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Thursday, January 08, 2009

2009 Sucks

It's freezing cold, temperatures here are dropping as low as minus ten (°C). It snowed during the weekend, and the streets are covered in grey slush while the sidewalks have more in common with ice rinks. I have to risk life and limb every morning to get to the bus stop, where I wait until my nose drops off and icicles hang off my ears for a bus that is always late. On Monday, I had to play Super-bus-passenger and come to the rescue because all the traffic in the main road to the train station got blocked. Some idiot parked two containers on the road, and because we Belgians loose every ounce of intelligence once we haul our arses in our cars, it was a total gridlock. So Super-bus-passenger got out of the bus, persuaded two cars to get lost, helped the bus driver to drive back so that the truck and the bus coming from the other direction could advance. And then we had to make a run for it, because a new batch of morons were ready to block everything once again, and my powers only go that far.

The trains have been running late all week long. Just a tiny bit of snow and frost and the whole system falls in shambles. And it's soooo much fun to wait on a freezing platform for thirty minutes to an hour. Both the morning and evening services suffer from these delays, so I get out of the house in the very early morning and it's very late before I can stick my feet into my slippers.

And yesterday, when I finally made it home, the largest pile of dirty dishes in the universe was waiting for me.

Boy, I hope 2010 will be a better year.

Posted by Bart at 9:25 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Monday, March 10, 2008

Oh Lord, Won't You Buy Me A Mercedes Benz

The umpteenth train strike today, making me loose time going to work and - more importantly - coming back. With a number of trains not running at all, we were stuffed like spam in a can in our coupe. Although I did manage to find a seat just in time, lucky sardine that I am. So nice to have people sitting on your shoulder, falling on your lap (not nice young ladies either, only big old hippos with moustaches) and pushing their handbags in your ear.

My bus was still there, but the doors were already closed and it was waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. If you have a nice bus driver, he'll let you in. I had the biggest prick since the invention of the bus ticket, so I had to run accross the street to the next stop (there's only 300 meters between the two stops nearest to the station, don't ask me why).

And for all this 'service' they even had the nerve to increase their prices!

Posted by Bart at 8:39 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Friday, February 29, 2008

Banana Splut

Normally, I wake up around 6.35, which is way too early to digest any food. So I wrap up some sandwiches to go and have my breakfast on the train. Yesterday morning, I stuck my hand in my backpack and felt around for the package. When I found it, it was as if there was something moist and sticky on the outside of the tin foil.

Clueless, I took a peek into my pack and discovered... a mini swamp. My magazines were drowning into a misterious goo, one was completely submerged while the other desperately held on to the inner side of the backpack. My apple was floating, bobbing on a lake of dark puss.

It was then that I discovered the remnants of what had once been a fresh, tasty, yellow banana. About a week ago. Now it was the rotting, smelly, blackened dead carcas of a banana. The skin had succommed to the pressure of the magazines and my sandwiches, and the festering mass at the inside had exploded and flooded the bottom of my pack.

At work, it took me half an hour to clean out the inside of the bag with paper towels. First, I had to get rid of the banana-corpse, which was no mean feat. It desperately clinged to the underside while I vigorously shaked the bag over the dustbin. Luckily, no-one came into the toilets, I felt enough of an idiot without any spectators.

This weekend, that pack has an appointment with the washing machine.

Posted by Bart at 8:36 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Friday, February 22, 2008

Beer Bomb

'Why don't I take a beer, to celebrate the end of the work week', I said to myself on my way to the train. So I bought a can and stuffed it into the pocket of my coat. The train itself was delayed, so the Belgian railroads owe my fifteen minutes of quality weekend time. But when I lowered myself in my seat, the can dropped out and fell on the floor.

'Will it explode?', I wondered. Nah, it's not asif it dropped from the first floor of a building or something. It just slipped out of my pocket, it'll be fine.

