Life in the Slow Lane

Life in the Slow Lane

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

An Unsanitary Truth

The ever lovely Miss Kula posted on her blog her conflict over taking public transit to work with upcoming construction delays versus driving to work and paying hefty parking fees. I related very much to her post as I go through some serious car guilt at times. Yes, only at times. For instance after watching ‘An Inconvenient Truth' or when I have to fill up my gas tank with very pricy Canadian gas (as of today priced at $3.82 USD per gallon). However when I am driving in my sweet heated car with tunes blasting and passing all the buses stopping to pick up the masses I don’t feel that bad at all. Not one little bit. Especially when it is pouring rain out like it does the majority of the time in Vancouver. We have a little term used to describe public transit – Loser Cruiser.

I didn’t make that up. Don’t kill the messenger!

I didn’t actually own a car until I was 22 years old and took the bus to and from high school and college as well as to my crappy retail job and to the bars on the weekends. I didn’t have any friends with cars so I didn’t get to carpool with them either. I’ve certainly served my time on transit.

This sucked. My city has an appallingly bad public transportation infrastructure for its size. There is rapid transit (like a subway) that goes to and through various suburbs but that is very limited and rarely does it comprise your whole journey. Almost everybody needs to get a bus to the Skytrain station (yes, that is the suck-ass name of it) and a bus from the closest stop to their final destination. And because busses are lame you probably have a long walk in there as well. Getting pretty much anywhere is a long and convoluted ordeal. And you are almost guaranteed to be late.

Working in the film industry doesn’t lend itself to using mass transit with early call times, late finishing times, strange out of the way locations and the fact that it is part of the job to travel with a huge amount of stuff. On top of that it may be in your job description to run errands and the bus just won’t cut it. It is wasteful but that is the type of work it is. Can’t be helped. So I enjoyed the luxury of driving to and from work and was thankful not to have to wait for busses after a 16 hour work day.

I live right in the city core so I can walk to do most of my everyday errands and only drive when I have to go a significant distance which is not very often these days. But with all this extra attention on greenhouse gasses I’ve thought about whether I would give up my car if I could take public transport to a job.

Sadly, I probably would not. It is not that I don’t want to but it is that I have been so severely traumatized by many terrible incidents on public transit that I plead Post Traumatic Transit Stress Disorder.


Let me tell you a few stories:

-I’ve been on a bus where somebody puked copiously right in front of me.

-Have you ever sat next to a person who was whispering to himself that he shouldn’t hurt you? I have.

-Once I was on a bus and a guy pulled a knife on the bus driver. Fortunately a police car was driving right by and the bus driver honked and the guy ran off.

-I’ve been totally sexually harassed on the bus both verbally (several times) and physically (more than once) with a guy jamming his hand up under my skirt.

-I can also tell you how scary it is when a guy follows you off the bus and tails you to your destination because that has happened to me quite a few times.

-There is also a little phenomenon that a lot of us ladies are familiar with and that is when you sit in the aisle seat and pervy guys who are standing next to your seat use the oh-so convenient jolting of the bus to grind their pelvis into your shoulder. GROOOOOOSSSSS!

-I was taking the bus out of a very affluent suburb when a police car pulled the bus over. A detective wearing a rumpled trench coat walked on the bus and snapped a pair of handcuffs on this guy sitting across from me and then hauled him off.

-Not to mention the B.O. and other nasty smells. And the disgusting steamy germs on every surface. *vomit* I HATE being surrounded by sneezing and hacking people. I feel like I need a peroxide bath after every trip.

There is one particular public transit instance that I don’t like to talk about that really sealed my future as a unrepentant smog belching car driver and that is when I was peed on while riding the bus. Yes, a guy urinated on me.

When I used to take the bus to high school I had to go through a very dodgy neighbourhood. I got fairly immune to the grubby state of people I sat next to because if one got picky about such things one would never get on the bus in the first place. EVER!! So I didn’t really pay much attention to the fact that the guy sitting next to me was looking pretty rough. In fact he looked like somebody had kicked the shit out of him. As I said, not an unusual happening in this neighbourhood. You know, covered in bruises and small cuts stitched with that nasty black thread. I also noticed this guy was wearing a hospital bracelet but sat next to him anyway because I was so used to it by then. Well, I got very unused to it when the guy’s bladder let lose and he very quietly and peacefully peed his pants. And yes, there was overflow which soaked the side of my pant leg. I don’t think I had ever moved so fast in my life as I did jumping up from that seat. He looked up at me and quietly said, “Ooops.” He sat in his own piss for another couple stops and then casually walked off the bus leaving me to silently freak THE FUCK OUT!!!

