In Washington DC, it’s called “The Metro”. It is sterile, clean and expensive. It opened in 1976 and has five lines with 86 stations and 171.1 km of track. There Metro is the second busiest subway in the USA after New York City and I believe it. It is usually packed. They are currently extending it out to Dullus Airport. What they need is a ring line around the city. But nobody asked me. Of all the metros I have lived with, this one is the least impressive.
In New York City, it’s the Subway. One fare gets you anywhere you are going, it isn’t super clean, but it is efficient and all you really need to get around.
In London it is the Tube or the Underground. It is a little claustrophobic and I remember going down, and down, and down. I couldn’t believe how deep some of the lines were. It has a rich history and was used as a bunker during World War II when people lived in it.
In Berlin it is the UBahn. It was one system, then it was divided into two, then it was one.
The whole nine years I lived in Moscow, we had a car for about 9 months. Nicholas bought a Russian jeep — a red Niva — and drove it around for a while. He soon discovered that the “foreigner” plates they put on all cars owned by foreigners was a real problem. He was always getting pulled over for the most obscure reasons and of course a bribe was expected each time. Nicholas decided it was more trouble than it was worth and sold it. It took forever to get all the paperwork in order to be able to sell it but when he finally did, it was one of his happiest moments.
The Moscow Metro opened its doors in 1935. The line was 11.6 km and the initial section had thirteen stations with island platforms, all faced with granite and marble. Each station had a unique design. The closer to the center, the more elaborate they became. For example Revolutionary Square station, was right off Red Square and was full of marble statues.
I had two favorites. One was Novoslobodskaya. It had 32 stained glass panels designed by Latvian artists. The other one I liked was Mayakovskaya. It had 34 mosaics by Alexander Deyneka set into domes in the ceiling with the theme “24-Hour Soviet Sky”. I loved to just go there and look up to see these amazing Soviet visions of athletes, farms, and military power.
When I arrived in Moscow, it took me a while to get up the guts to get out on my own and tackle the metro. All the signs were in Russian so I would have to sit down and concentrate to decipher the Cyrillic writing in order to figure out which way to go. Once I started riding it regularly, people would always be asking me something I could not understand. I had no idea why they kept asking me questions. Eventually I figured out that most of them were asking me if I was getting off at the next stop because they wanted to position themselves for the exit. The cars were always crowded.
Today there are 12 lines running 305.5 km through 185 stations. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, the number of people who could live in Moscow and use the metro was limited. By the time I left 9 million passengers were using it on a daily basis. Today it is one of the busiest metros in the world – 2.3 billion rides per year. Just for comparison, New York City has 1.6 billion rides per year.
The Mexico City Metro opened in 1969, just as we were leaving. It had 16 stations. While building the Metro they ran into ancient ruins and had to divert the line. It turned into an archeological site. During the first stages of construction workers uncovered two archaeological ruins, one Aztec idol, and the bones of a mammoth exhibited at the Talisman Station. Many other discoveries were made as the metro expanded. The Altar of the Aztec goddess Ehécatl is displayed at the Pino Suarez station. Today it has eleven lines and 451 km of track with 163 stations, the second largest in North America after New York City.
I remember going on it a couple of times when it first opened but I didn’t like riding on it. When I went back in 1989 with my friends Jane and Tina, we were on the way home one day from sight-seeing and ended up getting onto a car jammed full of men. Jane and Tina managed to make their way over to the window and somehow, found seats.
I stayed nearer to the door because the whole car was so full. The men closed in around me and there were a million hands all over me. I looked around to see who the guilty parties were and everyone I looked at was staring at the ceiling. Finally I decided I had to take some action.
I managed to get my elbows perpendicular to my body and I rotated with as much force as I could. They all scattered to the far corners of the car, which made us all laugh. I then managed to make it over to where my friends were. When we got back to the condo where we were staying, my friend told me there were separate subway cars for men and women to reduce groping.
Boston is home to the first subway in the United States dating back to 1897 — the Tremont Street Subway (now known as the Green Line). I remember riding on it many times during my year in Boston. It was not air-conditioned and at rush hour was very crowded and hot! Hopefully it has been upgraded since then. The Red Line was brand new when I was there and was quiet and comfortable and never seemed to be too crowded.
Lagos, Nigeria, never had a subway. They sure could have used one!
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.