Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Trax Ticket, A Bag of Corn Nuts, and a Dream

About 9:30 am yesterday I got the call to take my pregnant co-worker to LDS Hospital. After spending a couple of hours in a Gynecology waiting room reading (thankfully) Road and Track, Car and Driver, and a Men's Health list of qualities that signal a girlfriend to hold on to (apparently if I think she's smarter than me, she's a keeper), I learned that my co-worker would need to go to University Hospital for a different test. Since I didn't feel the desire or justification to hang out in yet another waiting room watching women trudge by with pained expressions on their faces (No really, I'm sure I'll be a totally supportive husband), I was faced with the task of figuring out how to get from the U campus out to my office in Murray. I may be a chump, but I wasn't going to ditch my co-worker without a car, even if she didn't look like she'd live long enough to get behind the wheel anyway.

So, after dropping her off at her next round of hedonistic maternity tests, I wandered back out into the parking lot, excited at the prospect of an extensive public transportation journey. I took a quick shuttle ride down from the medical district to the main campus, and there determined that I would need some cash. My co-worker had generously offered her bus pass, but since the pass indicated that a transit official may demand to see a student ID at any time, I figured the best thing to do would be to cave in to conscience and foot the bill myself.

After a quick stroll past some of my old campus haunts, I wound up in the University Union building, where I granted the Boy Scout-hating people of Wells Fargo $1.75 in order to withdraw a twenty from my account. Next I broke said twenty over by the bowling alley by purchasing a Cherry Hostess Fruit Pie and a small bag of Barbeque Corn Nuts (total, with tax: $2.05). Armed with small bills and some quarters, I hiked back across campus to the Trax station, eager for my first transit ride since a quick downtown spin in Summer 2002 to see "Star Wars: Episode II" at the Gateway.

On the way I passed through the FAMB building (acronymn details escape me at the moment), where I took my very first college class back in fall of 1994. So I stopped by to check out my old classroom, wondering for the 1,789th time whatever became of the cute blonde from Texas I befriended there. The room was much smaller than I remember it.

Pie and Corn Nuts still in hand, I moved on to the station. I didn't want to open my food, preferring to save it for lunch upon my return. It was no small thing that I chose Corn Nuts; several years ago I was a huge fan of the item, until they suddenly changed the recipe and altered the smoky barbeque flavor into a slightly more fruity aftertaste. Enraged, I swore off the product until a recent purchase convinced me they didn't taste too bad.

When I arrived at the station I discovered that my coveted quarters would be of no use to me, since the ticket machine accepted no change. Neither did it accept my crumpled one-dollar bills. It did accept my five-dollar bill, and hence I walked away with a ticket and a pocketfull of noisy coins.

I sat down at one of the benches and began making mental comparisons with the Trax experience and my previous UTA bus adventures. Any critique of public transportation must cover these requisite criteria:

1. Timeliness
2. Convenience
3. Service
4. Crazy People

I had no schedule, so I don't know if the train was on time or not, but I do know that I had enough time before departure to find out from another helpful passenger that he really didn't know if I had to get a transfer to change trains or not either. What I also didn't know was that you don't ever have to give anyone your ticket on Trax; you just get on when the door opens and sit on a bench somewhere. You don't even interact with the driver at all--the only time I even saw my driver was when she had to come out of her booth to open the handicapped entrance and when she had to help a woman from Kentucky that had overshot her stop when she couldn't get the door to open.

As for crazy people, I saw more outside the train than on it. There was one crazy guy yelling at some normal folks by the City County Building, and another old man was shaking his fist at some pigeons down on Main Street. The closest thing to a genuinely crazy person was a guy that rode by with his bicycle helmet on backwards. That was the best Salt Lake could offer that day. It paled compared to the trips I used to take on the 70 but out of downtown on its way to Ogden in the late afternoons when I was working at the Federal Building on 1st and State. One time I was sitting towards the back when I overheard a passioned conversation behind me, not unlike the conversations I sometimes have with my peers when we are discouraged about dating. Only this guy said this:

"Yeah, women these days aren't loyal at all. I mean, I go to jail for like, thirty days, and my old lady walks out on me!"

The nerve. Some people, huh?

I didn't even get to see any awkward weirdo friendships like I did on a State street bus a few years ago, when one 20-something weird guy jumped to his feet and got off at a stop, then a few seconds later, his buddy ran after him and called out the open door, "Hey! Hey! I love you, man!"

After transferring trains at the Gallivan Center stop (again, no tickets taken or given), I took off on a straight shot South on the Sandy line, noting that every bare cement surface facing either side of the train was now covered in mediocre graffiti. Salt Lake almost felt metropolitan at that moment. Rocky would be proud.

Around 1:20pm, I stepped off the Trax at the 5200 South station and started hiking the remaining half-mile to my office, wishing that I had had the foresight that morning to put some sunblock on the top of my shaved head, just in case I wound up driving a coworker to Salt Lake and then coming home on my own out in the sun and all. I still hadn't opened my precious change-granting munchies (even now my Hostess pie awaits my attention). When I finally walked into the office, I realized that even though I had been through what I thought was a very interesting and eventful experience, to my coworkers I had only been out of the office for a couple of hours. It was like the time my companion Elder Clark and I endured projectile glass bottles, a car collision, a blown tire, a lightning storm, and the threat of a tornado on the way back to our south side missionary apartment in Chicago. It was big to us, but our roommates greeted us with relative indifference, even though Elder Clark had been riding on a bare rim for a mile and a half in a thunderstorm. Oh well...


After returning from my epic journey and settling into my desk, I found an article on Drudge that talked about these cross-dressing clothes thieves that had been conducting a kleptomaniac reign of terror in the French Quarter. One store owner described the perpetrators as all being African-American males between 6' and 6'5'' tall and wearing women's clothing. Apparently one of them would distract the employees while the others would snatch and grab merchandise and head for the door.

“They’re all very skinny and very flamboyant,” said the owner.

What do you say after that?