Archive for August, 2010

MBTA Blues

I take public transportation. I should feel good about this, since I am told that public transportation is good for the environment. In fact, I have listened to several talking heads complain about the number of single-occupant cars on the road during rush hour. Since there isn’t commuter rail service near me, I drive to Alewife and take the Red Line to work. So, I should feel at least a little good. Right?

I don’t feel good. I feel like the Red Line is not run properly. The trains are almost never run at regular, reliable intervals during rush hour, and commuters can’t be blamed for wanting to avoid it at all costs. I think that many people only take the trains because they can’t afford the cost of parking in the city. They certainly don’t take them for the convenience and reliability.

Last week, I snuck out of work 10 minutes early and walked down to the Kendall Square station. When I got to the platform, I noticed a very large crowd of people waiting on the opposite side of the tracks – a sign that the trains going that way were backed up. That is usually bad news. But, I hoped for the best and boarded a fairly empty Red Line train en route to Alewife Station.

We were moving right along, stop after stop, without much trouble. Then, at Davis Square, the train screeched to a halt. We passengers sat looking at one another for a minute or two until the muffled loudspeaker kicked in with the usual scratchy announcement – “We will be standing by for a few minutes due to traffic ahead. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Now, if this was something that only happened once in a while, it would be no big deal, but these delays seem to happen on about 80% of my afternoon rides. The problems are described either as “traffic ahead” or as a “switching problem.” Now, to me, that means that the folks at the Red Line have a hard time keeping the trains on schedule. Maybe some train had to stay at a station for extra time during a shift change or coffee break, or because someone fell asleep at the controls, and it threw everything out of sync.

If the delay had been due to a disabled train – and the loudspeaker is always sure to mention when it is – then that would at least be somewhat understandable. The Red Line surely needs an upgrade. According to a 2009 study (available at www.mbtareview.com), 74 Red Line trains with an expected lifespan of 25 years have been in service since 1969. That report also mentions (according to wbztv.com) that a project to replace floating concrete slabs designed to absorb track vibration – and avoid derailed trains – has been unfunded for more than three years. David D’Alessandro, tasked by Governor Patrick to conduct the review, told the Associated Press that he would not ride the Red Line between Harvard and Alewife stations.

All of that tells me that the maintenance and technical issues are real. But, when I continually get held up because of traffic or “switching” problems, it makes me think bad thoughts about the people running the Red Line.

So there I sat on the train last week, thinking bad thoughts and wondering why I had forgotten to bring a book. A few minutes passed, and then a few minutes more. After 10 full minutes, the loud speaker garbled something more about traffic and empty apologies – I didn’t get all of it, but we didn’t start moving.

We sat there for about 10 more minutes before the train finally came to life. 20 minutes is not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but at the time – when I was anxious to get home and live my life – it seemed like 4 hours. As the minutes ticked by, everyone in my car was looking at one another and shaking their heads in frustration.

It’s important to remember that if we were stuck in place for 20 minutes, every train behind us was likely stuck, as well. That’s a lot of wasted time for a lot of frustrated MBTA customers. Why, it’s almost as bad as a line of cars waiting at a toll booth.

When we finally got to Alewife, I had to resist the urge to yell at the MBTA employees as they leaned out of their little windows on the train. Well, ok, I may have mumbled something involving a bad word and the term “idiots” as I walked past, but I doubt anyone noticed.

For the people in charge, I imagine that the MBTA is a ticking time bomb. The cycle appears to be that each Governor assumes office and tries to patch the problems – and keep them off the front pages – without truly addressing them. If the Governor can buy some duct tape and a few buckets of spackle and get out of office before something really awful happens, he or she wins. To his credit, Governor Patrick seemed to buck that trend when he authorized the November 2009 study, but it is now August 2010 and things don’t seem any better to me, the lowly commuter.

After four years of frustration, I took some action. I now frequently drive all the way to work, and I don’t feel a bit bad about it. If the man conducting the official review of the Red Line wouldn’t ride it, why should I mindlessly wait for traffic to clear or for my train to derail? To those tasked with running the MBTA: Please, help me to feel good again, and save the environment while you’re at it.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 20 Aug 2010 7 Comments

A New Life?

So, it appears that I have entered a new phase in my life. Yes, my wife recently had a baby, and now I’m a father and things are great and all that, but that’s not what I mean.

I no longer watch the Red Sox or really pay much attention to Major League Baseball.

Phew, it feels good just to admit it.

Lately, when I get done with work, I just don’t feel like settling in for 3.5 hours of baseball. In the past, I would miss games here and there but would comfort myself with the idea that there would always be one the next night. My finger never really drifted very far from the pulse of the Red Sox season. When I wasn’t watching games, I was reading about the team or baseball history, managing my fantasy teams, and generally paying attention.

Then, the other day, my brother said to me, “I think this Saltalamacchia kid is going to turn out to be a great pickup for the Sox.”

I looked at him for a second. “What?”

“Saltalamacchia – that catcher from Texas with the crazy long name. The Sox traded for him the other day.” He looked surprised to have to tell me, and I can’t really blame him.

After all, I was the little brother he used to call to settle baseball trivia bets. I was the little brother who knew Kiko Garcia hit .199 in 1980 – heck, I was the little brother who remembered that Kiko Garcia was an infielder for the Orioles. I pretty much knew (and still know) who won the World Series every year in baseball history.

Before this year, there is little doubt that I would have launched into 15 minutes of opinion about the trade, including thoughts about why Saltalamacchia struggled in Texas and my calculated but firm opinion about the catcher’s future in Boston. Instead, I just looked at my brother blankly.

That wasn’t the only example, either. I was at a restaurant the other night and the Sox were on TV, playing the Tigers. My wife asked me, “How are the Tigers this year?” I thought about it, reaching into the depths of my brain, but came up empty. After a few seconds of furrowing my brow (which probably looked as if I was experiencing gassy discomfort), I had to admit that I had no idea.

It’s a weird feeling. When I sit down to relax after work, I tend to watch a recorded show on the DVR, or pop in a DVD, or even just take some time to read. We’ve been grilling and taking walks with the baby and the dog. It’s been nice.

I still pay attention from a high level. I happened to be watching this week, at a friend’s house, when Mike Lowell (a favorite of mine) came up to the plate to a tremendous ovation and launched the first pitch over the Monster. I still got goose bumps. I can still talk generally about the injuries and how the team has really overachieved this year.

But, I don’t miss the long games. I don’t miss watching hitters step out of the batter’s box to perform unnecessary rituals while the pitchers walk a lap around the mound. I don’t miss becoming enraged when the latest middle relief “solution” blows a lead. Baseball just isn’t a central part of Summer 2010 for me, and I’m not sure that I miss it.

If the Sox make a run at the playoffs, I’m sure I will make time for them, but at this point they just aren’t winning the face-offs against my other entertainment options. Bill Simmons wrote about something similar this week on ESPN.com, and one of his points was that maybe it’s just not as important for Red Sox fans since we won in 2004 and 2007.

That might be it for me. Or, just maybe, it’s that now I have a life.

Sports Tim 06 Aug 2010 2 Comments