June 27, 2012

June 27, 2012

Mind the Gap

“Stand back, doors closing.”

These words turn each and every DC subway commuter into an Olympian. We may be 20 yards away, but we can easily cover that distance in the 5 seconds between that announcement and the doors’ actually closing. I know because I have done it, and entered the train car with such velocity that I knocked over an entire class of third graders. (Not true, but I WISH.)

I’ve ridden public transit in several cities on three continents, and I’ve learned that they all have things in common. (With the possible exception of Seoul, which is incredibly calm and organized. Probably more to do with the Koreans than the system itself.) People rush to catch the train. Tourists get in the way. Someone will try to ride without paying. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t understand the difference between a blue line train going to Largo and a blue line train going to Franconia-Springfield (or equivalent: think Boston’s green line).

Imagine my joy when I found “The Tube” on YouTube: a series all about London’s Underground. (Episode 1 of 6 is here.) Turns out the Brits have to deal with a lot of the same problems. They just do it SO MUCH BETTER. Example:

The situation: Someone has thrown himself in front of a train during rush hour.

DC Metro radio call: “Holy f--- man, we got a person in front of the f------ train! Call Central!”

London Underground radio call: “’Ello luv, we got a ‘one under.”

DC Metro rider response: “What do you mean, the trains aren’t running? I NEED TO GET TO WHOLE FOODS BEFORE MY HOT YOGA CLASS!”

London Underground rider response: “This reminds me of the war. Carry on.”

And so on. The series shows us what goes on behind the scenes in ticket booths, control rooms, conductor cars, the lost and found, and other places. We see them repairing rail, and fixing trains, and cleaning stations. Brilliant, and I’m not just saying that because I have an unnatural affinity for this nation not my own.

Watch. Enjoy. Appreciate. Then go back to your subway system with wistful envy.

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