Thursday, January 29, 2004

No matter where I've lived, there are always annoying people who go on and on about how this place is not nearly so good as some previous place they've lived. The worst were the ex-Berkeleyites in Madison, WI. It seemed like every sentence began "In Berkeley ..." or "In the Bay Area ..." They had better coffee houses, better record stores, a better local music scene, better food co-ops, and much more savvy and committed political radicals than Madison. I had moved to Madison from Johnson City, TN, and to me Madison was like the Emerald City. If I started a sentence with "In Tennessee ..." it was usually because I was going to talk about what sucky coffee houses, record stores, music scenes, co-ops and political radicals there were in TN, or about about how I got called "boy" and "sir" all the time because I wore short hair.

Anyway, the reason I'm thinking of this is that during the whole snow debacle we've just been through here, I've found myself starting a lot of sentences with "In Chicago ...," as in "In Chicago they start salting and sanding before the first flake of snow falls and the roads never even get bad in the first place." Or: "In Chicago no one would dream of leaving their parking lot unplowed to freeze over into a sheet of ice like this." I'm sure it's annoying and I try to watch it, but sometimes I can't help myself.

It's strange that snow should make me nostalgic for Chicago when the rotten weather was the number one reason we moved south. I definitely don't miss clambering over 4-foot-tall snowbanks created by the plows every time I had to cross the street, or carrying a shovel in my car so I could dig myself out as needed. But I do miss the el and the extensive bus system. No matter where you were in the city, you could always get around no matter what the weather because of mass transit. They're making plans here for a train system that's allegedly going to be built by 2007 (I'm looking forward to seeing something actually finished by 2114), and most of the locals I talk to are pissed off about it and talk about what a waste it is. Around here, only the truly desperate and the very committed take the bus system because it's just not nearly as useful or convenient as driving. But nobody realizes that if you make the committment to building mass transit that is more convenient and cheaper than driving, people will use it happily. Because of all the opposition, the train system we end up with is going to be a half-assed compromise (it won't go to the airport, for example) that will end up making the naysayers' prophecies self-fulfilling.

About a year and a half ago, Dan Savage wrote a fabulous paean to the Chicago el in Seattle's weekly The Stranger. I have it bookmarked and I like to remind myself of his arguments for when I'm conversing with anti-mass-transit people.

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