New rule: Neal will not ride the Metro in Tbilisi anymore.
So, many of you who may be reading this haven’t known me for very long, but I have been struggling with the New York City public transit system for literally half my life, and it hasn’t worked out well for me. One of the principal motivators for me to leave New York was that I didn’t want to have to take the subway anymore (or NYC buses, which are their own special kind of torture). I don’t want to go too deeply into the reasons for this because I fully intended to leave this particular stress behind and have it be part of my old life, but I suppose I should at the very least describe my experience in the Tbilisi metro, because it might be of interest to those of you who will be coming to Georgia, and because I never intend to ride the Tbilisi metro ever again, ever, for any reason.
Imagine, readers, that you are standing somewhere, just minding your own business, and suddenly someone decides that they want to stand where you are standing and so they walk up to you and literally make bodily contact with you without looking at you or acknowledging your presence or humanity for even a split second, and just stand in such a way that they are now touching you very closely. You look around and notice that there were plenty of other places that they could have stood. Imagine that you are not the type who likes making public displays of affection, and now a complete stranger is standing closer to you than you will even let your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse stand while in public. You can feel their body moving as they shift their balance from one leg to the other. You can smell their hair product, their body odor, their perfume or cologne, and perhaps their breath, and yet they are literally behaving as though you were just a wall that they happened to lean against.
Now if this scenario doesn’t bother you even a little bit, congratulations. You’ll do just fine in Metro systems around the world. However, if the thought of having this experience over and over again, several times a day, for fifteen years, seems like it might drive you a little fucking crazy, then welcome to my world.
And now we come to some similarities and differences between New York and Georgia. In New York, people actually usually smell okay. Maybe one in thirty or forty people smells unacceptably strongly – and usually it’s a perfume or cologne or body spray smell. Maybe one in a hundred people smells like body odor or dirt or sweat. And there are of course the occasional homeless people, but they tend not to do the leaning on you thing.
In Georgia, though, body odor is much more acceptable. People seem to shower less, and I’m not sure if they even have antiperspirant. About one in every five Georgian guys that I encounter on the street smells very strongly of body odor. Pack those guys into a train, and it’s a bit much. Although the ventilation system on the Georgian metro is, frankly, phenomenal, especially compared with NYC.
Also, in NYC, there are some people who are pretty intimidating. They either have crazy eyes, or they have ripped out muscles the size of my head, or they have gang tattoos (I don’t know actually know gang tattoos from a hole in a wall, but I basically just assume that anyone with a tattoo on their neck might be a maniac and that’s served me pretty well), but the point is, there are lots of people in NYC who set off my survival fight or flight alarm bells. In Georgia, there’s none of that. Even the bigger dudes seem pretty mild-mannered. And there aren’t that many big dudes. I don’t think I’ve seen a single dude who looks like he works out – I’m told working out isn’t done in Georgia – and no one looks particularly aggressive or angry or whatever. Georgians seem to just be relatively peaceful, minding-their-own-business types, compared to New Yorkers.
But anyway, there’s one significant similarity between New York and Georgia, which is that in both places, people will literally just fucking stand right up next to you on the subway, touching you, and not acknowledging you, perhaps expecting you to move, or else just not caring that you are there. They will do this whether the train is crowded or not. Today this happened to me on a car where there were twenty people packed in around me, and when I finally managed to free myself I had enough room on the other end of the car that I could have spun around with my arms out and not touched anyone.
I don’t know what kind of weird herd instinct causes people to behave this way, and frankly I don’t care. I want no part of it. I’ve ridden the Metro in several places – Philly, Chicago, Boston, Toronto – and none of those places were as bad as New York and Tbilisi. Toronto stands out as being particularly civilized, as everyone there goes out of their way to be polite and respectful to their fellow human beings, but I’m assuming that’s because the CIA has been secretly breeding Canadians for docility or something.
So, the Tbilisi Metro. It costs 40 tetri per trip – that’s about 21 cents US – it’s very deep, it comes very often, it runs very fast, it has very strong air conditioning, and the people on it are about as rude as New Yorkers, which is to say, shockingly and inhumanly rude. Which is surprising considering how nice Georgians are in other circumstances. Georgian men are more likely to give up their seats for women, though, then New York men are. I guess that’s what comes from living in such an intensely patriarchal society. And there doesn’t appear to be any smoking on the Metro. That would be good news for me if I were ever going to take the Metro again.
In similar news, Rage Against the Machine ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more: