Archive for category: Commuting with Nature

Orbs Above Us

16 Aug 2005
August 16, 2005

Some of the enhanced security is visible to our customers and at the same time, much is not, and that’s exactly the way it is designed to be.

Polly Hanson
Metro Transit Police Chief

Taking public transportation often provides its own entertainment. But unlike New York’s subway with its Latino-to-Classical music performances (to say nothing of its standup salesmen and vocalists on the ride uptown), DC’s Metro is pretty damn tame. No underground music and Metro’s clientele are usually button-down and subdued all the way downtown.

Camera on a Metro subway car

It’s nice to be noticed.

So, when, in between the second and third stops on my commute, a very large man stated loudly to all “Well, it’s about time they got cameras in the cars!” I was immediately shocked out of my early morning stupor. I looked up at him as he hung over me. Then remembering my basic commuter training I immediately severed eye contact and returned to reading my newspaper.

After 9/11, Madrid, and London, DC commuters are mindful of the risks of riding public transportation. A few months back many of our on-train subway maps were replaced with detailed instructions on how to evacuate the subway in case of an emergency.

My fellow commuter said no more which only heightened my curiosity (as marginal men and women never know when to stop talking). My immediate response to dismiss him was replaced with a more wait-and-see attitude. And, when at the next stop he got out, I immediately looked in the direction he was looking when he made his manly declaration.

It was true. There, about half-way down, were two little orbs pasted to the car’s ceiling. It was impossible to tell whether they operational or if they were even real. But someone sure noticed and he made sure we all did too.

At the end of the day I checked the car I was riding home in for other orbs. Nothing.

Update: After doing a bit of net-sleuthing I’ve found the real reason for these cameras. They’re not for creating a safer transit system in our post-9/11 world. Rather, they are there to study passenger movements within railcars, that is, where passengers congregate within the each car.

Seasoned Metro riders know where we congregate: smack dab in front of the doors, of course. The DCist reports it is “part of a plan endorsed in March to consider removing seats so as to increase railcar capacity by 15 to 20 percent.”

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Pretty in Pink

26 May 2005
May 26, 2005
Pink and black: the uniform of the day

Pretty in Pink: My Coworkers and I in the Uniform of the Day

Commuting time is usually decompression time. Unlike driving, riding the subway each morning and afternoon allows me to listen to music or This American Life on my iPod, read the morning paper, and sometimes just observe my fellow commuters.

Today, as I made my way underground, I was reading Deepsix, my latest less-than-deep sci-fi novel. I casually looked up to notice the five people sitting closest to me were all wearing pink and black. Hmmm. This was a bit out of the ordinary. And as I walked up to the street I wondered if I should blog this. But what could be interesting about this marginal coincidence?

Arriving at my cubicle, I unpacked my lunch and started my early morning circuit, first to the refrigerator and then to the john. As I passed Mitzi’s office out of the corner of my eye I spied her pink jacket and black pants. I stopped and told her my tale. “Well, just look at you!” she replied. I looked down only to see I, too, was wearing the colors of the day. Eerie.

As our animated hallway conversation crescendoed, people began to congregate. My boss approached. “Look!” I said, pointing to her tailored suit and blouse. “Look!” “What!? What is it?” she replied. We all began to talk at once. Marie arrived all decked out in blue and orange. Obviously she hadn’t gotten the memo.

But then I noticed two more coworkers in uniform. You could hear the rose-colored buzz permeate our offices. Emily, wearing a pink sweater with a black and white polka dot a-line skirt, reported she had just gotten back from a meeting where the committee chair had remarked on the preponderance pink and black today. Were we all foils in some subliminal viral marketing scheme? I usually pick my clothes in the complete darkness of the early morning. The Washington terrorist threat level was at yellow, but the color palette today was decidedly light red.

I was beginning to get a juvenile feeling about all of this. At my junior high early teen rules dictated that if you wore red and black on Fridays you were a whore. And, if you wore green on Thursdays, well you’d better have plenty of protection after school. Whoever started this teen meme, I salute you. You’ve succeeded in returning to haunt me –and from the least favorite period of my life.

Pink and black on Thursdays. It goes so well with my high-level management skills and extraordinary abilities to bring projects in on time. Luckily I have my 3rd floor homies around to watch my colorful back.

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The Sociology of Close Contact Technology:
Taking Back Your Public Space

11 Dec 2004
December 11, 2004
The Society for Handheld Hushing

Download these handy dandy cards,
perfect for any overbearing cell phone interaction

I am a voyeur. To be a good artist you must be willing to observe and listen. It’s not hard when you take public transportation every day. As an art career move, my transportation from the isolation of LA freeway driving to the close contact of DC’s subway has been a boon to my artmaking. Hence the creation of The Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable.

