Tuesday, September 4, 2007


I saw the 80s movie Moscow on the Hudson with my mom a long time ago. It begins with Robin Williams, playing a Russian immigrant in New York, fielding a question from another immigrant about the public transportation system. He answers, correctly and elaborately, then reflects on how far he has come since his arrival in the glorious US.

Civic eptitude is a vicious barometer. The daily streetcar/bus commute, 40 minutes each way, is quite complicated and unpredictable. Yes, shocking though it is, the buses in Germany are not quite reliable, adding some nastiness to the mix. Each day, depending on when I hit certain transit points, there is always the possibility of ending up with a less efficient route because I forgot some scheduling quirk for Sundays only. Remembering a bus has its rewards - they take 8 minutes from the university to Hauptbanhof, whereas streetcars take 14 minutes - but the buses sometimes do not appear.

Like commuting in American - that is, via car - commuting via public transpo does have its rush hours. It took me a while to work this out, but it's there. And thus, like an American commuter, you can plod through it, or try to gain some benefit and have fun through strategic traffic maneuvering. As an American commuter, I wasn't me. I was a tiny, very fast, maneuverable, lightly armored Nissan 300ZX. As a German pedestrian, I am big, slow, and ungainly, but this has its plusses.

The closest commuter to the 300ZX is kids. They do not seem to have school buses out here, and why should they? Public transpo is adequate. Hence, during morning and afternoon rush hour, the streetcars are flooded with kids and their backpacks, games, PDAs, and other exotic toys. I think I even saw one with a book. They are tiny, fast, and maneuverable, and fill the little gaps caused by adults in no time. Some are quite aggressive, and know how to work that elbow.

Last week, I was heading home around 10:30 when the streetcar stopped. I was sitting near the front, so I looked ahead, and there was a bike sitting in the middle of the track. There was no sign of any owner, and the driver stopped well ahead of time. Obvious solution: tell the passengers what's up, get out, move the bike off the tracks, and continue. Actual solution: announce something to the passengers, then call the cops. Remain, blocking traffic. A police car arrived and conferred with the driver. The cops then returned to the car, removed a camera, and took pictures. They had to discuss these with the driver. Hm. What to do next. Hm..... I know! Let's move the bike! A cop did this, and then they took more pictures. It gets sillier. The driver returned to her seat. A cop then held both his arms out in front of him, very officially, and moved them apart as if making a large breast stroke. The driver acknowledged with a half breaststroke, then activated her radio and made a log entry, and then we continued. I would mock them, but the same thing would happen in America, plus insurance companies would somehow get involved. Instead, here are ways other streetcar drivers might have handled it:

French driver: Declare a strike, and get all streetcar drivers nationwide to participate. Issue no demands and avoid negotiation until sobering up.

Commie driver: Take bike and give it to your boss, since it was state property anyway. Bike is eventually given to grandson of Commie party member, who trashes it.

Mexican driver: Free bike!!

Jewish driver: Anyone wanna buy a bike?

Duck driver: Quack loudly until police arrive. Quack as they take pictures, then quack at radio and shit on the seat. After police give signal to continue, quack instead. See? Ducks are fucking useless.

Drunk Werder Bremen fan: Abandon customers and joyride bike, singing as loudly as possible, until striking a lamppost. Fall badly and suffer severe injury, but feel no pain. When cop arrives, he burns your license and arrests you for DUI.

Venetian driver: Drown.

Texan driver: Stop streetcar to avoid hitting the throng of media and spectators gawking from their SUVs, because nobody has seen a bike or streetcar before.

Germany 75 years ago: Crush the bike, since streetcar drivers get shot if they are late. Inform the police, which interrogates everyone on the streetcar and shoots the American.


David said...

Just awesome.

Flavia said...

this is really really funny, Brendan - do collect your blog entries - maybe a book will come out of them at some point ...