On a trip to England a few years back, Husband and I made sure to visit the London Underground for a ride on the tubes. Their security was already ahead of ours, as evidenced by the absence of trash receptacles, and Husband walked a candy wrapper all around the terminal to no avail. Finally, he approached a shop owner and asked why there were no garbage bins. “Bombs,” the shopkeeper replied, extending his hand toward Husband like you would for a child’s chewing gum in the back seat of your car.
Shortly after our return to the States, three bombs were detonated in London’s Underground by British Islamic extremists to denounce the country’s involvement in the Iraq war. Fifty-two commuters were killed along with the four suicide bombers and 700 others were injured. On my latest pass through Penn Station, I noticed that our trash bins are gone now, too.
It would take a lot to diminish my romance with train travel, although the rustic Chicago to Seattle trek I wrote about in You Can Almost See Russia took a step in that direction. Even so, Husband and I always try to visit a city’s transit system on our trips, and we’ve covered quite a few from Boston to Rome. We were ejected in elegant but agitated Italian we couldn’t understand when it was discovered we were on a first class car with second class tickets. I’ve been bitch-slapped by some uniformed individuals in my time, but never with so much panache as in Rome.
On a recent trip home from the city after visiting Daughter, I boarded what I thought was the right train, but had my doubts once the automated conductor-voice came over the speaker as we were leaving the station.
ROBOCONDUCTOR: This is the train to East Bumfuck. The next stop will be Neuterville.
The live-action conductor came on the speaker immediately afterward with this statement:
REALCONDUCTOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re having a problem with the recorded announcements. This is the train to WEST Bumfuck. You have my word on it.
A few moments later:
ROBOCONDUCTOR: This is the train to East Bumfuck. The next stop is Port Doody. Please take all of your belongings as you exit the train, and remember to watch the gap between the train and the platform. The final stop on this train will be East Bumfuck.
And once again, the live voice assured us we were on the right train.
After the fifth time the Roboconductor spoke, a very weary motorman came on the speaker and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. This is the train to West Bumfuck.”
I had forgotten all about this entertaining commute until Daughter mentioned on the phone last night that in the middle of her subway ride home, a voice came over the speaker and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not throw yourselves at the closing doors.” Sound advice no matter who delivers it.
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