As an artist I am stealth. When I hear fellow commuters’ private yet very public cell phone conversations, I surreptitiously reach for my Moleskin notebook to take notes. My interaction comes only when I actually perform my monodialogs on the train.

However, if you are bothered/overwhelmed/disgusted by loud cell conversations in your adjacent vicinity and want to proactively do something about it, right then and there, Heidi Coudal, Jim Coudal, and Aaron Draplin have teamed together to provide you the way. Join SHHH, The Society for Handheld Hushing. Download this convenient PDF file of handy cards, perfect for handing over to any overbearing mobile phone user.

The project is reminiscent of conceptual artist’s Adrian Piper’s 1980s impromptu performance pieces in bars and other public venues. Using one of her Calling Cards Piper, a light-skinned African-American, would hand them to people who had just made a racist remark. Another was handed out to men in bars who assumed she was “available” simply because she was alone.

So when the opportunity arises, let your fellow travelers know they’ve breached the limits of proper 21st century etiquette. Don’t just roll your eyes while attempting to read your newspaper in angry silence. Take back your public space.

The Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable, Act 4

22 Mar 2004
March 22, 2004

In this month’s Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable office politics meets low carb but tasty recipes. March madness: cell phone monodialogues® from the subway underground:

We’ve got to nail this guy!
If we don’t we’ll be knockin’ on doors.
Yeah, tomorrow at the latest.

Wait a minute, I forgot to tell you.
I had the best cauliflower
at Janet’s last night.
Yeah, amazing.

Well, you cut the head into little florets.
And spread them on a cookie sheet.
Preheat the oven to 450.
Yeah, it’s gotta be hot.
Brush on double virgin olive oil
And bake for 20 minutes.

Are you writing this down?

Then just salt and pepper to taste.
But for the best flavor
I like a lot of coarse ground pepper.
Geez, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

I don’t care. It’s your turn to be the bad guy.
But if we don’t do it now, we’ll pay for it later.
Big time.

No, 450 for 20 minutes. Right.
Tomorrow.

On Becoming a Micro DJ

23 Feb 2004
February 23, 2004
My iPod with Wifi

It’s Friday afternoon. The weekend beckons after a long five days. Major Web site redesign almost ready for launch. Me: on the subway home with thoughts of a mellow Chardonnay nestled sweetly in a Reidel crystal glass. I’m listening to Pink as my antidote du jour for today’s non-stop link checking on the redesign. I’m boppin’ my head nonchalantly to the beat, oblivious to the rest of the world.

Just off to the right I notice someone moving his head to my beat. It’s sort of like being in the left turn lane and seeing the car-in-front-of-you’s turn indicator click to the same meter as yours. You wait for them to go out of sync. I wait for his head to miss. It doesn’t. I watch. It’s been five minutes and we’re still together.

Both of us are lost in our own secluded worlds. But what if iPods came with built in WiFi –not just to download music to our stereos but with the ability to receive and broadcast other people’s playlists? Not file sharing but music sharing. We could become our own mobile and micro DJs. Why limit our rotations to what we’ve downloaded to our units. Why not share them with others as they pass near us on our daily commute.

The range wouldn’t have to be long. Envision a tuner where you could tune in and out people’s “shows” as you commute home or walk down a crowded urban street. Think of the Meetup and Smart Mob possibilities. Everyone converges on 28th Street and K. You know your group by in-sync bobbleheads.

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The Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable, Act 3

07 Feb 2004
February 7, 2004

In this month’s performance from the acclaimed Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable–monodialogue® cell phone performances from the Washington subway–showbiz lobbies for better government.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable, Act 3:

What’s up?
I had a good time too.
Hey thanks. Yeah, I’ve been working out.
Twice a week at Homeland Security.
Ah huh, the gym’s in the basement.
An old bunker.

Abs and upper body.
Tom Ridge? Never.
Not just a stud, a nipple shield.

At the gym? Yeah, I hear stuff.
[A woman nearby abruptly shuts her Clive Cussler novel]
They’re putting Bush on a tape delay.
Just in case.
5 seconds? No, 5 minutes.
Not enough.

What’s he think?
Wardrobe malfunction?
War malfunction.

Great.
It’s a date.
Ok, I’ll meet you there.
Wear that black thing. What?
You know, that black thing that…
Yeah, that’s the one.
And don’t be…
No, I won’t be late.
See ya soon. Bye.

Past Performances:
The Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable, Act 1
The Theatre of the Barely Socially Acceptable, Act 2

© 2001-2015 Jeff Gates ISSN 1544-4074