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Tuesday 19 October 2004

Er, the tube is really nice... [Brit]

We've all espoused the intricate nature of the farce that is London Underground. It's quite clear that as regular tube users, many of us would rather slip in sick than attempt to engage that organisation's services. The fact that we are forced to on a daily basis remains a hot brand around our collective temples.
However, I have discovered a mass transit system that is categorically worse; the New York Subway.
This collection of collapsed train-bearing sewer pipes is an abhorrence - for $2 you can put yourself through a transport event akin to whisking your eyes with a Moulinex and laughing uncontrollably as the stainless steel blades reduce your brain to mush.
Compared to the subway, our tube is safe, clean, easy to use, convenient, and downright amazing. To even write such verbage is to call into question my own sanity, yet I am quite sure that any other EED'er with experience in the filthy pits of the subway environment would agree.
For starters, the subway is extraordinarily difficult to use. There are no status boards indicating the time of the next arrival (or it's destination) - just long platforms of peeling concrete, punctuated every so often with bare girders and evil looking loitering types. The subway carriages were clearly designed to ensure that the passenger feels every bump, grind, and pothole on the way; each rollercoaster twist and turn communicated expertly direct to your spine via the awesomely uncomfortable seating.
Forget helpful signage too - it's like a lotto in many respects and the seemingly easy to use naming conventions employed by the MTA (Metropolitan Transport Authority) to speed you on your way do anything but.
All in all, quite amazing that a city such as New York which is generally a clean and easy to navigate place can reveal with such alacrity it's all too venemous underbelly - and for a couple of bucks, you get to see it all.


  1. New York has gone for the hat-trick, it's quite remarkable. They have a crap tube, a crap bus system and crap airportss.
    The three airports are knackered and battered, badly signed and confusing. Their mass transist planners have only just got round to opening a rail link from JFK to the city.
    The third trick in the hat are the bus stations, the Port Authority Bus Terminal being the one I'm familar with. A complete pikey shit hole complete with threatening tramps, scam merchants and staff that even the London tube management would consider unmotivated. Microdisney hit it on the head with their song "Only Losers Take The Bus"

  2. Actually, I think it's sort of missing the point with America if you just single out those services. Even their roads are shockingly maintained as well. The problem with America is that pretty much any service barely works. Their workforce is badly educated and under motivated. They have a working culture, also best summed up with a Simpsons line, "Americans don't quit jobs. They just do them in a really half assed way."
    As a visitor to the US, the first thing you will likely see when you arrive at an International airport is some form of permanent state of construction. Missing bits from the roof, empty power socket holes - that sort of thing. Then the first people you see will be a pair of black ladies (endemic working-class scenario you'll see right across the US - the manager will be white) in uniforms, each weighing eight metric tonns and still grasping a twinky or whatever and exhibiting the least amount of interest in you and your travel plight as it can feasible be possible to do while registering your presence on some level.
    If you take a look over our blogs, you'll see that we actually complain quite a lot about this sort of thing sneaking into the UK but good lord, a quick trip to the US will cheer you up no end while a trip to continental Europe may actually depress you when you see the clockwork fully functioning systems (Germany for example) and clean streets (Scandinavia) and working services (even labour-communist France for Pete's sake).
    It seems one of the greatest propaganda coups of all time that the US has managed to convince themselves and much of the rest of the world that they are actually an example of virtually anything. An example of a working, safe society? Shit no. An example of a working democracy? Haha, don't make me laugh.

  3. Indeed - and convince themselves to such an extent that they actually take serious offence when you tell them that actually, no, you DON'T have any aspiration to move to the USA. I've always avoided political discussions when I'm in the States, but I ended up in a serious row with someone for that seemingly innocuous comment - one of the core elements of their entire belief system is that EVERYONE wants to live in America.
    There's no doubt in my mind that America is one of the least pleasant first world countries I've ever visited. There's a deeply creepy feeling there that you're seeing two countries at once; an enormous, poverty-stricken and uneducated third world country, with a smaller, insanely rich, corporate-run and consumer-driven country riding on its back. It sounds like a political cartoon, but it really is the feeling I've had from visiting several areas of the United States - Los Angeles and Chicago, particularly - and I found it very disturbing indeed.

