Saturday, October 7, 2017

Metra raises a stink

     Two stories:
     1) Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I were in Paris, getting ready to take the TGV down to Cannes for a mid-winter sojourn at the Carlton (I've been waiting a quarter century to write that sentence). 
     The evening before, we thought we would buy some provisions for the trip, some bread and cheese, and went to Fauchon, the great supermarket. I bought a can of lime tea, my tribute to Proust, which I still have, and we tried several cheeses and settled on one.
     Then we returned to our hotel.
     Within an hour or two, the cheese we had bought began to reek. The odor filled the room. We had to put the cheese in a garbage can and set it in the hallway.
     The next day, settling into our seat for the high speed journey to the Cote d'Azure (TGV stands for "Train à Grande Vitesse" or "very fast train") when we took a breath and recognized the smell of the same cheese from the night before, the meal of the people directly behind us. 
     We looked at each other and laughed.
     2) Then last week, I was getting onto the Metra train, pressed the black oblong on the door, stepped into a train and caught the distinctive miasma of McDonald's—McStench. I looked down, saw a woman digging into a big red cardboard pouch of French fries. Feeling nothing toward the woman but pity, I span 180 degrees on my heel and found another car. 
    These two episodes would never had emerged from the bog of memory and fused in my mind were it not for this sign, glanced stepping off of the 5:12 at Northbrook on Friday. If you can't read the words, the message from  P. Ewe says "Ticket. Check. Stinky food. Check. Annoyed fellow passengers. Check!" 
     Granted, Metra is famous for confusing, pointless and counter-productive communications—from announcements of trains arriving that have already arrived to the garbled station announcements to various glyphic signs and symbols. 
    But this one takes the cake, so to speak. Four flaws come to mind:
    First, this sign, to the degree it is directed at anybody, is intended to shame would-be carriers of stinky food, encouraging them to consider their fellow riders. Question: who thinks of their food as "stinky"? Answer: nobody in the world. "Stinky" is an assessment that others, who are not consuming the food in question, make. The people eating the food like that kind of thing. They don't notice anything objectionable, or they wouldn't be eating it.
    Second, the most common offender, the smelliest food found on Metra trains is ... what? The aforementioned McDonald's of course, whose oil is as rank and distinctive as a corpse. And where do Metra passengers typically buy their putrid-smelling food? At the McDonald's at Union Station. Metra is urging you not to buy the food they're selling at the train station (which, I know, is not owned by Metra, as the railroad always points out when some part of it falls on the heads of commuters. But still. Why put up signs? Go yell at Amtrak.)
     Third, punctuate much? How about "Ticket? Check. Stinky food? Check. Annoyed fellow passengers? Check!" Question marks are free.
     And finally, have you ever been annoyed at somebody on a train because of how their food smelled? Oh, as in 25 years ago in France, you might notice it. You might even be bothered by it, like last week. But trains are big, long places. There's always somewhere else to go. No need to expend energy getting angry at somebody. So the posters are appealing to people who don't know they're being addressed, for the benefit of easily-annoyed parties who might not even exist. Nice work Metra. Your dollars at work. 


  1. I don't take Metra. Used to take the IC, which now has these fancy-dancy cross-country, double-decker luxury cars, but then had wicker covered seats. On a relatively empty car, we would flip the backs and face each other. I can imagine getting sick and tired of that sign, but at first blush, it seems quirky and cute.


  2. On a related note, I recently noticed an ad for Uber on the kiosk at Ogilvie Station that posts the schedule for departing Metra trains. You're advertising for a competitor, Metra? Huh.

  3. IMO, passengers who take hot food on board an airplane deserve a place in hell right behind (literally) the ones who recline their seats in coach. You can always go somewhere else on a train, but airline passengers don't have that luxury. As far as I'm concerned, if the food is warm, don't take it anywhere someone else has to smell it.

  4. I agree about the offensiveness of McStench, but would hold out no hope of that becoming so general an animadversion as to have it self banished from METRA cars.

    What I have found more offensive is teen agers, usually female, screeching into their cell phones. One thinks about moving but doesn't, thinking the racket must come to an end, but their endurance can be formidable. Difficult to know which is more annoying, their poorly modulated voices or the vocabulary, every other word of which seems to be "like."


    1. I'm with you on the screeching. You can't get away fast enough and when you do it's not far enough.


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