Don’t Make Eye Contact. Don’t Touch Anything.

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With a new year, new changes and a new job now comes a new commute.

This is me, I am now a commuter.

To be honest, I tried driving the thirty-five miles each way for two whole days, then I tapped out. It was two days too many.

Driving that many hours in that kind of traffic is not good for the already tenuous grasp I have on my sanity.

So I escaped the confines of my car and leapt into the tired, dingy but quite serviceable arms of the Bay Area Rapid Transit, also known as BART, our local subway system.

In the past when I commuted regularly, I rode the CalTrain (commuter rail as opposed to a subway), and I always really enjoyed it. Up until last week, I had only been on BART for a few random trips here and there, but now I’m doing the everyday BART trip and then catching a shuttle to the office.

I have to say, it works really well. BART is nowhere near as elegant as London’s Tube or as clean as Singapore’s MRT or as wide reaching as the subway in New York, but it does the job (assuming it goes where you need it) and mostly does it well.

I’m always amused when riding public transit because there is this whole attitude that you have to adopt. We all wear a game face that is a cross between casual nonchalance and aggressive apathy, with enough of a snarl so people will leave you alone.

You aren’t supposed to look around. You aren’t supposed to lollygag. You aren’t supposed to look people in the eye and goodness knows you don’t start up a conversation.

Even if you are a flat out rookie, you gotta look like you have done this so many times you don’t give a rip. I don’t know why this is, but it just is. This goes for all subways not just BART.

Also, public transit is always the best way to find any city’s collection of lost, offbeat and troubled people.

Friday there was a guy talking to himself and loudly groaning. He was sitting across from a guy who during the course of the journey put on eight shirts, two hoodies, then a polar fleece and topped it with a parka and a huge knit hat. It’s cold here recently but this guy was preparing to hunt penguins.

Mostly it’s just a whole lot of people trying to get somewhere. Students, elderly, professionals, blue collar, rich, poor, moms, dads, kids. Just about every make and model of person out there steps on the BART train headed somewhere.

During the course of my ride I start on the peninsula, traverse San Francisco, and end up in the East Bay. On that hour ride it is like the Bay Area has been neatly sliced in half and I can clearly see all of the different kinds people who make up this crazy place.

A one-hour BART ride is a true representation of both the best and the worst of the almost seven million people who live here and call the Bay Area home.

And I’m one of them. I’m that sort of hayseed looking girl who is eagerly looking at everyone’s faces trying to read their stories while looking like I’m not looking at all. I’m the one laughing inappropriately and feeling stressed trying to fit in at my new gig.

Not to paraphrase the Beatles or anything but…

When I ride the BART train, I am you and you are me and we are all together.







Image from LA Times.



You Think Apple Maps Are Bad?

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“My current home address is 200 meters north of the Pizza Hut then 400 meters west…” says San José Mayor Johnny Araya

As I’ve documented here on this little ol’ blog, in May of this year I spent a week of my life in San José, Costa Rica.

Having been reared in New Mexico, the Land of Mañana, I am not unfamiliar with the more laid back ways of Latin culture.

But even to me, Costa Rica was a bit of an eye opener.

People walk down the center of major roads and cars accommodate this.

Buses stop on the freeway to pick up passengers who wait between two lines painted on a guard rail. The bus drivers shout “¡andele!” as it’s not really a stop as much as a fast roll (I rode the bus in San José, an experience not soon forgotten).

If a dog happens to trot out into a major road everyone laughs and says, “¡Ay, perro!” as they stop and wait for the hound to find it’s way through. (Costa Rican’s LOOOOVE their dogs)

And directions? Forget about it. After growing up in Albuquerque with well marked roads laid out on a grid, I always carp about California’s lackadaisical approach to marking roads and exits.

Compared to Costa Rica, California looks perfectly well organized. The roads in CR go all over the place and everyone just seems to know how to get there. Thank the god (my Costa Rican employee’s favorite expression) that my Tico minion drove me everywhere because I would have been utterly lost.

And let me tell you…Google maps don’t know nuthin’ about how to navigate San José.

