All Aboard!

What happened to Usonia?

New York City — 1999. The freezing wind blew through the canyon-like streets of Manhattan. A gust of chilling January air hit Senior Astrogator Chandler in the face as he walked out of Grand Central Station. The twenty-minute, hundred-mile trip from his home in Poughkeepsie on the Hudson Bullet gave him plenty of time to review the evening’s flight plans. He went over them once more as he boarded a Strato-Bus that would take him to Empire State Hanger One, where he’d brief the rest of the crew on the trip, a routine business flight to Freebase Twelve, about twenty thousand miles up.

The Strato-Bus let him off at the 150th floor, where he made his way to the ped walk, which brought him to the flight crew’s office. While waiting for the rest of his crew to arrive, he watched the streets and sidewalks through eyesight TV as they rolled along, swiftly bringing people to and from. The smooth machinery of the city pedgrid gave him a confident feeling; he knew everyone was happy, because everyone was on time, there were no obstacles…

••

Transportation fascinates me. I think it’s because I love working operations and processes. Even though I never had the “resources” necessary for a really bitchin’ electric railway set, my small (and darned expensive) Marklïn starter set I’d received for Christmas twenty years ago supplied enough track and even a couple of switches for creation of my small freight-hauling empire. The fun didn’t end when I’d finished setting up the tracks, as it does for a lot of folks. Once set up, getting the train to run properly and to try all sorts of switching combinations was the real challenge. I could watch for, sometimes, hours the smooth operation of my railway.

Maybe this was an early indication of “anal retentiveness” on my part, but I guess I began to focus on making things work like they were supposed to work, and becoming obsessed with schedules and their reliability. Which makes little sense, because I’m not one known for my punctuality…

A long time ago, I used to be on time for everything. My dad had drilled the mantra of “if you’re fifteen minutes early, you’re late!” into my head, which I took to heart. With the not-too-surprising result of me being uncomfortably first at various events. This is relevant, stay with me…

While I didn’t need it, I appreciated one of my grad school professors locking students out of the classroom precisely on the hour. Hey, you’re late. And you know what, he didn’t give two shits if my last instructor decided to keep the class going beyond the normal fifty minutes, it was my fault. And you know what else? Had I not stayed over in the previous class, I’d have missed something.

Then there would be the cases of late professors; hell, two of my profs were late for my thesis defense. And all through my life there would be others, upon whom the meeting, event, or whatever really depended who would be late and wouldn’t get any shit for it! But if Dave’s late, forget it, no excuse.

Here’s one: I’m in Detroit, Sunday night, 5 July 1991, trying to get back to Melbourne from my sister’s wedding. Well, see, there was this huge storm and I was stuck at the airport! I had to be back at school on Monday morning because I was about to embark on a week-long voyage out to sea! Oh, I called and let the right people know I was nervous (poor Helen, though, I couldn’t get in touch with, and she ended up spending hours and hours at the Orlando airport waiting to pick me up… ). So eventually we take off and I get back to O-town at around three-thirty in the morning! And I’d better be ready at six for set sail! Damn! My flight from Detroit would’ve had me in Orlando at seven PM! Instead, it’s delayed nearly five hours!

Nevertheless, I packed and was ready at six to take off, which, of course, we didn’t, because there were plenty of stragglers. When we finally did get to Fort Pierce and weigh anchor, at the first stop for fuel (we weren’t even out of the inlet) one of the engines throws a rod and we’re stuck for more than twelve hours both trying to fix the problem and trying to set the agenda for the voyage. This was unbelievable! Didn’t these people hear of routine maintenance? Didn’t they check this stuff out the week earlier? Hell no! So anyway, all day I was having a hard time staying up, but managed. When we finally get everything in working condition it was nearly midnight – and time for me to go to sleep, finally!

So it’s nine AM and we’re about three-quarters on our way to the Bahamas, and the “Captain” wakes me up and gives me a hard time for sleeping late. Man, it’s not like I put a “do not disturb” sign on the door… No excuses, right folks?

Nobody wants to hear about why you’re late. The only good excuse is death, yours, that is. Never mind that was beyond your control. OK, if you’re supposed to be on time, then you should do all you can to be on time. But there are reasonable limits, aren’t there? So a storm delayed the airplane? Well, you should have gotten an earlier flight; you should’ve memorized the weather reports and planned accordingly. You should’ve rented a car and driven at 120 mph, etc.

People are real dicks… Dude, and if you complain about someone being late, you get labeled the asshole!

I don’t own a car anymore, and I don’t want to own one. They’re nothing but unreliable pieces of shit on four wheels designed for two things: taking your money and making you late. Cars break down no matter how many hours and hours of careful maintenance you put into them. When you’re on the road, there are millions of other assholes on the road and they’re in your way. And don’t forget Officer Friendly, ready and willing to give you a ticket… And since I’m one of those people who always gets caught…

Bless the greater New York City Metropolitan Area for its public transportation system! I don’t need a car.

Well, it sure would come in handy, because the damned county bus system leaves much to be desired. Getting to Manhattan is a “snap” because there are semi-reliable commuter trains running every half-hour between 6 AM and 1:30 AM. Tough luck if the band you wanted to see comes on at one in the morning… And the damned subways sort of run on time, and it’s gotten a hell of a lot better in the last two years; the change is seriously noticeable.

