Wednesday, June 28, 2017

...And Wisdom, Always, To Tell the Difference

There are three instances of what I'll call "useless zero sum-ism" that I observe on a daily or near-daily basis:

(1) Market Basket parking lot.  People will fight tooth and claw for parking spots, at risk of fender-benders, road rage (lot rage?), and irascible temper provocation over the prime parking spots when there several, sometimes dozens, of completed uncontested spots ten or so yards away.  I will never never never be able to understand this. Nor will I ever try.  I will simply take one of those spots "in Guam," walk the length of a a first down, and avoid the sturm und drang.

(2) Boarding the commuter rail at North Station.  When the train is announced, that merely kicks off a ten-minute warning to departure.  During those ten minutes, everyone at the station has to walk maybe 50 yards or so, on average, in order to board.  Yet, some people will jump into super-aggressive mode to be sure to get on the train...first?  Some sort of primal, irrational instinct kicks in (maybe the same one that leads kindergartners to squabble over 'line leader' status?) and the rational part of the brain, which knows that the only way to get home sooner would be to move from Lowell to West Medford, or from Woburn to Winchester, gets shunted aside in favor of the reptilian brain, which commands a person to knock down old ladies like so many bowling balls in order to grab a seat before they do.

(3) The Staircase of Doom.  Literally, every single day I see physical aggression on the Staircase of Doom at Gallagher Terminal.  In nearly all cases, it doesn't boil over into actual fisticuffs, but it's completely unnecessary.  Here's what happens -- a train pulls into Lowell.  People arriving in Lowell need to get off said train, and move their way up a 'fairly' narrow staircase in order to exit the train station.  However, people preparing to board that very same train -- soon to be bound for Boston -- must descend those same stairs.

This does not, however, need to happen at the same time.

In perfectly rational land, the Boston-bound people would be able to say "'s now 2:52 p.m., and this train won't leave Lowell until 3:15 p.m.  Rather than push my way through the tide of people coming up these stairs, perhaps I will wait until this clears out a bit, and then amble my way downward."

People don't think like that, though.  Even if we "know" we have 23 comfortable minutes to move a very short distance to board said train, we're more likely to think "There. Train. Me. Need. On."  The same instincts that lead people to continuously change lanes during stop-and-go traffic nightmares on the highway, as if somehow that extra 20 feet of daylight will get you home faster, kick into gear.   Rather than wait at the top of the stairs and be a sucker who might miss the train for his politeness, we barrel down through the crowd, with *maybe* the courtesy of a couple "excuse me" or "coming through" utterances.

But wait!  You might wonder -- what if people just walked along the right side of the staircase in each direction. It's wide enough to accommodate bi-directional movement.

Well, yes and no.  That *would* make sense if everyone followed that norm, but inevitably, someone decides that the flow of upwards movement isn't fast enough for his or her liking, and does a little bypass maneuver on the stairs.  Now the left side is in play, and other pedestrians follow suit.  Believe me, I've seen it play out a million times.

But here's what I really think, and here's why I titled this piece the way I did:  These sorts of situations are absolutely unfixable.  I mean, you can make your own fix when you can control it -- for instance, you can always decide to park in Guam when you go to Market Basket, and avoid the reindeer games being played by someone who insists on taking 10 minutes to park because hey-man it's-just-way-cooler-to-back-in, right?  You can let the madness subside when your train boards and THEN get on the gigantic people tube.

As for the train station thing, though?  I would say there's only one fix, and I hope it's coming with the ongoing round of station improvements and the neat stuff that seems to be happening to the Thorndike Building -- we need an over-the-tracks pedestrian footbridge in addition to the staircase we have.  It just needs to be really wide (like, four person-lengths wide).  That would create enough elbow room to make the daily game of Human Accordion that occurs along that other antiquated staircase go away.

The alternative might be a public awareness campaign to encourage Boston-bound people atop the stairs to simply take a breath and WAIT for a train that will not -- ever -- leave before its scheduled departure time.

And if you think that such a campaign is enough to override scores of millennia worth of wiring that overpowers all that fancy cerebral stuff that came along later, then we need to talk -- I've got this amazing piece of real estate to talk to you about.  It's a bridge, and it connects two of NYC's boroughs...and it's much potential. Call me.  

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