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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

 
Plane, Train, or Automobile?
I have complained about this before, and I'm sure I will complain about it again. It is the common wail of those who have ever lived, or traveled, or possibly just seen movies of places abroad. The US has no concept of mass transportation.

I was supposed to take the train to Chicago. I mean, what's the point of living up here in the north where they have trains if I don't use them? I've always wanted to take a passenger train in the US. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. My mommy even said she'd pay for it, since Amtrak on the weekends to Chicago ain't that cheap.

As you may have noticed, I drove to Chicago.

Why? Because the train schedule is stupid. Sure, maybe it's just because E. Lansing isn't that big of a train stop. I can accept that. I looked at the train times from Ann Arbor, which is a bigger stop and subsequently has more trains actually stop there. Even so, there were still only about 3 trains that left on Friday *at all,* and only one that left after 3 pm, which is when I stop teaching, to say nothing of when I might conceivably have gotten home, packed, and to the station. But fine, I can deal with leaving at 6:30. It's an hour and half drive to Ann Arbor anyway. Let's move on to trying to get back home. I'm sorry, no, you can't have a reasonable train time. You can leave Chicago early in the morning or in the evening. In the evening will get you back to Ann Arbor (an hour and a half away from where you live) at 11:30pm, on a night before an early morning class. That's convenient, isn't it? Don't you want to travel with Amtrak? So much better than driving yourself, right?

Wrong. C'mon, people. Get your act together. I lived in Japan last year. All the bullet trains, local trains, subways, and even city buses have set schedules, and they run at frequent, convenient, often hourly, if not more often, intervals. My mom said after just 3 days in Japan, she, my dad, and my brother were already set to complain about the one and only time any of their trains was ever late during their two weeks, and that was only by 11 minutes.

Lest you think I'm getting all conceited about living in Japan, though, allow me to point out that one of the things I miss the most about living in Chile and South America in general is the buses. Local or long distance, either one. I have this totally useless knowledge stuck in my head now of how to navigate the bus system of Santiago, how to scan the window plaques for the names of streets near my destination, and which route numbers go near the Council Study offices and La Chile. I really, really liked be able to walk into the nearest long distance bus station, say, "I want to go to ______, when does the next bus leave?," and be given an answer usually within the next hour or two. I could travel all over the country, cheaply and conveniently, only limited by how long I felt I could sit in a bus seat. Tell me another time I'm going to be able to travel to Argentina for $25.

I think there's reason for most people who want to "travel around" decide to go do it in Europe, Asia, or South America. Accessible and convenient mass transit options are key. In the US, I'm dependent upon my car unless I live in one of a few choice large cities and don't want to leave said city. Even where there are mass transit options, they're generally so inconvenient few people bother to use them. Sure, the US is big, but come on, Russia and China reportedly have better trains than this.

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