Saturday, November 12, 2011

Where The Gin Is Cold (And The Piano Hot).

(I took this picture with a point and shoot. Quite pleased. Quite!)

I just returned from a short trip to Chicago to visit a friend. It was wonderful in so many ways (Garrett's Popcorn - I don't like popcorn too much normally but the "Chicago Mix", a seemingly odd combo of cheesy popcorn and caramel corn was addictive) and not so wonderful in others (the cab drivers). Destiny cursed us with the strangest assortment of drivers I have ever seen - all surly and hellbent on breaking every traffic law known to man.

I am a person that talks too much. Maybe that was the problem. In other cabs around the world, however, this has made for interesting conversations. I love inquiring the drivers about their home countries (always asking them to teach me an insult or two in their language). I just like people, and am fascinated by their life experiences. The ride usually involves a lot of laughter (except in the case of a Chinese driver we had in Sydney - there were some sad stories there). On holiday with the kids in Mexico, my husband consistently shoved me forward, since my Spanish is better than his. I'd always end up in the front seat, looking at pictures of new babies on cell phones, asking if tourists were cheap bastards, trying to figure out where we could eat without being subjected to fluorescent mixed drinks served in foot-high beakers. These rides are always wonderful experiences that culminate in cries of "take care, wonderful to meet you!", a window into the lives of immigrants making lives in places sometimes very foreign to them, and overtipping. (I can't help myself!)

I love public transport in general. I live in a place where it is very inefficient to take the limited public transportation options, making me feel guilty every time I get into my gas-guzzling vehicle. I am always excited when I go to a place where this isn't true. Every major city I have been to excels at some aspect of moving large mobs of people around. Let's discuss!

MOST EFFICIENT PUBLIC TRANSPORT: This is a tie between the London Underground and NYC's subway system. So many stops! So many lines! I could ride them both all day! Although, truth be told, I do prefer to Mind The Gap.

CLEANEST SUBWAY SYSTEM: This is a tie. Only in New York have I been on a truly disgusting subway car, but the cleanest award goes to the Tunnelbana in Stockholm and Le Métro de Montréal. The cities themselves were surprisingly tidy as well. 

SUBWAY SYSTEM THAT SCREAMS "TAKE A VESPA INSTEAD": Barecelona's metro. It doesn't have a lot of lines, and they don't seem to stop anywhere near where you want to go. Maybe that's why everyone is so thin there....

COOLEST PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM: Sydney. Their trains stink (there is a sign that says when the next train is coming, but the time keeps changing. We were stuck in some outlying suburb forever and I swear I could hear the kookaburras singing in the old gum tree as we waited. And waited. And waited...) But OH, to take a ferry across Sydney Harbor, passing the Opera House, wondering if you fell off, how long it would take for a shark to find you....priceless! Stockholm may have ferries as well, if I recall, being that they are an archipelago and all. Don't worry, only about 1,000 of those over 20,000 islands are populated, so it's not as many stops on the line as you think...

MOST COMFY TAXI SERVICE: Allo Taxi in Beirut. It is a fleet of new, air-conditioned vans that will take you anywhere in style and comfort - even Syria! Try to avoid regular "service" cars, please. PLEASE. Once I was in a private taxi (where you pay for the whole car; it was myself and my family) going to Syria to visit other family and rode in a car that that had a hole in the floorboard the size of a baby's head. It took extra vigilance to make sure not to place anything on the floorboards by accident - especially your foot, which would be sheared off immediately.

Anyway, it was a great trip, except we went to a show, and I got in trouble.

To make a long story short, I was recording a particular song with my cell phone (LIKE EVERYONE ELSE) and was accosted by a security guard, who actually grabbed at it and screamed at me! Hmph! I didn't erase the video, but it sounds terrible. It was an amazing show, but it was general admission, and it made me realize I was too old to be in a venue that didn't have cushy seats and toilets that function properly. Also, my knees are now killing me from standing the whole time!

On another note, thanks to Suze over at Girl Wizard and Analog Breakfast (whom you all already know!) I have to answer this wondrous quiz! And I promised to do so, so here I go.

1. If you could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be?
Algiers. 1935. The Oasis of Thieves. I can't say more.

2. If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

I would have worked harder as an undergrad so I could go on to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I don't have a lot of regrets, but that is a huge one.

3. What movie/T.V. character do you most resemble in personality?

It's going to have to be a cross between Fox Mulder, Eeyore, and Sofia Vergara in Modern Family.

4. If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would you choose?

That's a bit extreme, so I will change it to "if I could allow one person to be whisked off by aliens". It's a toss-up between The Kardashians (come on, they count as one person!). Or any of the Housewives. Or the Jersey Shore cast. Ew. Ew. Ew. If those aliens are stupid enough to take them, they can keep them! And not bring them back! (To any other life forms reading this: I didn't actually say you were stupid.  You are obviously really smart if you can make it to Earth and then go back home. Just saying.)

5. Name one habit you want to change in yourself.

Irrational Exuberance.

6. Why do you blog?

The same reason teens go to after-school programs. To stay out of trouble!

The last question was who do I want to send this meme to, and the answer is anyone who wants to answer it. I don't want you guys to feel obligated, but I would LOVE to read your answers.


  1. Hello Maggie:
    How interesting to read this perspective of various public transport systems. On the London Underground, we beg to disagree. These days, or so it seems to us, it is crowded, poorly ventilated, unreliable, expensive and anonymous. In addition there is always, in the back of the mind, a slight sense of fear.

