Thursday, November 17, 2005

Le Metro !: No longer car-dependent, I'm now part of the French underground

I moved to France so I could be closer to my only true love: Le Metro! Please don't tell my husband -- he still thinks it's because of him.

Now I've recently heard that some have proposed linking Utah Valley with Salt Lake via commuter rail (see this site). All I can say is that that's pretty cool that the option of a traffic-free commute might become available.

When I was attending BYU, I already found the bus service between the two to be pretty convenient, at least for weekend visits, though perhaps not for a daily commute.

The only time I had a problem with the SLC/Utah Valley bus was one evening when I decided to take the last bus up to Salt Lake to surprise my friend, and I didn't think about the fact that I would arrive after the SLC buses were done running for the night. I ended up having to walk 20 blocks to my friend's house in the snow! Uphill both ways, of course. You kids today have no idea of the hardships we had to endure back in the days before everyone on the freaking planet got a cell phone.

Anyway, back to the Paris Metro, and how I fell in love with it.

I know a lot of you have plenty of good reasons to prefer the convenience of going everywhere by car. But for myself, I've found that a combination of walking and public transportation perfectly fits with all of my wacky eccentricities.

First of all, I can't stand exercising for its own sake -- it bores me to tears. I once went a good 10 months of faithfully doing a 90-minute workout three times a week because I had a car commute to a sedentary programming job -- and believe me, I was crying on my Stairmaster the whole time.

On the other hand, I love a pleasant, brisk half-hour walk across town twice a day (my current commute to work). I'm not sure why, but it's practically my favorite part of my whole day.

Second of all, I have a terrible sense of direction, so every time I drive somewhere I've never been before, it's a real bother for me to try to interpret the map in real time while I'm also trying not to crash into pedestrians or other cars. And when I'm driving along a route I know well enough to follow without a map, it's a bother for me to pay attention to not hitting things when I'd rather be thinking about something more interesting (I'm not telling you what).

Then, once I get to wherever I'm going, I have to find a parking place. Then I have to park. Then I have to figure out if I have enough change for parking. Then -- worst of all -- when I'm done with whatever it was I had driven to, I have to remember where I left my car.

And don't get me started on keeping track of whether my insurance and registration are up-to-date and the oil is changed and all that nonsense!

I know that none of these tasks is a big deal individually, but they add up to a big pain in the butt for an absent-minded person like myself.

Of course, up until my early 20s, I had always lived in either the suburbs or in some other suburban-like developed area, so I assumed that there was no other way to live.

Then one day I was invited to a month-long math workshop in Paris.

I discovered that I could just keep walking in any direction and pass nothing but block after block packed full of interesting places to go. Then if I got bored of my immediate neighborhood, all I had to do was go into any subway station and take the Metro to more fascinating destinations than I had ever imagined. And the cool thing is that I could never get lost, because the subway network is so amazingly simple and easy to understand that even a directionally challenged person like me just can't mess it up! It's effectively impossible to get lost in Paris because wherever you are, you can always find a subway station, and from there a quick, convenient ride back to where you're staying.

It was like a miracle. I was immediately in love. I started to see my car back home less as a source of autonomy and more as a two-ton weight around my neck.

Now I don't currently live in Paris, but we have a great tramway system here where I live, plus -- like many people in France -- I end up going to Paris a few times a year for various reasons, and then I get to visit my true love.

They say Paris is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, possibly number one. I've been in plenty of conversations with various French people about why that is. They never believe me when I tell them it's because of the Metro. To most French people, the Metro is some ordinary, banal thing that they take for granted. But what else could it be? The Eiffel Tower? Yeah, it's cool, but I'm not going to buy a $1,000 plane ticket to go see it.

Laugh if you will, but I know. It's le Metro.

Published in the Utah Valley Monitor November 03, 2005.


Urban Viking said...

I too am deeply in love with the Metro. Unlike you though (I suspect) I've lived most of my adult life in two cities where public transport was pretty integral to the society: Melbourne and London. London is obviously much more PT-centric than Melbourne by virtue of the simple fact that its road system was designed for horses and carriages not automobiles.

Nowadays I work from home full-time but I would be dishonest if I said there wasn't a part of me that misses my daily adventures on various London transport services: the tube, overland trains and even river ferries for awhile.

If you ever get the chance, make sure you ride the Moscow metro or the "little yellow line" in Budapest. They're well worth a trip.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Urban Viking!!!

That's cool to hear that public transportation is integral to the city of Melbourne. I would normally think of Australia as a land of sprawl, but of course I've never been there. I've also never been to Eastern Europe, but you're making me curious... ;^)

Urban Viking said...

You're right about most of Australia. It's a large country, sparsely populated and we're almost as fond of our big cars as the Americans ;-p
The big cities though have good transport systems that are well used. Melbourne also has an extensive tram network although the trams aren't as sleek as the ones in Bordeaux.

I was in Bordeaux and Montpellier recently for the rugby world cup and we took quite a few tram trips in both cities. It seemed like the system was pretty good although Montpellier had obviously not made provisions for 30-odd thousand rugby fans wanting to get around on a Sunday :-)

C. L. Hanson said...

That is so cool -- maybe we saw you!!! I remember when all the Australians were in town for the rugby world cup. We heard Aussie accents everywhere!!! Did you swing by that Australian sports pub just south of the Place de la Victoire, the Byron Bay? We watched some of the matches there.

Urban Viking said...

Heh - I had no idea there was an Aussie pub there actually. Although I'm not sure why I'm surprised: I've been to an Australian pub in Helsinki of all places. They're almost as ubiquitous as Irish pubs it seems.

We were in France for 2 and half weeks or so on that trip driving around and there were Aussies everywhere. We spent quite a bit of time touring the WWI battlefields and memorials which were very heavily visited (unsurprisingly I guess).

C. L. Hanson said...

Yeah, Aussie pubs are pretty popular. I know there's at least one in Bordeaux, maybe more than one. Of course there are definitely multiple English pubs and Irish pubs here. Not that I'm checking out all the local pubs or anything... ;^)

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