By Bill Andrews
CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR
Remember way back in the day, several years ago for some, last year for others, decades for me, when you were still going to high school? Remember how cool it was, finally, to get a car and not have to ride the bus to school, day in and day out? I don’t, really, since I never had a car, but I was cool vicariously, through my car-enabled friends, who generously offered me rides in exchange for hearing me work brand names into Spanish conversation. (“Entonces fuimos al Starbucks y nos tomamos unos frappucinos, antes de ir al mall.”) Anyway, it was cool to ride to school in something other than that yellow bus, which my neighborhood affectionately called “cheese wagons” (my explanation: Floridians have too much time on their hands).
It is somewhat poignant, therefore, that in my advanced age, after being @mit.edu for roughly 27 years, I find myself in the same predicament. Actually, screw poignant: it sucks! “The wheel has come full circle; I am here!” to quote Edmund of Gloucester, as I do everyday on the busride to school. You see, in a genuinely ironic twist, I, your humble Campus Life Editor, live off campus; yes, yes, it’s true! Oh, I feel like I’m on Oprah! Except, of course, for the fact that I don’t mind. It’s actually kinda great having a place of my (and my roommate’s) own, for the most part.
Except when it comes to getting there. It’s not really that far out, it’s near just past by Hahvahd, but it sounds dramatic because I have to take two buses to get here and back. Normally it’s no big deal, when the timing works out it’s a 15 minute commute; heck, that’s better than Next House. But, that’s when things work out, and the T and the busses are becoming increasingly unreliable.
As I’ve joked to a few people by now (in my best Captain Barbosa voice), the T’s timetables are really more of what you might call guidelines. Perhaps my off campus brethren and sistren can relate, as can anyone who’s ever tried to take the number 1 bus. I mean, how many times have you been standing there, at 77 Mass Ave (or it’s half-brother 84 Mass Ave), waiting for the #1, cold and rained-upon, past the time mbta.com said it’d be there, only to see two #1’s come riding up together. The first is more crowded than all git-out (was it not Sartre who said “Hell is other people, pressed up against you talking real loud on cell phones or eating sweaty Anna’s burritos”?), and the second is so empty you can see tumbleweeds rolling around on it.
That’s when you have to decide: the lady or the tiger, so to speak. Do I take the first bus, and risk getting squeezed between two huge backpacks and other smelly things, or do I wait for the second bus, and hope it stops for me? The first time I chose the latter, I could swear the second bus driver, a huge, bulking ogre of a man, looked through the doors at me and, in the few seconds it took for him to pass, spoke Edmund’s other famous line “Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” It’s the kind of thing T and bus drivers like to yell, I’ve found.
But that’s if the bus even comes at all. Some days, it just never comes, despite how long I wait (to any dirty-minded individuals: shut up.) In such cases I’m left having to ride the underground railroad we call the T (though of course the original was more efficient). It’s generally more reliable than the buses, but less convenient, thus the subtle calculus I practice most nights begins: “let’s see, it’s a 20 minute walk from the nearest T stop to my place, and the bus drops me right off in front but it’s already 25 minutes late …” But, of course, even the T can mess you up, such as when the train is mysteriously ‘delayed’ and goodness knows when it’ll return.
But, as my fiancee says about me, there are good things too. I mean, compared to the public transportation systems at home, Boston’s … well, exists. It’s actually really good, too, despite what my New Yorker friends say, and over the years the MBTA has served me quite well.
At the same time, of course, why post timetables when they won’t be followed? Why bother having all these great buses and trains and all, if half the time they’re unreliable or staffed by surly drivers or, y’know, nonexistent? It is a crazy world we deal with in public transportation, especially when there are supposed to be rules to follow. In the end, I think Shakespeare (via Polonius) said it best: Though this be madness, yet there is method in [the] ‘T.