*This blog has been recently edited to more clearly state the point of my rant.
Owning a car has made me soft. Oh, don't worry Ford, I won't be trading in the Fusion for my walking shoes. After all, I'm moving to Ashland, Missouri, a small town stationed 15 miles from the middle of everything save a Breaktime (gas station) and a Mosher's (small grocery store), so the Fusion is a necessity. But during my brief stay here in New Haven I have quickly discovered that my dependence on personal transportation is slightly crippling.
Need blades for your razor? Run to the store. Craving popcorn? Run to the store. Bored and wanna browse somewhere other than the campus apparel shop? Run to the store. Oh wait; I don't have a car so I can't run to the store. Of course, I am able to find razor blades and popcorn at various markets within walking distance to campus and my apartment, but the prices at those locations leave me cringing and so I use them sparingly. And honestly, it's been good for my budget that I'm not able to hop over to Target or Gap to satiate boredom. For the most part, I think I have surpassed the learning-curve as far as food and toiletries are concerned; plus, the walking (or lack of car) is not the over-whelming problem. After a day in Hartford on Friday, I discovered that I have a lot to learn about public transportation, an mode much more important than the automobile in this neck of the woods.
First of all, I find the timetables for the various modes of transportation very overwhelming. I consider myself decent at understanding charts and graphs and maps, but these timetables are nearly as foreign to me as Chaucer's Middle English. In addition to the timetables, you need to know what mode of transportation you want to take. It's not enough to need the bus. Do you want the commuter (express) bus or the CT bus or the shuttle bus? And buses are easy in comparison to the train. There are students in my class who commute from Rhode Island and New York by train each day. I know those states are close--you can get to NYC in a little over an hour, Boston and Philly in three, and DC in five--but it still seems weird that they don't drive here. However commuting by train is common and second nature for the locals. (Please note that the term "locals" is loosely used to describe anyone I've met with a natural inclination for understanding public transportation better than I. Based on that definition, everyone is a local!) The train to the CT coast is different from the train to NYC which is different from the train to Boston (and so on) and then there's the distinction between the commuter train and Amtrak. Add to that special trains for Mets, Yankees, and Red Sox game days, and it's a spinning mess. (I should have paid better attention during my son's Thomas the Train obsession. I might have been more culturally prepared for this if I had.)
This transportation situation is something for which neither public education or two colleges prepared me. Of course, geography plays a role in exposure to these monstrosities. In Owensville, Missouri, the only buses I rode led to and from school. It stopped at the top of the gravel drive on Bohemian Highway and I didn't ask questions or change buses at the red line. I just sat near the back, annoyed that to be the first one on and elated to be the first one off each day. At Mizzou, campus was small enough for foot or bike travel or I had a car (or friends with cars) to get me around. And KSU is a commuter college, especially (obviously) for grad students, so again--car. As for the year I spent living in Atlanta proper....you guessed it: car.
Friday's excursion to Hartford would have been a disaster if not for my classmate who seamlessly maneuvered us from express bus to CT bus to our tourist traps and back again. We had a great day, but I was frustrated with myself for being so ignorant to the transportation situation. The Wife of Bath went on three Pilgrimages to Jerusalem, without her husband at the time (she was married five times) to accompany her and carry the map; she made her way through the terrain without someone else controlling the journey for her. Of course, there was a guide (or host as in The Canterbury Tales), but the Pilgrims would have journeyed quite independently despite being in a group. Now, I don't embody all of the Wife's feminist ideals; in fact, after reading her prologue and tale again this weekend, I assimilate to fewer of her exemplars than I thought. I am a creature of control and independence out of necessity, not as a venue of abuse and spite of others as was the case of the Wife and four of her five husbands--I wouldn't complain to someone else being my guide once in a while (or more than once in a while) whereas the Wife withholds the marriage debt (or temptation of the flesh--to use another Biblical phrase--or queynte--to use a Middle English term) from any husband that tries to control her. What unsettles me most about Friday's trip to Hartford is that I didn't know enough about the area and the bus and like to feel adequately prepared for the journey. I wouldn't have freaked out if separated from my classmates, mind you, but I had not prepared for the trip and I would have been unnerved. And I don't like to be unnerved.
(Honestly, this whole "no car, can't read the timetables, not an assimilated local" thing has me very unnerved. And I think I finally discovered the lesson for today's stage of this Pilgrimage.)
In the near future, my favorite Chaucerians and I are planning several other jaunts similar to the one to Hartford. And so I have timetables and maps strewn about the floor of the apartment so I can be better prepared for the next adventure. In control enough to get from the shuttle bus to the train to the subway without being unnerved, but relaxed enough to appreciate the expertise of our guide (if we have one.)
Oh, I forgot about planes. Seeing as how I've been traveling on planes alone (expect for my brother and an airline appointed babysitter that we often managed to outsmart) since I was 8 and accompanied by parents or the like since infancy, I have no qualms about air travel. Arrival and departure signs are cake in comparison to subway timetables.