trolley line.
It's located on a dead-end side street in Milton and is basically a personal station for the folks living on that street. It serves 58 passengers a day according to the latest ridership statistics. I know hookers who serve more riders a day.)
... Get Pissed When You Get Off The Train And Find That You Can't Reverse Direction Without Paying An Additional Fare - Copley
Arlington, too, as I recall. And Boylston, for that matter. Also Ashmont. Probably some others I'm forgetting at the moment. Heck, just be prepared to pay more at some point if you get lost.
(Returning to "Charlie" for a moment, they used to charge you an extra fare to leave the station when you got off at Braintree, but if you'd never been there before, it was a grand surprise. It was to me, anyway. Maybe they still charge an extra fare to leave that station; I don't know. Ever since the first time I went there, I've refused to go back out of general principles.)
... Choose The Wrong Direction Of Travel - Park Street
There are three platforms in the Red Line part of the station and four tracks in the Green Line part. There's a concourse that leads to the Orange Line at Downtown Crossing, and there are also an unusually large number of stairways that don't necessarily tell you in great detail where you're headed. I'd estimate your odds at no better than 50/50 on your first time there.
... Feel In Danger, But Will Probably Be Safe - Valley Road
In order to access this station, you need to travel a walkway from the street through a patch of woods and then go down a long double flight of stairs. Except for your possible attacker, it is quite likely you will be the only person on the platform during most hours. Once on the platform, and out of reach of the stairs, there is absolutely no way to get away from a possible attacker unless you hop a fence and dive into the Neponset River. However, the station is located in a quiet residential neighborhood with relatively little crime, so it's unlikely you will be attacked. There were NO crimes reported at Valley Road station in 2011.
(Of course, now that I've published this and given would-be attackers the lowdown, you should probably carry pepper spray just to be sure.)
(By the way, I now find that I owe an apology to Capen Street. According to statistics I've just seen, Valley Road has even fewer riders each day - 44. And that includes a couple of misguided muskrats that wandered into the station from out of the river.)
... Not Get Out Of Alive - Forest Hills
Well, all right, I suppose that's overstating things. However, Forest Hills easily leads in number of assaults reported per year. There were 52 assaults reported in 2011. That doesn't include 4 instances of unspecified sex offenses, nor does it include 30 robberies of one sort or another. You'll probably get out alive, but maybe without either your wallet or your dignity.
And now I'll tell you a secret. As much as I've made fun of The T, I love it. I grew up with the sound of the Mattapan-Ashmont trolley coming through my bedroom window at night - the bell rung by the driver at the Central Avenue grade crossing, the squeal of the steel wheels as it made the turns, the whir of the motors, the opening and closing of the doors. To my ears, it was a lullaby. The system has always gotten me where I needed to be. It has been my ride to work, and then back home; to Christmas shopping and Easter celebrations; to a thousand different entertainments; to relatives and their home-cooked dinners; to church and to hot dates. The cost has never been prohibitive (and has, in fact, been a bargain, all things considered.) For every time I've had a bad ride, I've had a hundred that were efficient. As much as I love some other subway systems of the world, I wouldn't trade The T for any of them. It may be an old and cranky system, but it's MY old and cranky system, damn it, and if you ever insult it the way I just did, I'll feel it my civic duty to punch you in the nose.
Enjoy the ride. If you want company, call me.
Soon, with more better sTuff.