Sydney Monorail: ★
I was in Sydney on business recently, which is just the most amazing and douchiest sentence I’ve ever written. But I was, and on my first night I had plans to get drinks with the friend of a friend. I left the event venue (where they held boxing at the Olympics! God, I love the Olympics) a responsible amount of early, with Google Maps’ assurance that all I needed to do was take the monorail one stop. I was willing to pay the unreasonable price of $5 for this because it was worth that much to me not to be lost in a foreign country at night. Come to think of it, that’s probably the business model for all overpriced transit aimed mainly at tourists.
But even though the stop was ostensibly mere yards from me, I could not find it. And the five Australians I asked didn’t know where it was either. Here’s a tip, Sydney Monorail: If your intended passengers can’t find you, you’re doing something wrong. I took a cab to the bar.
The next day, my new friend helped me uncover the Monorail’s hiding place, and we took it downtown from the harbor. I guess I have to give it one star for actually getting me to where I was going , but it’s slow and expensive and dumb and it only has seven stops and I hate it. It’s better to walk everywhere, give yourself a mild case of tendonitis and soak up the beauty.
Washington, D.C. Metro: ★★★
My time with the Metro was merely a brief fling, our interactions superficial enough that I can look back on it as a pleasant, if not particularly profound experience. The stations themselves were the cleanest I’ve seen, the cars are roomy and it seems to run pretty regularly.
Deductions come for having tickets that you have to scan both to enter and leave the station, which is annoying, and for the doors, which shut with a frightening velocity that could definitely cost someone an arm or a leg. And who puts carpet on a subway? You know someone’s just going to vomit on it.
Berlin S-Bahn: ★★★★
Four stars for danger! The price is a little steep (especially for visiting Americans and their weak, weak dollars), but there are no turnstiles or ticket-takers on the S-Bahn—only the honor system, which can result in significant savings if you are bold and not honorable. The fine is pretty steep if you get caught, or so I have heard, because I never saw anyone checking tickets the whole time I was there.
Also, I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I find trains very … calming? Meditative? Especially if you’ve got some foliage, or countryside, or some shit out the window. Anyway, I had a super-zen moment on the S-Bahn coming back to the city from Olympic Stadium when I may have achieved total, if fleeting, serenity. So, that doesn’t hurt.
New York City Subway: ★★
I had higher hopes for the subway. The all-too-frequent delays and inexplicable service stoppages on the weekends are one thing, but one can only wait 45 minutes for a train at 2 a.m. and hear the distant rumblings of salvation only to be disappointed by a garbage train so many times before one begins to feel a little broken. I’m fairly certain I spent more money on late night taxis the few months I lived in New York than I have in five years in Chicago, because after a few garbage trains, it seems like the options are either to fork out for a cab, or spend the night sleeping underground with the rats.
I really like the express lines, though.
Paris Métro: ★★★★★
Cost: € 1.70
Le Métro, le roi. It would be easy to conflate my fondness for the Métro with my fondness for its city. Just thinking of it brings back memories of analyzing the hierarchical social structure of groups of young French hoodlums who sat one car down, or the homeless man with a tuft of toadstool-shaped hair who was always, without fail, asleep on a bench at the Champs-Elysées Clemenceau stop. We called him “Ole Mushroom Head,” because we were unkind.
Of course, there were also loud accordion players and couples grabbing ass entwined around the standing metal poles, which you could chalk up to a certain Parisian charm if you were only in town for a quick visit, but after a month or so, it begins to grate. And Châtelet, the world’s largest subway station, is an absolute nightmare for anyone with even the slightest touch of claustrophobia.
But when it comes to accessibility and reliability, I have never known its equal. If you are a drunk tourist lost in the city late at night, all you need to do is point your stumbling feet in any direction and walk for 10 minutes, and I guarantee you will find a Métro station. I don’t know of any other city where you can say that.
Chicago El: ★★★
The romance is gone between the El and me. In the five years that I’ve been taking it, I’ve seen it at its worst: broken down, smoking, covered in urine. I place my trust in it daily, and while it usually comes through, every now and then it leaves me abandoned on an outside platform in the winter without so much as an apology. It’s my constant companion, but sometimes, the closeness is suffocating. Especially during rush hour.
But it does its best, you know? It’s slow, but it’s steady. It’s got a good view at sunset, and no shortage of entertaining weirdos that ride it. And at the end of the night, it’s still the one taking me home.
Julie Beck rides the blue line.