Thursday, March 31, 2011

Too Old For This Ride

Today I want to talk about an old nemesis of mine: public transportation.  I have a job whose location requires me to travel via transit for at least an hour and a half every working day.  Though I love my job and wouldn't give it up for a quicker commute, the bus has been grating on me lately and I must get this frustration off my chest.

Let me begin what is essentially going to turn into a rant on a positive note.  I do understand that many people take the bus as a gesture of environmentalism or for lack of a designated driver.  My hat's off to you.  Also, one can argue that the transit service in my community is extremely reliable in comparison to public transportation elsewhere, with buses arriving pretty much on schedule.  I can attest to the fact that whenever it snows in my temperate community, I always arrive on time for work, whereas my four-by-four driving colleagues hunkered down and waited for the snowplows.  With few exceptions, transit drivers are also polite, compassionate and take constant abuse.  They are often called upon to handle uncomfortable situations and will usually slow down if they see me running down the street like a half-crazed lunatic.

The part about riding the bus that I hate is the other passengers.  For me, the morning starts off okay because the only other people on the bus are working people like me.  Mostly people going to office jobs and/or tradespeople heading to their respective sites.  Everyone is tired, their noses stuck in a book, or sipping quietly on their coffee trying to wake up.  Nobody tries to strike up a conversation, and passengers maintain a comfortable level of personal space.  Unfortunately it all goes downhill at the start of my evening commute. At the end of the day I lose patience with the lack of boundaries people have within public space.  I don't want to sound old-fashioned, but there are some activities and conversations that are meant to be done behind closed doors.  

Today I couldn't help but overhear (she was talking very loudly) a woman talking about how her diabetes medication caused a tear in her bowel.  In what context is it socially acceptable to talk frankly about bowel movements to complete strangers who you happened to strike up a conversation with?  The same goes for loud cellphone conversations about sexual escapades and/or lover's quarrels.  It brings out the intervener in me which is difficult to suppress.  I feel like today's society has lost the privacy (or religious shame) of our forefathers and we need a politeness movement.  The bus forces me to confront how uncomfortable it makes me to sit thigh to thigh with strangers or when the bus lurches forward, pitching me into another person.  Physical closeness with people not of my choosing is one thing, but the questionable hygiene of some of the patrons is another issue altogether.  On a number of occasions I have quietly sat beside men who hadn't bathed in about a week or so, their stink causing me to ponder fleeing the comfort of my seat.  Men who reek are one thing, but the one that always takes the cake in my mind is the woman who cut her fingernails covertly while sitting a few seat ahead of me.  She didn't just manicure a broken nail, she went to town and left her clippings on the floor.  

I suppose it is the confessional nature of our society which has infringed upon my private space too many times.  With talk shows and reality shows abound, people seem to want to air their dirty laundry publicly and the bus is just another forum.  I will not take the bus forever, in fact, I am learning how to drive and will somehow finance a vehicle.  I am tantalizingly close to my goal of a license and will soon have to find something else to complain about besides the crush of humanity that awaits me every time that door opens.      

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Life Under Threat

Throughout my entire life I have been living with the threat of imminent death.  I don't live in a third world country where I lack the resources to survive and I'm not part of some persecuted minority group which struggles in the face of ignorance.  I'm a person living in an earthquake zone, where there is the high probability that "The Big One" will strike and wipe out all that I hold dear.  

For as long as I can remember, scientists and teachers have placed extreme importance on emergency preparedness in a manner similar to the way my mother was instructed about  possible nuclear bombing.  At the same time that seismic upgrades were added to buildings and people were making sure they had First Aid Kits at the ready, another threat emerged.  Living in an area which is close to, or at sea level, should the polar ice caps melt in a way that scientist predict they will, my island will probably be toast.  During my high school years it became a bit of a joke, how likely we were to expire at the hands of nature one way or another.  I had one teacher who tried to hammer home the importance of thinking about our impending mortality, but you can imagine how this fell on deaf ears. Too many of people my age were dying as a result of automobile accidents for me to pay all that much attention to threats out of my control.  

This week it hit home how lucky I've been for the last twenty-something years.  I got a phone call at 5:00 in the morning from my boyfriend's mother, who just wanted to hear that he was okay.  He had just returned from Hawaii and came back to another place threatened by earthquake and tsunami alike.  His relatives from back east were all wringing their hands, hoping that our island wouldn't be hit with a tsunami similar to the one that hit Japan.  I was blissfully ignorant of all of this drama, having barely heard about a large earthquake in Japan, and having spent most of my life under the threat of one disaster or another, I never actually believe that I am in any type of jeopardy.  Though I'm sure that the people of Japan probably felt something similar until the recent devastation.  I don't doubt that a Japanese person my age has been drilled in earthquake safety the same as me, and being island-dwellers they too know the beauty and power of the ocean.  It is a double-edged sword living on the water.  

Unless I have a complete change of heart, I don't think that there is anywhere else which I would rather live.  Despite the consequences of dwelling in "The Ring of Fire," I think I'll learn to deal with it.  For me, there is comfort knowing that I will always be within walking distance to a body of water, come what may.  Meanwhile, I will stock up on emergency provisions, buy a First Aid Kit, and stop using our stash of bottled water to make coffee.  There is nothing wrong with basic emergency preparedness, but my life won't be dominated by the predictions of scientists that I have been listening to for as long as I can remember.  If the worst does happen, I hope that I'm totally ignorant of my fate, sitting on my couch with a beverage of my choice, awaiting whatever "The Big One" can dish out.

Monday, March 7, 2011

After the Asp

The story of Cleopatra has always been one of those classic tales of political power and seduction, but few books elaborate on what happens after the asp.  I always wondered what transpired after her death, to her country and family.  With this in mind, I picked up Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran.  Also I needed a bit of an antidote to Stephen King's mutants, and thought this novel might provide some girlish entertainment.

The novel begins with the Roman invasion of Alexandria and the deaths of both Marc Anthony and Cleopatra.  Octavian, the leader of Rome, takes Cleopatra's children, Selene, Alexander, and Ptolemy back home as trophies.  There are many other prisoners of Rome, slaves and royalty alike, who teach them how to manipulate the political system in their favour.  Luckily, Selene and Alexander have Octavian's formidable sister, Octavia, on their side and she takes them in and treats them like her own children.  Her slave, Gallia, instructs them about how to behave and endear themselves to Octavian, who holds their fate in his hands.  The tactic they use is to outwardly give the appearance of loyalty and usefulness in the hopes of one day returning to Egypt. For Selene, the situation is very tenuous because it is made clear to her that she will be used as a political pawn once she is of marriageable age.  There are examples of unhappy marriages and capricious divorces all around her, and so the future looks grim.

To feel some semblance of power over her life, she chooses to pursue her love of architecture.  With the help of Octavia, Selene convinces an architect to mentor her and spends all of her spare time designing buildings and  mosaics.  Though Selene's story is compelling, I think that the novel's strength is in the focus on the social history of Rome. The role of women and slaves within the empire is heavily discussed amongst the characters and provides some of the most interesting subject matter. The story also moves really quickly and there is plenty of intrigue.  There is a downside, however. Clearly a lot of research went into the writing of this book, and unfortunately the facts aren't woven into the narrative as seamlessly as I would like.  I felt there were times where the plot is bogged down with excess information and I think that it hurt the overall story.  For the serious history buffs it might seem a little lightweight, but it's good entertainment with a large amount of social history.