A couple of minutes later the train entered Brussels' Northern railway station. Bewildered travellers saw the train engine pass by, then a wagon, another wagon, a 30 meter long foam sausage spouting beer foam out of every open window, vent and crevice, and then some more train wagons. Luckily I had an extra handkerchief on me, or I never would've been able to clean everything up.

My coat was drenched, my pants were soaked, there was a huge puddle of beer under my seat and in the distance I could hear some children scream when a tidal wave of yellow liquid. Given the state of the toilets of some trains, I would have panicked too.

When the people around me overcame the initial shock, the sniggering started of course. Meanwhile, I still clinged to the overflowing can – it's amazing how much beer comes out a can in such cases. There never seems to be as much in it when you actually get to drink it. A trickle of cold liquid followed the underside of my arm. It was warm in the train, so everything dried quickly. And before you'd know it, I would smell like a beerpub the morning after a five-day students' festival. It's a foul smell, and everyone will instantly identify you as a homeless alcoholic.

Actually, I don't give a rat's ass whether people think I drink too much. As long as I really did get to drink as much as they think I did. Now it was all pain and no gain.

And how do you explain reeking for beer when you return late from work to your anxiously waiting spouse?

I didn't stand a chance...

Posted by Bart at 8:42 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tearing Me Apart

It was a cold morning, so I was glad to get on a warm bus. I found a place next to a young lady, and while I fumbled to get my rucksack off so I could sit down, the bus pulled up.

I think it was doing 30 kph when suddenly an idiot in a white van cut right in front of the bus, crossed the bus lane and took a right into the little street that we were about to cross.

In a reflex he bus driver slammed on the breaks.

The sudden jolt made me shoot forward like a bullet from a gun. Luckily I held on to a support when the whole thing happened, but the fingers of my left hand couldn’t hold me. My back slammed into a steel rail. My right hand clutched onto another support while the rest of my continued the flight to the front of the bus. A vivid image of me splattering in blood against the front windshield flashed before my eyes. But I managed to cling on this time, although the kinetic energy jerked through my whole body when I finally came to a standstill.

I was too stunned to shout protests or insults.

Two days later, my arms still ache as if I’ve been stretched on a torture rack.

Posted by Bart at 9:43 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I arrive at the bus stop at 7.20 AM. The Old Man is there, as usual, with his hands deep in his pockets and the cable from his MP3 player running up along his coat, then behind his beard to the small earplugs. I wonder what he’s listening to, but I take it it’s not Metal or Grunge. He’s too serious for that, I think he’s a teacher or something.

The Crazy Woman is not there, we’re the only two at the bus stop. I haven’t seen the Polished Bimbo in a while, maybe she’s broken a finger nail.

The bus arrives at 7.24, sometimes a bit later but today she’s on time. A lot of busses pass here on this busy entrance to the city. If I don’t pay attention I might miss it, but then again the Old Man always pays attention. I really think he’s a teacher.

I sit down next to Mrs. Eyeshadow. I don’t like sitting next to her because of the place where she gets out, but all the other seats are taken, except for the ones facing backwards. I can’t sit in one of those on a bus, I’d barf the breakfast that I didn’t have yet over every passenger. Fraggle, a middle aged woman sitting a couple of seats before me, would probably drown in it. She’s not very tall, and she aged a lot after she decided to change her haircut after the summer.

We leave the busy main road and turn right towards the centre of my suburb. A load of kids get up to drive to school in Antwerp. Two steps further the Bulldog steps in. She always looks at me with this dangerous smirk, as if she would call me names just for the fun of it. She waves to the apartment above the stop and throws kisses. It’s strange to see a fifty-year-old woman with such a face throw kisses.

The Man From UNCLE is the next one to get on. He’s not really the type to be a secret agent, I call him that because he looks a bit like the youngest brother of my father. He has thick glasses and a round beard and holds his leather briefcase tightly on his lap. During summer there was a lady waiting at the same stop. She was so very enthusiast about the whole public transport experience. She would get on the bus with a radiant smile and throw her bus pass forward so that the driver wouldn’t miss it.

