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Prompt 152: City Public Transit
152. One of the major parts of urban life is dealing with congested streets and crowded train and bus platforms. Write a story focusing on a character trying to get from point A to point B in the city, with nothing “going his or her way.” What are the obstacles and is the destination eventually met?
There are cities where public transportation is by far the main mode of transportation for its residents. I've written about New York City, and in particular my admiration for its public transit system, here before. Over 5 million people use the NYC subway every day. I find that astonishing. I also acknowledge that it's unlikely the city would escape gridlocked traffic on its streets were there no subways, or were there a lesser/less-developed subway system. If I were forced into a corner, I'd suppose I would judge the strength and effectiveness of a large city's government to provide for its citizens based solely on it's public transportation network. I admit that local cultural norms have some bearing on this as well, but if a locality's culture doesn't venerate or at least acknowledge the value of a solid, functional public transportation system, that city deserves all the street and road problems it has.
Public transportation seems to have its problems, however. First off, humans are terrible creatures. Men, in particular, as a class are absolutely dreadful. Put a lone woman near typical men, or even one typical man, and he'll be all over her with either his hands or his eyes. Although I suspect they are rare (though admittedly I am ignorant of this and this is pure speculation), I've read and heard of horror stories about how men grope and sexually assault women on crowded public transportation. The same is reported at bus stops and subway terminals. I wonder if these sorts of statistics are recorded and whether these assaults are more frequent on vehicles or at places where people are picked up for their ride.
For me personally, the threat of physical violence is what dissuades me from using public transportation in the town where I work. I train people to earn their CDL learner's permits and whenever bus drivers come back to visit us, they share stories of what life is like on the road. Nearly every one of them who discusses being a city bus driver mentions a horror story or two about passengers who "got into it," or times when they had to pull over and open the doors because someone started a fight or even flashed a handgun, or even robbed them. Sometimes you can "de-escalate" with clever use of your customer service skills. However, for a guy like me, I lack "the complexion to make the connection," so to say. Outside the classroom, if I was approached by someone with violence on their mind I might not have the chance to win them over. In general, it's difficult to avoid violence in the city where I work, and your chance of avoiding it decreases the more you interact with the public. And when the sun goes down, all bets are off.
Were I to follow this prompt appropriately, that's likely how the story would go. Someone has to ride the bus, it shows up late. Somewhere along the route some sketchy dudes hop on, then start a beef with someone else who boards, and quickly gets off after exchanging a few heated words. A short time later, the bus is blocked-in by a few cars and a group of thugs shoots up the bus. It's just an ugly story, based loosely on a real-life event when a passenger became angry with the bus operator, and two friends of the passenger later drove up and gunned-down the operator. Nothing good about that kind of story.
When I lived in the city, I tried to circumvent this possibility by riding a bicycle year-round, and/or walking to the day job. Maybe I'll write about that sometime. There might be a prompt related to urban bicycling coming up soon enough so I'll wrap this for now. I'll summarize my point here by asserting that the health of a city can be judged by the extensiveness and effectiveness of its public transit system. If the lowliest common rider is treated decently, then it's likely a half-decent city to live in.