    In Budapest the Metro continues to rely on exceedingly old Russian trains but is, for that, totally efficient - as is most of the public transport system.

    We agree one can learn so much from taxi drivers.

  2. That was fun - some places I recognised and some were new. I'd love to ride the harbour ferry in Sydney.
    I was in Ottawa last week and found myself in a one taxi after another - such a variety of music head wear and accents. Loved it!

  3. That first photo is amazing, Maggie!

    'To make a long story short, I was recording a particular song with my cell phone (LIKE EVERYONE ELSE) and was accosted by a security guard, who actually grabbed at it and screamed at me!'


    Fox Mulder? I love that and never would have guessed-- well, except for your confession the other night as I imagine you quite share that in common with him.


    Superb post, gorgeous. You irrationally exuberant so-and-so, you.

  4. Irrational Exuberance.
    If you don't want it, can I have it?

    I feel like Anna Quindlen could have written this blog entry. ~Mary

  5. What a great photo for a point and shoot.
    The only transit systems I've ridden are San Francisco and NYC. SF BART is not bad at all for mass transit.
    I always enjoy talking to the "regular" people in strange places also. Oh, actually anywhere, like even here.

  6. Love your ratings!

    Ah, Chicago--that's my hometown, and fine it is. As for public transportation, up here, pretty much nonexistent. I'm always mighty pleased to get down to NYC and let the subway do the driving (or the bus). It seems so wrong to have to get in a car, as I do up here, even to get somewhere sensible to jog! Not to mention the PO and bank and everything else. Now, as for cabbies, I think somehow the culture has changed. In the past few years, again in NYC, I've had cabbies who either rattle on to their earpiece or rattle on to me every complaint they have in the world. And the driving, oy! I'd rather take the subway, the bus, or walk.

  7. I love Chicago. I am not the type of girls that usually likes cities. But Chicago is one of those places that I really enjoy. Perhaps that fact that it is close to a huge body of water helps me delude myself that it is close to the sea.

  8. Great photo Maggie. Love this post and your views on public transport around the globe. The worst form of public transport has to be the bus service in Cardiff, my home town. We call it the "loser cruiser" as it seems to attract life's seedier patrons. Haven't seen Housewives of NJ but have seen New York's. If find it disgustingly addictive, can't help myself, am almost obsessive about it!
    Have a good week!

  9. Irrational exuberance is a fantastic habit to have. Exuberate all you want, life is so much more entertaining when you get excited over the little things.

  10. that was a long way to go for a short trip!

    sounds like you've been around the world to visit all those subway systems - you should write a book!

    i love your list, especially number 4 - agreed. pretty hard to choose between the kardashians and the jersey shore cast on that one ;-)

  11. Dear Maggie,

    I love coming to your blog because I never know what you're going to talk about and it's always an entertaining surprise. So I guess today we're talking about public transportation.

    When you mentioned how much you talk to cab drivers it made me think of two things: "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" and the Cash Cab :-) ! I bet you would be a good contestant!

    I also talk to cab drivers in my country, but none of them has ever pulled out photos of their children, ha ha! I have a funny cab story. When I was 24, I went to Europe with my girlfriend. We lost our eurailpasses in Barcelona and were overcharged for a few things here and there. At that point, we solemnly swore we wouldn't let ANYONE else rip us off! When we got to Portugal, a cab driver tried to charge us for each suitcase. Outraged as we were, we got in a HUGE argument with him in a (bad) mixture of Spanish, English and a few Portuguese words. The man fought back with all his might and we just paid him for what we thought was fair. Imagine our surprise/embarrassment when we got into another cab and saw a little picture of the extra charges for each suitcase and/or pet!!

    PS. I finally saw Los Abrazos Rotos/Broken Embraces. I enjoyed it. Thanks for recommending it! (I think I like Volver better, and you?)

  12. Hi M., I just returned from NY--Had a great ride in from JFK to Manhattan by a cabby who originally hailed from Pakistan. Our chatting rambled, and I mentioned my planned visit to WTC Memorial. He was so relieved that I didn't hold anything against him! Upon reaching my destination, he vigorously shook my hand and told me I had made his day. I was happy to have put him in such high spirits, but dismayed at the thought of others being so closed and probably...mean. Sigh. Anyway. Subways in NYC are so much better than they used to be. Thanks for the international transport reviews! Btw, I love your answers to the quiz! I'm still thinking ;)

  13. My youngest son likes to talk to people, and particularly to cabbies. He was shocked to discover that an awful lot of people driving cabs are over-qualified for their positions, and that its only one of several jobs they juggle in order to provide for their families. I think he needs to go to Beirut.

    Great photo, Maggie. And a great post, but that's no surprise.

  14. I agree with the Hattatts on both the Budapest and London metro systems. I'm loving it here in Budapest, and while I love London, it is way overpriced.

  15. i had similar frustrations with barcelona's transport

  16. I found your blog on LynNerdKelley's site. Terrific! I am now your newest follower.

  17. Thinking of you--I know how life can get away from you and blogging may not be the thing you need most to do. But, I want you to know we miss you! Happy New Year to you.

  18. Thank you Susan! And happy new year to you, too! I have had a very chaotic few months - thankfully, nothing major - but hopefully I will get more into the swing of things soon!! :)

  19. I'm pleased to hear nothing major, and hope all is well and will be well!