The next bus stop is difficult to reach, two streets come together here. The bus driver just pretends he’s the only one on the road and forces the drivers coming from the right to break (the breaks) or break (their car). Rat Boy is already waiting. If you want his picture, look up ‘nerd’ in Wikipedia. He is the archetype. I expect he must have had a hell of a youth with his big upper front teeth, his constantly drooping lower jaw, his pronounced nose and his tiny glasses. My front teeth are smaller than his, but I know I was teased a lot as a kid.

Oliver Twist clambers on too. You can see his a mischievous kid. A couple of weeks ago he had to get off the bus again because he couldn’t pay or didn’t have a pass.

At the first hospital, Fraggle sounds the bell. She used to get off after the second hospital, but I guess she changed jobs.

Mrs. Eyeshadow is the next one at the second hospital. The stop is at the entrance of the hospital, which has a winding climbing road leading up to it. So I have to let Mrs. Eyeshadow pass and get up while the bus is dancing around. That’s why I don’t like sitting next to her, apart from the obvious layer of getting covered in a coat of powder three inches thick should the bus hit a hole in the road or something.

A couple of stops later we cross the bridge over the ring way that marks the entrance to the city. The Old Man gets off at the first stop behind the bridge, Oliver Twist and the Bulldog at the second.

The bus takes a turn and enters the Hood. Ali G, Ali H, Ali I, Ali J, Ali K and Ali L slide on to the back of the bus or chill on one of the handle bars. Some Alis are from Northern Africa, others are from Belgian decent. They try to look as cool and mean as their brothers in the Bronx, but ask them to organise a drive-by shooting and they’ll go looking for a bike and a super-soaker. Life is a bitch in the hood of Antwerp-Berchem, with the free education, overall decent housing, generous social welfare, low drugs abuse and numerous facilities for youngsters. Their brothers in the States must laugh their fraternal asses off.

The train station comes into sight, next stop’s mine. Ali M, Ali N, Ali O and Ali P can’t wait to get on the bus and join their mates, and block the exit. I squirm myself through and clear the path for Rat Boy, who follows me together with a bunch of other commuters. The 502 bus races me to the other side of the crossroads and then disappears in the blue diesel fumes under the railway bridge.

Posted by Bart at 9:46 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Backpack Attack

The summer holidays have started. There are a lot less commuters on the train. Instead there’s an invasion of backpackers: young people on their way to a music concert, old hippies hiking through Europe, families with children all with a different sized backpack, boy scouts and girl scouts in what must be Baden Powell’s nightmare vision of a uniform and backpacks in all different colours.

They all clutter together and block the entrances and passage ways of the train stations, provoking icy looks and mumbling-grumbling from the regular commuters, like myself. And at the same time we’re dreaming of the good old days when we had two months to strap on our overweight packs and went were we wanted to go. The sky was the limit – and our meagre budget.

It’s been cold, wet and windy these first days of summer. Not exactly the ideal trekking weather, but they’re still delirious of the smell of freedom.

Coming through!’, I shout. Don’t mind this jealous old worker bee. I’ll join you lot as soon as my children are old enough. To carry my backpack, that is.

Posted by Bart at 9:30 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Friday, May 11, 2007

Greedy Flying Dutchman

In Belgium, Dutch people have the reputation of being greedy. Especially the protestant Dutch of the northern Netherlands – above the Moerdijk – are supposed to count their hard-earned cash five times before spending a penny. In reality, Dutch people are much more generous than their southern neighbours in many respects, especially when it comes to helping people in need.

But sometimes, stereotypes seem to be ridiculously true. The Dutch flag carrier, Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) announced that passengers in Economy class that get or want more leg room will have to pay a supplement of 50 euros. Before, you could ask for a seat next to the emergency exits if you showed up in time. A small perk for people who are used to doing long-haul flights but can’t afford business-class tickets, such as people working for development aid organisations and other NGOs. But now those greedy Dutch want to make us pay for this small extra comfort.

