Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Inspiration, or Why Writing About Transit Experiences Is Important

Happy New Year, everyone! May your trains never break down and your buses always arrive on time... except for when you're running late yourself.

I was prompted (can't remember why) to think about why I love thinking about transit and writing about transit. I had an influence, one that doesn't even know the effect she had on me.

I am speaking of one Kate Lopresti.

I'm not surprised that you've never heard her name. Most people haven't. She's a Portland, Oregon gal whose claim to fame, at least in my book, is that she wrote a series of zines called The Constant Rider.

Yes, Ms. Lopresti is a transit geek like me, like us. Also like me, she prefers to write about her experiences on transit rather than do academic analysis. She writes of her journey across Canada on the train, of passing out on the light rail train The MAX, and of her experiences on her beloved TriMET bus, the 47 Hawthorne. She's a consummate observer of humanity, writing with an eye for that which we call the human drama. From people who won't pay to keep riding at the end of the Fareless Square to passengers with unfortunate food choices (sardines on a cramped train? I don't think so!) to gulping down one's produce before customs, no detail of existence misses Kate's eye.

And it's experiences like this that show the importance of transit. I'm guessing that when the experts sit down to lay out new transit, or to change routes, or to mess with the budget, they deal with numbers and cold hard facts. They don't think of the experiences they'll be removing or changing. The leisurely Metro ride turned cramped and crowded. The late night bus trip back from one's lover now impossible because the bus doesn't run that late. The missed connections with passengers, the lost conversations with drivers. Of course, new experiences will replace the old, but what do we lose?

Transit isn't just a way to get around. It's an experience, it's a part of our lives. Kate's work makes this abundantly clear.

I've owned The Constant Rider Omnibus for years now. My copy is battered and beaten, bent from making its way to the bottom of my bag, stained from spilled liquids. In other words, well loved. After I read it, I'm always inspired to write about my own experiences on transit, wishing that I had more exciting ones to share and write about. (Edit: After reading the website, I'm realizing that I have the 1st edition, which only has zines 1-3 in it. The 2nd edition has additional zines 4-7. Perhaps it's time to replace my old worn out copy with the new one with more content.)

But perhaps that's the point. It doesn't always have to be exciting. Sometimes it's just the grateful look a mother with a little one gives you when you give up your seat so that her and her child may sit. Sometimes it's a bus driver who's unusually pleasant after a long day or who lets you on the bus, despite the fact you're 10 cents short on fare.

Thank you, Kate, for reminding us of the important things in life. Thank you, Kate, for sharing your slice of the world of transit. And thank you, Ms. Kate Lopresti, for inspiring me to write about my transit experiences.

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At 11:06 PM, Blogger Adron said...

That looks pretty interesting. I must correct one part though, that Hawthorne Bus in Portland, OR is the #14, not the #47. :)

Great blog.

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