Mass Transit for Dummies


Well, here I am in another Asian country.  This time it is Thailand and I am in the city of Bangkok.  I hear it is a huge city.  But since I took the taxi from the airport directly to my hotel, and it was midnight, I really have no idea of how large the place is.  All I know is that it takes frikkin forever to get anywhere in a cab because of all the traffic.  This is a city of 12 million inhabitants.  They all are very petite.  They would have to be tiny because there is no way 12 million full size people would fit here.  Some would flake off the edge of the city like an overstuffed pie crust.

They all look alike to me, of course, because I am a round-eyed westerner.  They all have dark straight hair, are about four feet tall, and have a blank stare on their face, sorta like democrats. (Editor’s note:  Careful readers may remember that a similar comment about Democrats was used in my story about Korea.  Since I never miss an opportunity to make fun of Democrats, I will continue to re-use this timeless bit of sarcasm.)  The citizens here are very nice, but it would be helpful if they could say their “V’s”.  There is another letter of the alphabet they don’t care to use either, but I can’t remember what it is.  Anyway, I digress.

I am here on business.  I am attending a technical conference and my company has an exhibit showing off our technical expertise.  This will be three fun days of trying to explain my designs to people who are probably just being polite by listening to me.  They barely understand “Engrish” and, with my Texas accent, I can hardly speak it.  It makes for either a long difficult conversation or a short quick nod of the head and a smile which means “I don’t have a clue what was just said”.

In my attempts to be a more cosmopolitan traveler, I decided to use the Mass Transit system from my hotel to the conference center.  But I lost a few “Man Points” by asking for directions from the hotel concierge.  He gave me a street map and circled where the hotel was and where I was going.  Easy enough, even for this Intrepid Traveler.

The easy part was finding the train system.  It was the giant elevated concrete structure about a hundred yards from the hotel.  It was mid-morning and reasonably cool, but after lugging my computer case up four flights of stairs to get to the level of the trains, I already sweated enough to need another shower.  I now had to figure out which station I was sweating in, and compare it to street map I had been given.  But the train map had no resemblance to the street map.  I wasn’t even sure the street map was for the same city.

I made some uneducated guesses as to what platform I was to go to, but then could not figure out how to buy the ticket.  There were machines that took coins and there was a real live human behind glass.  I chose to deal with the human.  I thought I told him where I needed to go and I gave him paper money.  He gave me coins back and pointed in a general direction as added assistance.  He was pointing right back to the coin operated ticket machine.  Apparently all I had done with him was get exact change.

OK, I stood in front of this ticket machine that had a lot of squiggly lines (Sanscrit, or Hindu or graffiti; not sure) and numbers on it.  Fortunately, there was a British flag on one button.  I pushed it.  The squiggly lines became words.  Or I presumed they were words.  I think they were the station names.  But I found it impossible to know which station I needed.  They all sounded and look so similar.  What station name did the Change Maker say I needed to go to?   Was the name:   KNOT HEER, HOP SING, or BIC PEN?  Perhaps he said YAN QUI?  or U LOS?   I thought it had some K sound in it somewhere.

As if standing there, like a goat looking at a light switch was not embarrassing enough, I had to be helped by a family from India.  They didn’t know where I was going either, but they at least could show me how to get the machine to spit out a ticket. Thus armed with a credit card sized ticket, I approached the entry area.  After four tries, I finally oriented the four sided ticket properly into the gate opening mechanism.  I followed the crowd of Petite People.  A train came in to the station and opened its doors. I squeezed myself in and hoped for the best.  The train doors closed and off we went.  I had a rough idea of what name to listen for as we chugged along above the city traffic, but the recorded voice announcing the stations was so faint I could barely hear it.

After a few stops, I decided it was time to dis-embark.  I found another train map and started to do more comparisons with the street map.  I slowly started to realize that I had traveled in EXACTLY the wrong direction from where I wanted to go, of course.  I could keep relating more details of this sad tale of ineptitude, but the short version is that I finally did get to the conference.  At the end of the day I didn’t feel my manhood could stand a return trip on the Mass Transit of Doom, so I took a cab back to my hotel.

Mass transit travel and I do not seem to get along.  Once, a few years ago, I was in Rome with my family.  I wanted to go see the Coliseum since we were leaving Rome the next day.  The family was too tired, so I went on my own.  My wife told me to take the Red Line, or perhaps she said take the Blue Line from our hotel to the Coliseum.  She said I couldn’t miss it.  Well, those four words always spell doom for me.  If someone says:  You can’t miss it, you can bet your boots I will miss it.

My wife was referring to me taking the Red or Blue SUBWAY.  Instead, I took the Red or Blue painted CITY BUS.  Poor decision.  After several hours of waiting for the bus to drive past the coliseum, I finally gave up (losing man points again) and asked the driver when we would get there.  He looked at me like I was a lunatic.  Then he said something in Italian, I suppose, then opened the bus door, and rudely gestured me out.

They say necessity is the mother of invention so I wish I could say I came up with a clever solution to my problem.   But no. I resorted to pestering strangers for directions.  (losing more Man Points) Eventually I figured out where I was and what direction to walk.  It took me until dark to find the coliseum.  By then it was closed.  All I could do was stare at the outer walls of that magnificent edifice.  I felt defeated.  Like a Christian about to be fed to the Entertainment.  I was tired of trying to be a savvy consumer of big city mass transit.  I had more money than pride, so I wimped out and took a cab back to the hotel.

Some things in life just never change.

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One thought on “Mass Transit for Dummies

  1. “You can’t miss it” in English is the “No problem” in Italian. I can’t believe you are as brave as you are. Or stubborn. I gave up on mass transit after YOUR STORY of the Coliseum attempt, and I was 14 years old! Love you, Daddy!

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