Thursday, March 18, 2010

Streetcar Sue

The St. Charles Avenue streetcar line runs from downtown to Carrolton.  The cars were built in 1926, two decades before the Mattapan High Speed cars but basically of the same design.  If you don't have a need to travel to Mattapan via the MBTA, the museum pieces on display at Boylston will give you an idea.  The cars on Boston's Green Line are updated versions.

Should you take the St. Charles to the end, you'll see they don't turn around.  Rather, the driver gets out of the car and lowers the device in back that connects the car to the overhead wires.  Then, the driver goes to the front of the car, now to be the back, and released an identical device overhead.  The front becomes the back.  There are controls at either end of the car to accommodate this change from back to front and vice versa.  In fact, the rear of the car, with its controls and driver's seat is often occupied by passengers during crowded runs.

I had the pleasure of riding the St. Charles line twice today run by the operator with the badge number 626.  This is a woman who enjoys her job.  She welcomes passengers and gives them advice and history about the neighborhoods through which her car passes.  "All aboard who's coming aboard!" she says at stops.  "Get ready for takeoff!" she warns when she's about to resume movement (the street cars rarely exceed 5mph).

She is used to tourists.  Natives take the streetcar, but the St. Charles Line goes through some of the most beautiful neighborhoods in New Orleans, across the top of the Garden District, past Loyola and Tulane universities, and Audobon Park, as well as into Carrolton.  "Go spend a lot of money and leave a big tip.  If you do, tell 'em Streetcar Sue sent you!" Operator 626 admonishes.  "If you don't, don't tell 'em I sent you," she adds with a laugh.

Some MBTA drivers have a personality. I've encountered a few on the E Line.  Once in a blue moon a Red Line driver will wish passengers a nice day.  Mostly though, MBTA employees on the trains seem to be a sullen lot.  Not all the drivers on the St. Charles Line are mass transit ambassadors either, but they have more direct interaction with the public.  There aren't many passes in use.  The fare is $1.25 and the drivers are forever finessing dog-eared dollar bills into the fare machines.  I have yet to meet a truly disgruntled RTA employee.  They can be harried, but they remain human.

A tip of the fedora to Streetcar Sue, an inspiration to mass transit workers everywhere who see their jobs as professions rather than chores.  A ride on the St. Charles Streetcar is a joy and it more so when Operator 626 is at the helm.

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