So this evening while winding down with a nice glass of red, I smiled when I saw this headline:

San José, Costa Rica to install its first street signs

However, it wasn’t the headline that made me grin. It was this quote from the article:

“I don’t think it’s going to work”, 29-year-old taxi driver Manuel Perez said. “If a tourist tells me to take him to a hotel in whatever street, I’m going to say ‘you’re speaking to me in Chinese,’ because I don’t know where that is. I need a landmark.”


That is so the essence of my beautiful, magical, insane as the day is long but also kind as the day is long Ticos.

By the way, the cab drivers in CR are THE BEST. The running dialog I’d get during rides was priceless. You can’t buy that kind of entertainment.



These were my most favorite road signs in Costa Rica. They mean “give way” and were posted everywhere, on every corner and road and driveway. No one ceda’s the paso to ANYONE. These signs might as well say, “have a nice day” for all the good they do.




Image from Wikipedia and used under Creative Commons.




It’s All So Wonky

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I’ve now been twelve days in Britain. I’ve sorted out shuttle buses, trains, the grocery store, a local pub and even the post office.

Basically, I’m living here. I have a job, I have an income and I have friends. Hell, my hotel room is about the same size as my first apartment out of college.

What I’m saying is, I got this. I’m even getting better at recognizing and correctly using British money.

I’m walking with a bit more of a swagger. I’m a local. I’m confident enough that people have been asking me for directions and “is this the bus that goes to the technology park?”

A few days ago I did a quick Yelp search and found a little place that gets good reviews. It’s called Pret a Manager and it reminds me a bit of Panera. It’s tasty sandwiches and soups and really excellent coffee.

So took a walk and easily found it. Once there, I got some mushroom soup and a tuna melt and a decaf latte. Yay! It looked delicious.

Then I went to grab some sweetener to add to my latte. I was presented with these two choices:





The white one is sugar and the yellow one is Splenda. Right?

So I grabbed three Splenda (the packets looked small) and I dumped them into my coffee and stirred.

Only the Splenda felt gritty. Like large granules.

Look a little closer.




Whoops.

Why are the packets reversed in this country? Why isn’t the twenty pence coin larger than the ten pence? Why do all the exit signs look like someone running to a rectangle and WHY don’t toilets flush right?

The nice guy working behind the till at Pret a Manger said to me, “I can’t quite place your accent. Where are you from?”

“America,” I said, “Can’t you tell?”

He laughed and said “oh yes, you’re the people who put salt in your coffee.”

Yeah.

I kinda sorta don’t really got this. But I’m going to act like I do.

Fake it until you make it. It’s going to be my new life philosophy.



Photos Copyright 2012, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons in the far right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone4s and the Camera+ app.



What Does it Mean?

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While wandering the streets and pathways in another country, I always keep my eyes out for street signs.

Sometimes simple graphic depictions say things words cannot.

But this one has me stumped.





No blue dots?

No blues?

No blue color a’tall?

No blue marbles?

No bluing in my laundry?

No blue skying (for those marketing types)?

What?! What do the Brits got against the color blue?

Gah!

I showed this to The Good Man who is seriously a lot smarter than me and he told me it means no stopping (this sign is near a roadway).

How in the utter hell am I supposed to get no stopping from a blue dot with a red slash through it?

Now that I know what it is supposed to mean, this damn sign torments me.

I have to see it every day. It’s located on the path that leads to the bus stop where I catch a public shuttle bus. Every morning and evening I commute with the locals on the bus.

It’s a popular route and most of the time I can’t get a seat, so I stand and hang on to a hand strap.

This isn’t much of a problem, the trip only takes about fifteen minutes.

However.

These traffic roundabouts that British civil engineers seem to liberally scatter about make standing on a bus pretty challenging.

I am a rather sturdy girl but even I am not immune to powerful centrifugal forces. The bus drivers hit the multitude of roundabouts at considerable speed.

On the plus side, I’m building muscles in my upper body as I cling to the hand strap for dear life. My feet keep leaving the ground like Gilligan in a hurricane.

Whoooooaaaa!

Thus ends today’s “things that are weird about England” lecture.

I hope we’ve all learned something.



Photo Copyright 2012, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license found in the right column of this page. Photo taken with an iPhone4s and the Camera+ app.