In my case, it’s not even extra comfort. When you measure 1.87 meters (I think some 6 foot 2 inches), a bit more leg room is not comfort, it’s exercising your right to a humane treatment. While the average length of Europeans (and especially the Dutch) keeps increasing, airline companies are cramming more and more people in the same aircraft. Message to the airline industry: people die because of this. We don’t need stupid videos about doing exercises on board, we need more leg room. I’m not complaining about $10-to-fly-to-New-York tickets here either, my organisation pays between 1.000 – 2.000 euros to get me to Africa.

KLM will first test this principle on a couple of long-haul flights to Asia. When they think it works, they will implement it to the rest of their network. I never fly KLM, but I do hop on an Air France flight more regularly than other people take a bus. Air France and KLM got married a couple of years ago, so I hope stupid ideas like this one are not too contagious.

Posted by Bart at 8:55 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Unpaid Overtime

My computer at work was acting up yesterday. We have a firm that maintains the network and they are responsible for the updates. But something was blocking the update process, so my computer had a couple of hick-ups when I logged in. But the rest of the day it seemed to work properly.

When the evening fell my boss took her coat and waved us bye-bye. I checked the time on my computer, and it said it was 4.30pm. So she left a bit early but she told me earlier both her kids have the flue so that’s not so strange.

A couple of minutes my other colleague left. As it was still not 5pm I continued working, happily slapping my keyboard. A short while later it was time to start the race home, according to my computer. Usually I set off around 5.10pm. But when I grabbed my cell phone, it claimed that it was already 5.40!

Just great, that meant that I had missed my train, which in turn meant that I had to take the subway to Brussels’ central station instead of hopping on the train on the small train station near my office. And to add insult to injury, all trains passing through Brussels’ South, Central and North stations were late and will be for the coming days because the main powerhouse for that area burned down on Monday (most trains run on electricity here).

Needless to say, I had to wait for ages for a bus that would take me from Antwerp’s Berchem Station back home.

Posted by Bart at 8:55 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Dumb And Dumber

This morning a couple of students entered my train compartment and planted their bums next to me and in front of me. The two girls started – or rather continued – a conversation that involved a lot of volume and words, but was as devoid of intelligence as the election campaign of the US conservatives. I almost ate my newspaper in chagrin as Princess Loudmouth at the opposite side of my table started explaining in detail who of her friends fucked whom in all the detail and description you’d find otherwise only in the bubbliest of soap opera’s. The Marquise d’Echo-Brain at my left side feigned utter disbelieve to gather every last juicy detail.

Then they started about school. It seemed they were all students of the Brussels Film School. That may sound impressive at first, but from my observations I’d say that a lobotomised egg can pass the exams there. Some highlights:

  • The girl in front of me said ‘Borat’ was a great movie. Nothing wrong with light entertainment but you’d expect a more critical vision of a would-be professional in the moving images.
  • All three of them were complaining that they had to see ten films in the film museum in Antwerp or Brussels, but all these historically important films that they showed were soooooo boring and they found nothing of their taste. Apparently there is no Jerry Lewis retrospective running at the moment.
  • The subject turned to software, an important instrument for coming movie-makers. But Princess Loudmouth was soooo confused because of all the formats (MPEG, QuickTime, etc.)
  • She also asked if the others had the ‘Adobe’ program. Adobe is not a program, it is a firm with a lot of graphical software, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, the PDF-reader/writer Acrobat and yes, a film-editing application called Adobe Premiere.
  • To top it all off, Princess Loudmouth found Google too difficult to handle and said that installing a program was just too complicated for her. Yes, that’s right. Don’t waste your time on acquiring basic computer skills. Hollywood is eagerly awaiting your arrival!

By the time they finally got off the train, I wrote an entire script for ‘The Brussels Chainsaw Massacre’.

