17 June 2008

Defence of the Commuter

I always hear people complaining about the rushed, no nonsense, and often unfriendly attitude of those that live and work in a big city. The 'no smile, in a rush, shove you out of the way so I can make the train' way of life that is normal to so many. Yet it is the people who are unfamiliar with the daily commute who comment. I was used to be one of those. When I travelled or visited people in cities that required me to use public transportation I would laugh at those who ran to catch a train, or get really annoyed when it came to shove onto a train. One time I even slowed down intentionally to block the suit behind me who was walking so fast, weaving in and out. I have heard 'what difference does a few minutes make?' 'there is another tube, why the rush' 'people never smile on the train, what is wrong with city people' and on and on. A few recent comments from my fellow Americans have compelled me write this ode' to the commuter, for it’s harder than people think.

I am a commuter. I ride a combo of the train and tube to work and back every day. I am not an 'oh, I like London and want to go visit' train rider...no, I am a true commuter. I have my picture travel card and my oyster topped up, I know the train times by heart and the tube lines like the back of my hand. I don’t have to stop to look at the map or wonder which I direction I need to head. I know. I know because I do it every day. It doesn’t matter if there are signal failures and I am delayed by 2 hours, or air con in the winter and heat in the summer. It doesn’t matter. I commute. Doesn’t mean I like it, but I do it. I am now a part of the elite group that are privileged enough to call themselves commuters. And I think its time we stood up and defended our way of life!

It’s hard getting up so early in the morning to stand shoulder to shoulder on a train, never quite knowing what time you will actually make it because of delays. And those few minutes do matter! Train doors shut up to 45 seconds before they leave. I can’t even count the number of times I have come to a platform only to realise I am 10 seconds too late! If only I had run faster! For those like me who have to go from one train to a tube to a train and so forth, being on time means making the connection. If I have to run like hell to make, so be it. So what you say? Catch the next train? well.... Take, for example, my commute home. After a long day in the office, I just want to go home, see Rhys, run, eat some food, relax...the normal things people want to do. So if my train isn’t exactly on time, and I don’t run, then I miss my connection and have to wait an HOUR! Yes, an hour for the next one. Sometimes it’s not that bad. I can go another way that is more regular. Then it’s only about 25 minutes between trains. But those trains are older, no ventilation and standing room only. So yes, those minutes (and running) make a difference.

My commute aside, the point is that people who rely on public transportation know the times, the routes and the wait times if they miss a train or a tube connection. Those who only take the transport occasionally and then comment on the unfriendly or hurried attitude…well try doing it everyday! It’s not that easy! Recently I had a friend who was over for a visit comment that people were so unfriendly she just couldn’t believe it. Well, I disagree. Its not that we are unfriendly, we are just tired, ready to get home, and get off the train. We don’t always want to smile. I don’t condone rudeness. You should always try and be polite. But on the other hand, I think its time people stopped giving commuters such a rough time! So I say run in those heals, carrying those briefcases, shove to get a seat, walk quickly down the tube escalator and take no regard to those who choose to criticize….be proud. It takes a special person to commute!

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