  4. My god the roads, the roads. I thought I'd put those nightmares deep into the back lair of my mind.
    We drove out of L.A. on the main freeway towards Las Vegas back in April, and it was on the worst road surface I've ever travelled. The rattling of the motorhome was such that the glass microwave platter knocked the oven door open and leapt out, smashing into a million of bits of glass. These then proceded to advance in my footwell to gradually build a little saphire beach beneath my foot :)
    As for the propaganda coup, well they have haven't they? On my first visit to the US back in 94, I naively expected it all to be bigger and better and more efficient and dazzling, and it wasn't. The only place that hasn't disappointed is San Francisco, and that's the few blocks around the Marina, Pacific Heights and Union Street. A lot of it is a dangerous shithole.

  5. To be honest, one of the aspects of America that impressed me was the road system. I've driven the road that evilhomer talks about (I15?) and found it to be smooth and spacious. If anything, I was amazed by how well the roads are kept in places that are about a million miles from anywhere. Driving up to Death Valley, the worst place in the world to be a road-worker I'd imagine, and the roads are great. Well signposted and maintained. We also took a back country mountain road towards Oakhurst from San Francisco, and that was similarly impressive (though oddly lacking in barriers to prevent a 500 ft vertical plunge!)
    I agree with Shinji's comment about two societies though. American middle class society seems utterly geared towards quality of life... everything seems done to increase the comfort of people spending money - the service is great, buildings are comfortable and well maintained, there's free refils everywhere you eat and they even have "it could only happen in America" things like "dog walking parks" or wheelchair ramps for the obese.
    But then there's the seedy underbelly which is everywhere you go. I can't think of a single bus journey we took where we weren't made nervous by an obviously mad person spouting giberish or obsenity. In LA, we caught a bus from Beverly Hills to Downtown, which skirted the top of Crenshaw... Never have I seen so much concentrated crime happening before my eyes. Some house-sized homeboy scratching his tag into the window with a sharpened coin; a group of slick looking latinos conducting a minor drug deal at the back; a dirty looking kid selling a pair of trainers to a wino.
    With all this going on around them, Americans just don't see it. They're convinced that the most deprived person in the US is the person stuck with a 2nd Gen iPod to go jogging with.

  6. i15 isn't too bad, compared to the state of the highways criss-crossing LA. They're all in SUVs and barges so they don't fucking notice!

  7. That's actually a mad thing about their cars. They've all got the most insanely loose bouncy suspension because of their roads. It's kind of funny when one of their manufacturers releases a car over in Europe and the first thing people try to do is take it around a corner. Bzzt.
    At any rate, I think that description of the US as a strange combination of third-world uneducated and crime-ridden substrate with this super-rich commercialised mega-capitalism riding on the the top of it is exactly right. It's actually not far off those sci-far scenarios where you have this underworld lurking below your streets. I can well imagine moneyed-Americans will eventually move to the top of skysrapers, dressed in their futuristic paper-white Sony-McDonalds suits, and never descend to the dirty and dangerous street level underworld...

  8. Yeah - it was only when I visited there that I realised where that whole concept in science fiction is born from. In the UK, sure, you have good areas and bad areas, but we are in no way as regionally polarised as the United States is. We don't drive, oblivious, from our insanely secure homes, in our air-conditioned SUVs, to our glass and steel skyscraper office, passing through areas that wouldn't be out of place in poorer parts of South America or South-East Asia on the way.
    And, insanely, the Republican party has found the formula that appeals to both sides. They sell the poor and uneducated a vision of America under threat and bang on about patriotism and freedom, while nudging their rich, fat, white pals in the ribs and going "tax cuts for the rich, eyyyyy!" It's sick. Not that the Democrats are MUCH better, mind; the stunning thing about America is that it's managed to create a two-party system where both parties will continue to support essentially the same lies and flawed social structure, just delivered with different window dressing. I was worried for a while that the Tories and Labour would do the same here, but the implosion of the Tories and swing towards other parties seems to suggest that the British public aren't about to fall for it.
    I'll tell you, though - America kinda ruined my appreciation for some science fiction. I used to think Snow Crash was an amazing vision of a dark and dystopian future. Then I visited Los Angeles, and realised that Neal Stephenson had just peered out the window of a hotel room there and described what he saw.