Posted by Bart at 8:59 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Science Of Taking A Bus

Taking a bus is not that easy. In fact, the bus companies (we got one for every region of the country : a Flemish one, a Wallonian one and one in Brussels) should distribute manuals. Yesterday an elderly couple was accompanying their grand-daughter on the bus – or maybe just harassing an innocent teenage girl. When they see that their stop is coming up, they start to say their goodbyes, kissing and hugging and giving farewell speeches and all. Then they tried to exit through the entrance, which was not possible because of all the people entering the bus. By the time they had found the exit and shuffled to it, the doors closed again. The next stop was a couple of blocks away. Not so much a problem for a young lad in the prime of his years such as me, but a long walk for those venerable old legs.

A bit further we enter a street and approach a bus stop full with people. They stare at the bus like a bunch of sheep that wouldn’t stop grazing their meadow even if a nuclear missile slammed into the ground right next to them. They didn’t signal the bus driver to stop, so the bus driver didn’t stop. They looked very surprised because the bus didn’t stop. Luckily, bus drivers have a sixth sense for these involuntary lobotomy victims, so he stopped a bit further and allowed the sheep to get on the bus.

I’m telling you all this to camouflage a bit what I did this morning. I was so busy contemplating the origins, direction and meaning of the universe, the existence of a supreme being (other than me) and whether women would really leave messages and phone numbers in men’s rooms – in other words my brain was still pre-heating that morning – that I completely missed my bus stop. My regular bus stop is very easy to recognise, what with that giant train station right in front of you and all the busses stopping there. So our bus stopped, people got on and off, we left again, passed the train station and only THEN did I realise that something was wrong.

Nothing so bad as getting off at a stop where no-one ever gets off and walk back to the train station.

Posted by Bart at 9:24 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Wrong Way Track

Did you know that trains can take a wrong turn? It happened to me last week, twice.

On the same day.

In the morning, I take a direct train between Antwerp and Brussels. I’ve made this trip thousands of times now, so I could tell immediately something was wrong. Instead of going to Brussels, the locomotive merrily went on his way to Lier, and we had to follow of course, being in the wagons behind. Lier is a nice little historical city, but I really had to go to work to earn my pitiful little wage so I can make my colossal stack of bills a little less high. We stopped, and moments later the conductor informed us that the person at the controls in the signal house had made an error. Apparently, Belgian trains don’t have a reverse so we had to drive all the way to Lier before we could continue our voyage to Brussels via Mechelen.

Thinking this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I went to work and set off to return home in the evening. After our third stop (that thing stops basically at every house in Brussels), we were off again to strange new worlds and civilisations. Or at least we would be if the track wasn’t blocked by a reparation crew and the railroad bridge further ahead wasn’t under reconstruction. This time, a detour was not an option. Luckily, the track went also uphill, so we could roll back to the station as I’d already established earlier that Belgian trains don’t have a reverse. At first, the conductor mumbled an excuse about “stopped due to reparations”, but later he had to admit that it was that – censured – moron again who – censured – can’t – censured – his – censured – and on top of that doesn’t even – censured – and his mother too!

Honestly, if the railroad company keeps allowing students to take the controls during the summer months, it’s only a matter of time before my train has a head-on collision with another one. When that happens, it will probably be a freight train with a 500 tonnes load of steel coils, or a nuclear transport or something.

Posted by Bart at 8:06 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mission Impossible

Something had happened on the Brussels subway system yesterday morning. I don’t know what but there weren’t any trains for about fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes during morning rush hour is a long time, so when I arrived on the platform it was stacked with people. While I was waiting other people arrived and they had to cue on the stairs and beyond. When the first train finally did arrive, people couldn’t get off the train because there was no more room left on the platform. I had to wait for the third train before I could finally climb on, together with a bunch of bloody tourists who went to visit the European Parliament. They were totally oblivious to the fact that it was rush hour and that people wanted to get off at the next stops. So a couple of commuters couldn’t get out in time and had to wait until the bloody tourists left the train three stops further.