I had to transfer onto another bus to get home and everybody was looking at my lovely wet spot as well as judgmentally sniffing the air. It was HORRIBLE.

At that moment I vowed that as soon as I could afford a car I would never ride the bus again and once I got my car I have, for the most part, stayed true to my vow.

So that is my dilemma. What would you do in my position?


Jessica said...

Buses suck. Once while I lived in Seattle I waited at a bus stop downtown in the early evening. It was a covered bus stop, and I was by myself, at first. I stepped towards the curb and after a few minutes turned around to find a growing number of homeless people standing behind me,like a little party. This was not really a problem for me until they started to get louder and rowdier, and even then it was still not really a problem until one of them started scream, "There are corpses in the garden! There are corpses in the garden!" This is my most vivid memory of public transportation. Although I've definitely experienced much of what you describe. It's unfortunate that we have to choose between our sense of safety and public transportation, which in theory I am all for, if not in practice.

alan said...

I haven't ridden one since my service days in San Diego; it doesn't sound like things have improved any!

Keep your car; walk when you can; when newer technology becomes available, upgrade your car. You'll do more for the environment that way than most!

I was going to write something in response to your missives of the last few days as well, but my ass is dragging this week! I'll just say, I don't consult crystals about my health!

I do take Saw Palmetto as it seems to help with certain "guy things" and Echinacea when I'm fighting a cold; I believe firmly in vitamins as I know I don't eat right.

Thinking of you...


Angelove said...

I too take a car, and only a car since I could afford one. Until someone has to rely on public transit, I don't think they should make comments or judge people who take cars...

Anonymous said...

You've done your time. Drive an economy car, consolidate errands, and walk as much as is practical. Al Gore doesn't take the bus OR drive a small car.

Circe said...

If anyone deserves the privilege of driving a car to their destinations, it is YOU. You've done your time. Free pass from here on out. No feeling guilty. Period.

Anonymous said...

Just because you have a car doesn't mean you can't cut your greenhouse gas footprint. Although it would be the best route to go, it just isn't feasible for all of us. I live in Cleveland where public transport is horrible as well. We have a "Rapid" too and it sounds like it has the exact same issues as yours does. I guess it is better than nothing.
Have you installed compact florescent bulbs in your house? That can make a difference, plus it is so easy and quick. What about charging your cellphone in the car instead of in the house? Unplug everything that is sucking power when you aren't using it- like a microwave or extra TV.Just do the best you can. That should take the guilt off.

lawyerchik said...

Should you give up your car if you can? No.

For one thing, you can drive a car that makes less of an impact than a gas-guzzling SUV. I drive a Honda Civic, and when it finally kicks the bucket, I will probably turn around and buy another one.

For another thing, there are too many people who don't seem to recognize that there are other humans in their little worlds.

Aside from those considerations, though, having a car means having options. You can go anywhere you want anytime you want for as long as you want - AND you can take Yoshi with you, which you can't do on public transport.

That's just my $0.02..... :)

lazylightning said...

I feel the SAME WAY. I never had to ride it as a child, but I did try to do my environmental part while living in Oregon. It was so GROSS. I don't like getting where I'm going, and wondering 1)whether I've contracted lice and 2) how homeless I smell. I always had concerns about the sexual and violence issues you've described, though I never experienced anything like that myself. I was always afraid of being followed, or harassed and usually wouldn't ride without a male friend.

Here in ND, I don't have to feel guilty. There are very few buses, they don't go many places, and the only people who ride them are those who aren't allowed to drive.

True_Halcyon said...

I spent plenty of time on the Metro system in Seattle in the 80's and I can honestly say that I have had most of the same public transportation daymares as you cite here, plus a couple more that I won't go into...

I would not and do not have any guilt about having a small, economical car to shuttle me from place to place as necessary.

And you shouldn't either, especially if you make efforts in your daily life to do things that don't contribute so much to the sad state our environment is in.

Anonymous said...

I have one word "bicycle"! You live in a city where, with a quick trip to MEC you can bike year round! Not so great for hauling costumes around town, but with a basket on the back you can do your grocery shopping, pick up bottle of wine and a video, no problem! Just wear your helmet and make sure you have a bell!

Squirl said...

I've lived most of my life in a small town that has no regular bus system. I rarely have used them when they were available.

I'd go with the car any day, especially after your experiences.

kalki said...


That is all I can say right now. Well, that and HOLY SHIT.

angela marie said...

That's easy. No way would I give up my car and endure those situations again. Please keep your car, those incidents are insane! LOL!