Nov 18 2009

On the train, al galgalim

by at 8:46 pm

Hinei rakevet, shmistovevet, al galgalim al galgalim al galgalim toot toot! (Here is a train that goes around on wheels on wheels on wheels toot toot!)

That is my favorite (hah! not!) song from Camp Harlam song sessions (see 6:45 pm…and while I am no Rachel, I did have 4 Rachels in a bunk of 14 girls one summer).  I think of this song often these days because I spend an awful lot of my time on trains—at least 6 hours total per week, not including buses, trams, sidewalks, train stations, and the other trappings of a frequent commute.  Ah, the SBB-CFF-FFS.

Many people have heard me complain about my commute, but not on the blog.  In general, I find it impossible to work on the trains.  What with frequent stops, overcrowding, lack of tables, 4-seats-to-a-pod seating style, young male soldiers hanging about in uniform, cell phone and otherwise loud chatter, ipod headphones blaring, and various munching, it is incredibly difficult to focus and find a comfortable position for reading academic articles.  Yet, if I don’t use that time in a productive way, I tend to just feel guilty about it.  I envy those without commutes, but I also envy commuters who can relax to a newspaper/ipod/novel and don’t have to balance their lunchboxes on top of heavy backpacks on top of their legs on top of their coats.  Swiss public transport is excellent as compared with other poor systems, but there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly on the Geneva-Lausanne line, which is infamous for its delays and overcrowding.

I was inspired to write this post today because on my way to class this afternoon, I observed a man struggling with the train ride as much as I often do.  The problem? The door at the end of the car wasn’t closing automatically, so every time someone walked between cars or the train stopped to let on/off passengers, the door would be left open, and it would be noisy and cold.  This man, sitting a few pods away from the door, kept standing up to close it, immediately after which, someone would enter anew and leave it open.  Finally, he gave up and moved to another car.  I completely sympathized.  I myself have moved cars because of non-functioning automatic doors, and I have agonized over if it is incredibly rude to change seats when someone sits down next to me with their ipod headphones acting like boomboxes more than headphones.  However, I did not share this frustration with the man today, as I had my earplugs with me, so I popped them in, and all was quieter with the world.

While I haven’t gotten anywhere close to conquering my commute, there are some things I have learned which can make it a bit better.  So for those of you out there who face similar commutes of your own or who think it might be amusing to read what ridiculous things I think about every time I get on a train, here are some tips for dealing with a commute on the SBB:

  • purchase a General Abonnement (AG) so that you don’t have to bother with tickets and don’t have to worry about talking routes with shorter zones and only at certain hours, even if you calculate that you might be able to spend a bit less each month with a demi tarif or voie 7.  the convenience is worth it.
  • once you have your AG, keep it in the same accessible spot so you don’t have to rifle around for it when the conductor comes to check it.
  • learn to use rail.ch well, grab little printed booklets of the train schedules for your well-traveled routes in the train station, and memorize the train schedules and different options so you can plan in advance or formulate a new plan should one go awry
  • figure out which trains are the double deckers, and aim for those.  stay away from tilting trains if you have any hope of not getting motion sick.  the Italian trains tend to be quieter but have awkward 6-seater pods, so that is up in the air.  keep an eye out from when the SBB converts a 1st class car into a 2nd class one temporarily with a piece of A4 posted in the window, as not many people notice, and you will have a 1st class ride for the price of 2nd.
  • try to get to the train station a few minutes in advance because waiting on the platform with all the smokers, in the cold, without seats is bad, but so is missing the train and running up stairs with a heavy backpack.  On the other hand, they say sprinting a few times a day is good for you
  • aim for cars that have door-separators in the middle…they tend to control noise
  • do not sit near a pod with an open window if someone is already sitting next to the open window, because it is awkward to try to close someone else’s open window.  But close all unaccompanied open windows you see.
  • stay away from groups, especially groups of young people
  • attempt to sit away from people wearing headphones or talking on cell phones or eating McDonald’s or wearing camouflage
  • sit close to the middle of the car, where frequent stoppage is less of a bother because there are fewer blasts of cold, noise, fuel/smoke fumes, and fewer people hanging around your seat waiting to get off
  • bring earplugs and seabands.  I wear them all the time and never travel without them.
  • bring tea and food yourself, and munch away, so what if Swiss people don’t know what a travel mug is
  • have a backup plan for what you might do if focus just isn’t there, like investing in an internet everywhere USB stick for your computer or a data plan on your phone, carrying along an ipod with your favorite podcasts updated, or grabbing a free tabloid on your way onto the train.
  • if all else fails, put in your earplugs, pull your hat or scarf over your head, set your cell phone alarm to wake you, take out your AG in case the conductor comes by, and take a nap

Toot!  Toot!

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One response so far

One Response to “On the train, al galgalim”

  1. christineon 20 Nov 2009 at 3:59 am

    Haha, poor Jackie. I remember NYC subways being similarly annoying (arguably worse) but after awhile you just get used to it. Or not, and get a lot of free sleep/dubious peoplewatching entertainment.

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