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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sacrificing the Subway in the Name of Freedom

The Dreaded Streetcar Posted by Hello

If you’ve been reading my posts closely, you may have realized that I do a lot of walking. Some of my friends find that hard to understand. The truth is, I despise the public transportation system. Yes, it’s fast. Maybe even efficient. But as I’ve tried to explain to my snickering friends (er, foes) it’s a dehumanizing experience that I want no part of.

The whole thing’s just grimy. There’s that odd bit of discoloured something on the worn-out red seats – should I risk sitting there? Then there’s the day’s paper, a tattered welcome mat beneath dirty shoes. And if it’s snowy or rainy, you’d best hold tight to your belongings lest they fall prey to the sopping greyish puddle on the floor of the bus. Of course, the train's not as filthy, but last I checked, there were all sorts of highly visible germs flying about after that poor fellow let go of the pole long enough to let loose a cough and a sneeze. Simultaneously. Okay, I admit I’ve never seen that happen before. But you get the point.

Crowding is another absurdity – not just during peak hours. I feel sorry for the passengers cowering before the bus driver’s dictatorial glare as he bellows at them to proceed to the back of the bus. Have pity, I say. God knows they’re already struggling to breathe. Just one day I’d like to hear someone scream, how dare you yell at us to keep moving when we’re already squished to smithereens? But we squeeze a little tighter; try to contort ourselves so we’re as tiny as possible. And as the driver jams just a few more in, I wonder if I’ll need resuscitation before it’s time to suck in my gut and press through that wall of people in a mad panic to penetrate the doors and breathe once again. I tell you, we’re losing our dignity in the name of efficiency. It’s simply indecent for a girl to see the nose hairs of the guy standing almost on top of her. That sort of thing should be illegal.

Sometimes I wonder why people haven’t rebelled. Occasionally there are feeble signs of protest: the slightly deranged fellow who made himself comfortable in the middle of the road, indifferent to a whole carload of mindless zombees waiting anxiously for the bus to move. I watched with secret glee as the driver honked and honked in helplessness. But it wasn’t long before the police officers came to arrest creativity. And then there are the colourful waves and slashes of graffiti adorning the inner sanctum of the subway for but a moment before the plain grey walls are painted over yet again. What will it take, I wonder? Who will lead us all to freedom?

But the artificiality – that I think is most terrifying. Not only are human beings crammed into tiny boxes that move in unison, but they’re also staring past each other, faces blank and emotionless. Eyes sliding away upon contact. There’s something oddly disconcerting about pretending others don’t exist when they’re sitting beside and even in front of you. And yet it’s common practice - the accepted norm - on what we title “The Better Way”.

Yes, I know it’s a mass system. And I know the mantra is to get as many people where they want to go as fast as can be. But somehow I always feel like a lowly cockroach on the streetcar. Not the ones that fly. Those ones have power. But the little ones that seep out of tiny cracks and scurry around as fast as they can, running mindlessly to their next destination. The ones that thrive in dirty crowded spaces. And the ones that are killed with a simple well-placed swat. We don’t even care enough to hold funerals for our cockroaches.

I vowed long time ago not to cheapen myself in that way; not to pay for service that demeans me. I made a promise to myself: I would exterminate the cockroach within. And so I walk whenever I can. This way I can think. I can be free. And I can be a human being.


  • At 2/27/2005 04:44:00 p.m., Blogger Yusuf Smith said…

    Salaams, it's all very well if your city is small or you live near the centre of it. There's no way I could walk all the way to the centre of London, it's 12 miles away. And there's the walk at the end of the train journey - across the Thames at Hungerford Bridge (between Waterloo and Charing Cross). Try it next time you're here insha Allah.

    Then again, the seats are often disgusting - in London, the Jubilee Line is the worst, where almost every seat has at least one bit of chewing gum on it. To say nothing of the overcrowding and the lousy drivers. But you couldn't travel round a city this size without transport of some sort.

  • At 2/27/2005 05:57:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…


    This is not meant to be a practical piece;) Rather, it's a lament about the dehumanizing aspects of a mass public transit system.

    Having said that, you're absolutely right, living in the city makes walking much easier.
    But given the unescapable reality of public transportation, there's a real urgency to find creative solutions that will ensure a more worthwhile experience, fit for human beings.

  • At 3/02/2005 03:01:00 p.m., Blogger cncz said…

    Sorry about the multi posting earlier, my computer was bugging out. Paris is nasty too and it's the reason i don't wear jilbab- i would rather wear kameez and not have dog poo najas all over the bottom of my jilbab thank you very much. I have to take the train into town, but once I do that, I walk as much as possible.
    You should move to Switzerland, it's pristine!


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