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Posted by aaron at 12:00PM, Friday, October 31st, 2003

Why does the MBTA suck so bad?

I seem to remember a time when getting on the Red Line wasn't like boarding the slow train to Hell. But days like today, I'm not so sure.

It's never a good start when the trains-going-the-way-you're-not to trains-going-the-way-you-are ratio is greater than 3:1. (Then again, what should you expect on a rainy day when you narrowly avoid having twenty or so commuters poke out your eye with their umbrellas, just walking to the station?) By the time such a ratio has accumulated, the platform is packed, and what could be better than seeing a completely packed train pull up? Luckily (or not, perhaps), I was standing right where the doors opened. No one on the car would step back to let any new people on, even though there was a tiny bit of space. Finally, someone on the train got off, bitching all the way, and four of us from the platform piled on.

From there, I was fortunate enough to endure a session of having my back prodded by, I presume, the collection of spiky rocks some jerk who got off at Harvard carried in the backpack he was stupid enough to leave strapped to his back, so that every time he turned in the crowded train, his neighbors risked losing a tooth. Memo to retarded Harvard kids: if you've been poking my back with your thoughtless bag adjustments for the whole ride, doing that again, intentionally, as some sort of indication that you want to get off the train isn't going to communicate anything. And, incidentally, sounding peeved when you say "Excuse me" because we all failed to step aside for your new back-prodding, as opposed to the back-prodding before, is just going to cement our impression of you as an asshole.

Why does the MBTA only express trains when it's inconvenient to me? And, usually it seems, when the backup isn't that bad?

By the time I got off at Park Street, I'd had enough commuting for the morning, and decided to walk the rest of the way, rather than fight for a spot on the Green Line. Between the missing or misleading signage, the too few trains, the too few lines, the ridiculous number of Green Line stops for fat lazy BU students, the rude and incompetent staff, the inconsiderate and slow-moving commuters (who are occasionally downright rude, especially those who get off at Harvard -- you may doubt me, but I've been collecting metrics to prove it), and the ridiculously slow speed of transit, the MBTA proudly qualifies as worst transit system I've ever taken. At least in New York, you get the satisfaction of knowing you're going faster than a cab through midtown. Here in Boston, it's hard to rationalize the T when you might walk the two miles to work faster.

In not entirely unrelated news, if you get a chance to check out the LoveMercedes Tour (, I wholeheartedly recommend it. There's no Mercedes ownership/lessorship required. You get the chance to drive a number of fast Mercedes from all across the range as fast as you desire on a closed course. The one Brian and I visited this weekend had a course for the high-powered roadsters (SLK 350, SL 500, CLK 500), one for the AWD Benzes (E350, E500, S500, and a couple of Cs), and one for the offroad trucks -- unfortunately, on that last, attendees only got to ride.

We had a blast. I've never been to any sort of event where you get to drive cars from across the range, and experience their differences for yourself when you're pushing them to their limits. For instance, you'd think that the SL 500, as the more or less top-of-the-line car built by Daimler-Chrysler (well, for mortals to afford, anyway), would outperform everything else they've got, what with all its electronic doo-dads, its hydraulic ABS, and ESP, and acronyms up the wazoo. Driving this back-to-back with the SLK and CLK, though, I got the impression that all the technology they can muster at Stuttgart can't make up for too much mass: the SL feels much heavier than the SLK, and you can do stuff with the latter, because of its weight, that you just can't in the SL. All the slip prevention and traction control in the world didn't stop me from almost spinning out in the SL, on a corner I sailed through with the SLK.

So, now I want an SLK. I can't afford one, but I still want it. And this despite its being sized for German midgets: with me being over six feet, the top of the front window comes just about up to my eyeballs. I can barely squeeze into this thing. But, once you're carving turns with it, that's just irrelevant. I worry that the seats would start to hurt my back after a while, like those in the C230K coupe do. But... this is the most fun car I've ever had the pleasure of driving.

There's a whole raft of lifestyle accompaniments at the event, too: a giant Subzero display, fridges full of Pom juice and chi chi bottled water, a Canon digital camera bar, Saks Fifth clothing, and a Ritz spa thing. They've got all the cross-marketing angles covered, more or less, aside from a row of iPods. It's a really nifty marketing idea, and I'm psyched to find out whether other companies do this sort of thing (Porsche, Audi, and Saab, particularly.)

What would really rock would be a cross-vendor comparo event: drive the SLK back-to-back with a nice little Audi TT, and maybe a Z3 or a Boxster, all on the same course. Ooooh. Sort of an interactive auto show. That's probably logistically tough, but I've got to believe that the number of sales Mercedes makes from this kind of thing is a lot more than they get from an auto show, at least judging by my own reaction (which is, if I had $45K burning a hole in my pocket, to go out and buy an SLK 6-speed in lighting blue today.)
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