The city buses are a complete waste of effort, though. Even though I realize that they compete with the millions of semi-retarded and dangerous taxi cabs, and I understand that the damned traffic lights tend to slow things down a great deal. And let us not forget the damned legions of rank idiots driving their fucking damned SUVs into the city clogging up the streets. But the buses hardly even run! You could literally wait an hour (or more) for a bus, when they’re supposed to come every fifteen minutes. (Why do people insist on driving their cars into crowded cities, anyway? Are they crazy? Yes. And for an excellent look at this, check out Eric Dregni’s “Why We Drive Cars: A Conspiracy Against Public Transportation” in Cake Magazine, http://www.grunge.com/archive/54/cars.htm.)

But back to the county buses. Wait, another digression. Hey! Assholes on bicycles, in-line skates, and skateboards: all of you, die! You friggin’ ride on the sidewalks, against traffic, or jump into traffic with impunity. And besides, it’s difficult for a bus to pick up speed with a bicycle and rider caught up under its wheels.

Now the county buses. See, in Manhattan, I can get everywhere, in a reasonable amount of time and reasonable cost, by rail. Outside the city it’s theoretically possible to do the same. Since I don’t have a car and I’m damn tired of begging rides from people, something I’ve done way too much of in my lifetime, I want to make the fullest use of the local public transportation system. In order to visit my pals who live, by car, about forty minutes north of me, I, again, theoretically, could utilize public transportation.

Here’s how: Take a bus from near my house in Melbourne to the Eau Gallie Transit Center, ten miles north. (I’ve replaced the names with Brevard County, Florida locations for relevance; Brevard doesn’t have even something this good -the best is a $15 cab ride from Melbourne Airport). At the Eau Gallie Transit Center, headquarters of the I-95 Rail line (I’m nearer the Indian River Rail line), I get transfered to an upstate, which would take me to Titusville, forty miles north. And, amazingly, let me off right in front of my friend’s house! On paper, it couldn’t get any more perfect! But…

But, there it ends. The Titusville run is once an hour, and only goes to Titusville every other hour (the alternating hours it only goes as far as Cocoa Beach). And the schedule I had in my hand was old – even though I’d gotten it the day before… So there’s this nice two-hour wait in front of me. And then, looking at the Titusville line’s route map, it’s a local and takes two and a half hours to get me to Titusville. Dude, I could bike it faster – if they’d put in bike lanes! What’s the point? Screw that noise, I’ll rent someone’s car.

The last time I tried getting up there, I tried another paper-perfect route. All I had to do was take the train from Melbourne to Cocoa (twenty miles) and transfer to a bus that would, again, drop me off right in front of my friend’s house! And this bus time, the bus ride was a mere twenty minutes from Cocoa! Of course, I found out, arriving in Cocoa, that that particular bus line only ran up to six PM. No problem, I’d gotten to Cocoa at quarter to six (pretty smart, eh?). Oh, yeah, Dave? Well, it’s Saturday, and this bus line only runs Monday through Friday!

I pondered the significance of the events during the twenty-dollar cab ride over to Rick’s house to watch the Super Bowl… And I had more time to think on the way back, after I’d bummed a ride home from someone I didn’t really know and who took a bit too much coercing to finally get his ass out of the place. Dude, it was midnight, wasn’t it? I have to work on Monday!

Why is it like this? Why is it so damned frustrating to use a system that really could be perfect?! The roads are there, the rails are there, there are people like me who want to use the system, why the heck don’t they let it work like it’s supposed to? Man, it’s more worthwhile to rent a damn car than to spend worthless hours waiting for busses! Forget it, I’ll stay at home. (Which is what They want, anyway.)

I’ve learned that roadways, railways, waterways, and even skyways should be precise networks efficiently designed to carry people and “things” from one place to the next. Some are. Most, however, leave much to be desired in that (I speak from personal experience) the planning-to-operation processes rarely, if ever, comprise the vision of the designer, but represent a project approved by a committee; i.e., a compromise. So that’s why the various bus lines go here instead of there. That’s why some run at these hours, some run at those. Well-oiled machine? Yeah, lubricated with sandpaper.

So, even though the marvelous county bus system has something for everyone, it simply can’t work. Why? Probably because someone thought that the “economics” weren’t right; it’s just too expensive to run certain lines on the weekends or later at night. There aren’t enough people to make it economical. Yeah? What about all those damned drunk drivers out there? Or people who don’t want to pollute the environment, driving themselves across town?

You know, I think the fantasy I started this essay off with might have passed for possibility even as late as 1970. Hey, twenty-nine years is a long time, no? It’s a hell of a long time, frankly. You’d think by “now” there’d be some serious changes in how to get here from there, right? Shit, you can hardly friggin’ walk somewhere without being blocked by traffic lights, too many slow jerkoffs, bikes on the sidewalk… Take a bus, they’re late. Try the subway, yeah, but nothing goes that far. Fuck! Here’s my $20, Mr. Cabdriver, just get me home!

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