In cities with public transportation, a subculture of completely random people exists. There are neighborhoods of people; families, cliques and groups, housemates, coworkers, students, mysterious strangers. Most of these people do not interact with each other, and yet the train is a social network that connects people in a special way. It’s my hope, through this series of short stories, to bring light to the tunnels below our feet, and discover the subculture that defines our cities.
I started riding the MBTA subway (a.k.a. “the T”) in Boston when I was a freshman in college. For locals to that area, it was the Green Line B train. I got my first tour of the city on that train as a pre-frosh in orientation. Some of the students I was with had never been to Boston, let alone the United States. It was a thrilling experience for all of us. Things seemed a lot bigger back then.
The trains looked old and heavily used. There was a “subway” smell of burnt rubber and hot metal that resonated. The sound of the electric current pushing the train forward was unique, almost unearthly. I took it all in as we got on the train like wandering tourists. People of all makes and sizes were already there, watching us enter the train with cautious yet indifferent eyes. The girls looked at the guys, and the guys looked at the girls.
Our orientation guide took us to Newbury Street for ice cream at J.P. Licks. I wandered off to a small bistro down the street with a guy I got chummy with that first day. That friendship was short-lived; we took different programs at school, and rarely saw each other after that.
The T fare used to be tokens before it changed to electronic cards and paper tickets. I remember the sound tokens made when dropped on the ground, like quarters on brick stone, echoing. Our guide gave us tokens that time around, but a monthly pass was essential later on to see every inch of Boston. And I would learn over the next few years, every inch of the city was different, and worth exploring.
Within two weeks, I was comfortable riding the T.