One of the advantages of being a modern-day commuter is the wide array of communication choices. Twitter, my Trimet Disaster Warning system of choice, lit up like a Christmas tree the other night. It started out innocuously enough, some bits and pieces about “system slowing,” and soon brewed itself into a tsunami of frantic tweets. The sky was falling, or at least stuck coming out of the tunnel.
The really strange thing about a transit meltdown is that the people on the impacted train may be impacted the least. They’re the only ones who actually, truly KNOW what’s going on. Speculation reigns up and down the mojo wire for everyone else. My friend @mikerigsby tweeted me that I might be taking a shuttle bus. Others chimed in. I searched and found that a train had died. We were DOOMED.
The operator, voice calm, came on the PA. “There’s a little bit of slowdown ahead,” he intoned. “We’ll be on our way soon.” In my mind, I jumped up in the aisle, like William Shatner in that classic Twilight Zone episode with the gremlin on the airplane wing. “HE’S LYING! THERE’S A STUCK TRAIN! WE’RE GOING TO DIE, OR AT LEAST HAVE TO TAKE A FUCKING SHUTTLE BUS!”
I stayed seated. I’d been through this before. A particular relaxed daze crept into my being. I began to realize that this was the first time I’d been on the verge of a serious delay without much chance of consequence. I’d be home a little late, which would suck. But there was no 7th grade band concert, no child waiting cold at a bus stop somewhere. This was me, my music, and some confused and tired fellow commuters. Like facing the tsunami from higher ground, this was simply time to ride it out and say a little prayer to the universe for my seatmates.
Twitter was raging. People were angry. How dare TriMet allow one of their trains to stop! They need to tell us more! Everything is horrible!
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, albeit not to a trainload of pissed off people – being a transit rider either inspires a certain sense of Zen acceptance, or one rides angry all the time. And really, what’s the use of that? I could no sooner move that train than I could levitate ours past it. There was nothing to do. At that moment, sitting in that seat, music going, book in hand, I estimated that I had it better than at least 75% of the population of our big complicated planet. I was well fed. I was journeying home to my beautiful, loving girlfriend and a house full of healthy children. The magnitude of my problem was insignificant.
There was a prediction that the train would be stuck for two hours, and we’d be taking shuttle buses. Though my experience with shuttle buses has not been good, and I’d sooner walk, I figured they’d tell us if it came to that. I’d make it home, and along the way would exchange a few of those “hey, how about THIS shit?” glances with the other riders. Transit misery loves company, which is partly why there’s such a big community of us who bitch and moan via social networks during our commute.
Twitter told me the tracks had been cleared. I tweeted out a little thank you to the maintenance staff, who must have been busting their asses to get us home.
Some day, in some alternate universe, TriMet will realize that they could assuage a lot of the fear and anger by simply being more forthcoming and prompt about what’s going on out there on the tracks and the streets. I can hope that this will happen in my lifetime. But, until then, I’ll be okay. And if I’m not, my Twitter followers will damn well know it.