Oh, Mama, can this really be the end–
to be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again?
My son and I like to do this little routine, usually when I’m frustrated with the limitations of this town:
Marcy: If I were in New York I could just jump into a cab!
Daryl: Ma, you’re not in New York.
Marcy: Daryl, I am painfully aware of that.
A seventeen-year-old girl I know had just visited New York City.
“So?” I asked when she got back, “Did you love the pizza?”
“It was okay.”
“What about the bagels?” A listless shrug.
“Did you go to the Statue of Liberty?” Weak nod.
“Well,” I asked, frustrated, “what did you like about it?”
She perked up and her eyes took on a faraway, star-struck gaze.
“The transportation system,” she said with a charming teenage giggle.
She’d been hugely impressed by the subway, the buses, the cabs; the round-the-clock accessibility; the reasonable fees. So enamored was she that she made her father ride with her from borough to borough at all hours of the day and night. Raised in California’s car culture, she’d had no idea a viable life was possible without a privately owned vehicle. She even figured out that the Staten Island Ferry was the coolest date venue in town, something I wasn’t hip to until at least my mid-twenties.
In case it’s not obvious, I’m a native New Yorker, and proud of it. Now exiled in a California village some people call a city, three years ago I dumped my aging car. I was sick of repairs, the eternal hunt for parking spaces, and the subsequent fines, tired of climbing in and out just to buy a carton of milk or a bag of fruit. I wanted to use these clever devices we humans have been provided with for the express purpose of moving from deli to fruit stand to cleaners and home again–our feet.
My first month sans car I was thrilled to lose ten pounds – but the difference between getting around Oakland and New York City were far greater than I’d realized. Unlike the Broadway 104 that runs every three minutes or so, my current neighborhood bus runs, when it does run, every 20 or 30 minutes — and on weekends every hour. There’s no local rail to speak of, just Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) designed primarily to shuttle workers to and from places of employment. Ticket prices differ from one system to another, not to mention the method of purchase, and until you figure it out, you’re bound to find yourself stuck behind a turnstile without correct coinage at least once or twice. And some places are simply impossible to access via public transit.
So what? thinks the naïf; without the expense of car insurance, I’ll be able to afford a cab once in awhile. Good luck, Sister! I cannot count the number of times I’ve been stood up by taxi drivers. While in other parts of the world it’s the wealthy who regularly hail cabs, here in my low-income town it’s primarily the poor who use their services, the people who can’t afford to own vehicles. We tend to take only short rides, to the market or the doctor, and can’t afford to tip so generously. This diminishes most cabbies’ enthusiasm, so if they happen to be distracted by, say, a pretty girl, or a request for a ride to the airport, they’ll leave an old lady like me on whatever corner I happened to call from.
These are all old, outdated complaints I’ve made many times before. Today’s rant is inspired by a very wet morning and the loss of a well-paying two-day job : AC Transit apparently decided, without warning, to take a holiday today.
I was scheduled to work at a technological conference in San Francisco, for which I would take home nearly $400.00. The catch: I had to be there by 6:00 a.m. sharp! And it was raining. According to the bus schedule, the first No. 57 bound for the train station was due to pass my corner at 4:49 a.m. At 5:00 it still hadn’t arrived. Nor did the next scheduled bus come by at 5:09. At 5:29, when the third bus of the morning should have landed, my blouse was clinging damply to the flesh beneath my coat. The cuffs of my slacks needed a good wringing out. With still no bus in sight, I gave up and trudged back home.
At a reasonable hour I called my son. “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end–”
“Oh no! What happened?”
He was nonplussed to learn it was an unofficial bus holiday.
“If I was in New York I could’ve just gotten into a cab.”
“I know, I know. And believe me, I am painfully aware!”
Four hundred dollars’ worth.