In the evening, the subway was working fine. I left an hour later from work after finishing a subroutine of the database I’m making (I must tell you about that one time, it is sooooo interesting). But my 18.25 train to Antwerp was late, announced with a probable delay of five minutes. Ten minutes later, and still no train in sight. Another one came, the local train that also stops in Antwerp, after halting every three minutes and five kilometres, whenever the train driver spots a group of people and/or bovines. So since my train could arrive any minute, I decided to let that one go without me.

Of course, my train never came. But no problem, another train to Antwerp was about to arrive. Except that the announcer announced the announcement that the train had a probable delay of ten minutes. Note how they always use the word ‘probable’, which more often than not means ‘probably not’ or ‘much more than’. By the time this train had arrived, I almost wasn’t capable to board it, since my body was half frozen.

So it was with an exact (not probable) delay of an hour that I arrived in Antwerp Central Station. Naturally, I had forgotten my mobile phone that day, so no way to inform my loved one about my troubles and whereabouts.

I descended towards the subway station underneath Central Station, where I discovered that all trams (Antwerp’s subway system is a bit more modest than Brussels’, it’s more of an underground tram than a real subway) were blocked. A defect tramcar blocked the tunnels, so we had to wait until it was removed. After then minutes, we saw it pass by, pulled along by a maintenance tram. When my tram finally did arrive, one of its doors stopped just in front of me. It didn’t open and only then did I notice the sticker saying that these doors were out of order.

I was too tired to get into a superhuman rage, tearing the tram apart and bashing my fists trough the subway station’s walls until it collapsed and the whole Central Station above it. A moment later, I was all happy again, thanks to the guy standing next to me who smelled so much of alcohol that I got drunk on the spot.

So all’s well that ends well.

Posted by Bart at 11:59 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Accordeon Attack

When the train entered the subway station, it was the usual hassle at the doors to get in. When they opened, I heard the distinct sound of a drunken git playing the accordion in an attempt to rob some fellow travellers of their change. He turned around, with the big instrument hanging over his belly, and looked me directly in the face with a big grin.

‘Bloody hell’, I muttered.

I ran for another door and just managed to get into the next car before they closed. I had a relatively quiet ride, only disturbed from time to time by the blood chilling cries of the people in the next car being submitted to the dreaded ‘accordion-in-a-tunnel’ death ride. When I finally arrived at my destination, I saw the accordion guy leaving the other car… alone, with a deadly grin upon his face. The silence in the railcar was eerie. I tucked my scarf into my coat and hastily left the station, without turning around.

Posted by Bart at 8:09 PM
Edited on: Friday, February 03, 2006 3:31 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Friday, October 21, 2005

They’re out to get me, not getting me out there

Two weeks ago, there was a national strike. Most of Belgium came to a standstill, largely because virtually no public transport worked that day. Much, if not all of this chaos passed me by, because as you may recall I was ill at the time. So I was quite happy to be lying in my bed while my fellow commuters desperately tried to get to work.

But THEY noticed.

THEY know.

THEY won’t let anybody escape…

Monday morning, I got to the usual platform, still a bit woozy and snotty. Then I noticed that the train had a delay of 10 minutes. Well, it happens from time to time. When I returned from work however, the Brussels subway system was in disarray, “for reasons beyond their control”. So the subway train was late. So I missed my train in Brussels’ Central Station.

Tuesday morning: my usual tram doesn’t show up, nor the next one, nor the one that should follow it. I have to wait for fifteen minutes. Naturally, I miss my train and show up late for work again.

On Wednesday morning, the train is announced with a delay of five minutes. This is not too bad, because I left home a bit too late and now at least I have the time to buy a magazine. I forgot my book for the third day in a row after I’d packed it for our weekend at the sea, where I didn’t read a word in it. When I return from the magazine store, the delay has increased to ten minutes. Me. Late. Work.

Thursday: no delay in the morning, so I’m quite content. But when I return in the evening, the escalators in the subway station do not work. While clambering down I hear the train arrive and leave again right at the moment that I almost reach the platform. Miss connection. Have to wait for twenty minutes. Hooray.