  9. The odd thing about America is you get some fairly cutting satire but at the end of the day, it's still all about the hoary old cliche of the American dream. If you have shit loads, the assumption most Americans will make is that you really earned it. If you have fuck all, the assumption most Americans will make is that it's your damn fault for not getting off your arse and sorting it out. This makes the super-haves sort of heroic figures of patriotic consumptionism and the have-nots figures for salutory bed-time stories.
    Another barometer - communism has been pretty weak in the execution all around and fair enough but whatever happened to a popular socialist movement in the states? The only reality about socialist utopian ideals being made vocal in the States is that it's goddam likely to get you smacked in the mush outside of certain campus's.
    When I was at a company do the other weekend there was a new member of the company who got posted to us from the States. At 3 o'clock in the morning in the bar she got really aggressive and upset because some speakers in the day had slagged off Bush (great line actually from this investment guru - "I find it hard to get excited about a presidential election where I wouldn't even give a first job interview to either candidate"). It took us about 40 minutes to make her understand that slagging off Bush wasn't the same as slagging off Americans.
    Most powerful country in the world. Bloody marvellous innit.

  10. You can say what you like about them - but you have to admit they do great breakfasts!

  11. Houmous lies. The Americans cannot make a decent cup of coffee, period. And they have no concept of bacon - instead, delivering the consumer what looks like the flayed skin from a geriatric, cut into tiny strips and burnt to within an inch of charcoal. They also don't have any idea what "news" is - is it any wonder people consider America an insular paranoid society when their "news" is delivered via Warner Brothers and Fox?

  12. I'm seconding Brit on this one - Houmous is insane. American breakfasts are absolutely awful. Their coffee is rubbish (they just can't make a cup of actual, normal coffee, and are horribly confused at the concept of not adding frothed milk, chocolate, hazelnut syrup and god knows what else), their bacon is downright disgusting, and their concept of how to cook eggs is an affront to hens everywhere.
    How anyone hailing from the island archipelago which has given us the unparalleled delights of the Full English, Irish and Scottish breakfasts, each subtly different in their wonderfully heart disease inducing properties, could describe American breakfasts as "great" is absolutely beyond me.
    I'd actually rank the American morning culinary abortions below the continental European coffee and croissant affair; it may not be filling, but at least the coffee rocks. Although, the Yank effort does still come in well ahead of kippers; what WERE you lot thinking, eh?

  13. Don't talk tosh. Kippers fucking rock.

  14. Fish is not for breakfast. It just isn't. The concept of fish for breakfast is just fundamentally wrong, evil, and defies the natural order of things.
    Although at least kippers aren't traditionally eaten with a side serving of heavily moulded bean shoots, unlike Japanese breakfasts (which also consist of fish, the daft nutters)...

  15. I liked American breakfast to be honest. Except for their take on pancakes, which are a bit like eating fuzzy-felt drinks coasters. Love their bacon and hash browns though, especially in an "All You Can Eat" scenario...

  16. Um, their bacon is just fucked. You're the first Brit I've ever heard who hasn't complained about the tragic state of American bacon. Then again, kippers rock and Shinji is a freak... What's the matter with you folk, you're all just WRONG!

  17. Kippers fucking rule in the morning. Bloody fantastic breakfast. What about kedgeree, another fantastic fish breakfast!

  18. If it doesn't come from a pig, it's not for breakfast. This is a simple rule. Why must you insist on making baby Jesus cry with your continued heresy?

  19. wasn't Jesus a fisherman? bet he ate fish every morning!

  20. Dr Johnson said the man who tires of London is tired of life. I say the man who cares not for kippers has a kangeroo loose in the top paddock you know what I mean Harry?
    Kippers rock as does mackerel - FACT. Lurker likes them and there is t-shirt corroboration that he is never wrong and even more than that Lurk's old man likes them and how fucking right must he be given that he spawned someone who is never wrong??
    An airship called the R101, a car called a DeLorean, bacon done by the Americans. Wrong, wrong, wrong! FACT.
    Coffee? Who gives a nuts? You're all fucking retarded. Coffee beans are not grown, they are the semi-fossilised remains of what happens when baby rats shit the raisins they had for lunch. Rich coffee aroma? Savoury kiddy rat shit more like.
    Beej - any chance of a loan of that Glock?