Saturday, May 24, 2008

Metrolink Comings and Goings

In the week-plus since the car died, I've been a regular rider on Metrolink. Having light rail available as an alternate to driving your own car sure is a nice option. It's economical, it's relaxing, and it opens your eyes to all sorts of things you never see from behind the wheel of a car.

We have a funny way about names here in St. Louis. They get changed, but we don't
always go with the changes. Like Metro. I think the whole public transit system of Bi-State now operates under the name Metro, but for me, I'll always think of the trains as Metrolink.

They say we're really like a small town here in St. Louis, and it's true. Without fail, every day I've ridden the train, I've bumped into one or more friends and business associates. The other day, one of my colleagues working in another downtown office was waiting at the station. We hadn't seen each other for awhile, so I walked up to him, we shook hands, and started to chat. Seated next to him was a woman, seemingly minding her own business. Not for long. She made me her business.

"Hey, you wanna move?", she said. "Huh?" I'm thinking...move? "Why?" I asked. "You're blocking my view." "Blocking your view? Of what". (We were in an underground station. She motioned to the west bound tunnel. We were waiting for a train coming from the east. At that point my friend muttered, "...people in their own world..." He stood up and we walked a few feet down the platform, and continued our conversation.

At the other end of the line, while exiting the station, a guy walking up the stairs is holding his MP3 player in his mouth like an infant's binky. Okay. I'm thinking, maybe some variation on a Peter Frampton voice box? That was different.

Every day is something new. More and more people are riding the trains. Ridership is growing and setting new records every week. With the price of gas these days, it's no wonder. Just yesterday I saw diesel at $4.65 per gallon. It's gotten insane.

So you've heard of the "last straw"? The last straw implies that there are some preceding, final straws. Yesterday, one of those final straws for me was waiting at the Clayton station. He, better stated the views he represented, were among the things leading up to our departure from our old church. In meetings, he espoused views justifying slavery based on a biblical context.

The seat next to me is empty. I'm hoping, don't sit here...don't sit here...don't sit here. There were lots of other empty seats...He sits down right next to me. Wonderful. I keep my head forward, and slightly turned away. He doesn't say a word. Good. Maybe he doesn't recognize me. We're sitting next to each other passing a few platforms.

He's holding some official looking documents in his hands, and he's dressed like a lawyer. I'm curious. Taking a quick glance at the title, they're called "The Law and the Gospel". Oh brother. I guess things really don't change that much.

Today on the train, we're riding through one of my favorite parts of the trip: the industrial section near the Grand Avenue platform. Here you're passing alongside lots of other rail lines. Stopped at the station, I see about a half dozen pigeons and one other bird pecking into the coal-looking rocks between the rails of the next track. They looked to be eating, but what sort of food would they find there? In between a pile of railbed rock. It was odd.

Then it dawned on me. A passing freight train must have dropped some grain or something down onto the tracks. It's the last place you'd think a tiny creature would get a meal, but sure enough, they liked it just fine.

One of the nice things about Metrolink is that it's very uncomplicated. You're either going west bound or east bound. With the exception of the trip out to Lambert, it's pretty much a one-track line. And the engineers give lots of updates and announcements. There's not a whole lot of thinking required. You get on board, chill for 20 or 30 minutes. Then you get off and you're there. A connection between work and home that is made via Metrolink has got to be one of the best quality of life options there is in St. Louis.

With the outrageous price of gas these days, and no relief in sight, maybe St. Louis is ready to up the pace of Metrolink expansion? I would definitely vote in favor of that happening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One problem with Metro expansion is that we are not proposing a tax large enough to expand for many years to come. The conservative and Republican Denver region approved FastTracks in 2004 to the tune of over $4 billion for the same time frame that we want to tax ourselves under $2 billion. Either we need to tax ourselves more than a 1/4 cent for expansion or lobby for massive amounts of federal dollars not seen since the start of the highway program in 1956. At a nine-to-one ratio of federal dollars we could really make commuting easier in St. Louis.