Today, Friday, I didn’t have to fight my way through rush hour, because I have to pick up some prescribed medicines for my coming trips to Africa and the pharmacist’s only opens at 9 o’clock. The train ride to Brussels goes without any surprises. But then of course, I still had to return. The escalators at the subway station are still in repair, but this time I wasn’t surprised. I even got in Central Station well in advance. But then my luck ran out. The 17.25 didn’t show up at 17.25, instead there’s a stop train that really deserves its name, stopping at every spot where it sees more than three cows and a rabbit gathered. So I – foolishly – decide to wait. Then three other trains follow each other in rapid succession. Another stop train arrives, but since it’s already 17.39, I decide to wait for the 17.39 express that inevitably has some delay. A few moments later, the train for Antwerp arrives. It’s the 17.25, which I didn’t expect anymore at 17.45. Anyway, I get on the train, which heads for Antwerp and later the border town of Essen. Normally, this train stops at Antwerp Berchem, then Antwerp Central Station and then continues to Berchem. But because of the delay, the train will not stop at Antwerp Central Station, so the passengers going to Antwerp Central Station have to switch trains in Berchem. This is all explained by the train driver, but because these trains are all so modern, we barely realise that he is saying something. The train sets off again, leaving Berchem Station, and I quickly notice were going in the wrong direction.

We pass Antwerp East Station, but don’t stop there. Instead, our next stop is Ekeren, to the north of Antwerp. When I get out, I can see that I’m not the only one, the little station is flooded with passengers going in the wrong direction. To make things worse, we have to leave the station, walk to the bridge over the tracks, get to the other side and there get to the platform. Miraculously, the train in the other direction hasn’t left already. But it did start to rain and it’s a real downpour by the time the train does arrive.

Anyway, I did arrive, an hour and a half later than normal. And the weekend has finally started. But to prevent similar events next week, I just want to say: YOU win, I repent, please forgive me! I shall never try to escape the nuisances of a general strike again by being sick. I promise!

Posted by Bart at 10:05 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

Friday, September 09, 2005

Rush hour tourists

After a month and a half at my new job, I really master the commuting thing. My daily trip between Antwerp and Brussels takes about an hour and a half each direction, in the company of several thousands of other people who press themselves on the same tram, train and subway car as I do. I now am capable of finding my way around practically blindfolded, which is just as well because you can’t expect a lot of mental activity at 7 a.m. from this commuter. Most importantly, I mastered the empty, mindlessly annoyed gaze of the average commuter and the purposefulness we share with a group of lemmings at the steep end of a cliff. Added to that is a will to bump into anyone in your way, shoving them aside without remorse, walking stick or no. Rush hour is no time for the weak and feeble.

Poor tourist, who unwittingly finds him- or herself in this maelstrom while trying to reach ‘Manneken Pis’, the ‘Grand Place’ or one of the many museums. Yesterday, I encountered a couple of them between the subway station and the Central station (which is also underground). Like a ship adrift, they were floating in the rapids of commuters trying to get home as fast as possible. They drifted to the left and to the right, sometimes swimming into the stream to try to read the signs pointing to the different exits. When I came nearer, they hoisted a big sail. A large map of Brussels, flapping in the wind but blocking the sight and path of the commuters, who growled and hissed in anger. Who dared to block them? She got bumped pretty hard, and his map was almost ripped out of his hands.

He understood that they had to get out of there, no matter where they went. He quickly folded the map, while the commuters were stomping the back of his heels to get him out of the way. He took her hand and dragged her aside. I don’t know if they made it, because the tide had already swept me past the next curve in the tunnel.

Just a few weeks ago, I too was a helpless tourist in a foreign city, not realising that people had to work while I was on vacation. People growled and snapped at me too, while I was following the directions of my Lonely Planet guide. One thing is for certain: commuters hate tourists. They just don’t need to see any happy persons free of stress while they are floating in it on their way back from work.

Posted by Bart at 10:11 PM
Categories: Public Transport Pains

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