Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bus and Subway, Sluggish Transit, Numb Commute

I rode buses quite a lot in Germany and Sweden, have taken trains in Europe and the U.S.A., have used the subway in San Francisco, London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, and elsewhere, have taken commuter buses in Sacramento and Seattle. I've taken the infamous Greyhound bus a few times. The collective fatigue created by such slow mass-transit seems similar everywhere, workers and professionals hauled like so much freight. The weariness of industrial society seems distilled on such conveyances, on the platforms, escalators, stairs, in the echoing passageways. Of course, there's always the possibility that something exciting might happen--but that would be bad news in almost every case.

Once I got off a lightly populated London-Underground train at a main station, and suddenly, coming toward me, were hundreds of football (soccer fans), almost all young, male, rowdy, loud, and drunk--even though they were going to, not coming from, a match. I felt like one fish swimming in the wrong direction, schools of fish swimming toward me. Except these were humans, not fish, and their bodies were preceded by their noise. Finding a wall right-quick seemed the thing to do, so I did, and the mass of amped-up humanity passed and filtered onto trains. I did get a whiff, though, of that mob-mentality that can go wrong so quickly. The more common collective affect, if not mentality, of the commuting masses is perhaps more telling about us as a species, however, than that dangerous potential quickening of mob-thought.

Frustration Station

At Frustration Station, crates
of bad karma get off-loaded,
vats of bile sit in storage, and
tickets turn to paste. Conductors
have called a halt. Engineers
weep, and tunnels belch hot wind
recirculated from the 1930s.
Departures and arrivals melt
into one immobile blob. Turnstiles
turn into chrome gun-barrels aimed
at one another. Vermin gnaw
the wires of ambition. Only the fiddler
playing for oily coins puts on
a cheery, sticky smile.
These faces, these faces, these
faces twist toward scream.

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom

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