In the first part of this series I described the utter nastiness that results when you combine cabs and double basses. The horrible experiences from this first installment have given me an irrational hatred of cabs. I never take them, bass or no bass. To this day, even the very sight of a cab makes my blood boil, although that could also be due to being constantly cut off by them during my commutes around the metro area.
Cabs are definitely out for me, although I do seem to have become a train guy in recent years, however. I can frequently be found perched on rickety platforms of the Chicago Transit Authority system, waiting for my chance to cram myself into a crowded train car, trying to simultaneously protect the bass, hold on to something, and let the withered old lady with crumpled-newspaper-filled shopping bags squeeze by me.
You’ve got to be at least a little crazy to cram your bass on a train. I often go through phases, suddenly trying to take the train everywhere no matter what (this usually occurs after I’ve driven 1000 miles a week for a solid month). I usually make it a week or so on the train with the bass, then freak out for some reason or another (see below) and get back in the protective air bubble of my car and resign myself to duking it out with other driveways on the expressway.
There are countless pitfalls awaiting the intrepid bassist before, during, and after a city train ride with a bass, and after you’ve done it for a few years you start to draw certain conclusions about both the wisdom (or insanity) of taking a bass on a train and about how fellow humans react to this large and delicate instrument.
1. Rush hour is death hour – Do you like horrible experiences? Then you’d love Chicago rush hour on the Red Line with a bass! I seem to find myself caught in this mess all too frequently. It is actually pretty hard to avoid at least one rush hour if you are going to a gig. If it’s a morning gig you get hosed with the a.m. rush; in the afternoon you get the hordes of p.m. suits cramming each train car to maximum capacity. Taking a bass on the train in an off-peak hour is not really that bad. If you can find an open seat, you can park the bass and just stand guard over it.
2. Turnstiles stink – Most Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train stations are not equipped with wheelchair-accessible doors. I love those wheelchair accessible stations, having learned long ago that wheelchair accessible means double bass accessible. Most stations (including my home station in Evanston) require the foolhardy bassist to lift up the instrument, turn it sideways, and slide it…just right….there we go (whew!)…through the stupid turnstile. This is especially fun in rush hour (see #1) when you have impatient gang bangers lining up behind you.
3. People think that they are very funny – One of the most annoying things about carrying a bass around town is having grown people gape at you, slack-jawed like drugged cattle, as you struggle to get from point A to point B. You know how cattle all slowly turn their heads and stare at you as you walk past them on a country road? That’s just what your fellow commuters do.
After staring for a while, a light bulb goes off in the back of their commuter minds.
“Hey,” they think. “I should make a humorous remark directed toward that person carrying that strange thing! What a great idea!”
They close their gaping mouths, wet their lips, and blurt,
“Did’ja ever think of playing the piccolo? Haw haw haw haw haw haw haw haw!”
What wit! What genius! What compelling charm and sophistication! Thank you, sharp commuter, for suggesting an alternate instrument!
4. Trains don’t run on time – One big problem with relying on public transportation with the bass is that one tends to end up being ridiculously early or almost late when going to gigs. Murphy’s Law almost assures that the one time you try to cut it close and rely on the train gods to get you to your engagement, this will be the one time that the train shudders to a stop five minutes into the trip, brakes screeching, with the train conductor mumbling some excuse about “technical difficulties.”
*SQUAWK* “Uh, folks, we’ve got a [mumble mumble] uh… a situation
[feedback]…. We’ll get this train moving….. [mumble]…. shortly.”
5. Basses are delicate and people are idiots – I can’t tell you how many times someone has crunched my bass while on the train. People walk into me, push me against the side of the car, or try to squeeze past my bass without giving me a second look, pushing hard against my fragile instrument while I squeak like a hysterical chipmunk.
Passengers will often walk full speed into my instrument, then turn and curse at me! Kind of like the guy who rear ends you, then jumps out of his car and smashes your windshield with a tire iron.
6. If carrying a bass is fun, adding a stool doubles the fun! – I often stand while playing gigs these days, simply because I object to carrying my own chair everywhere I go. Can you imagine an office worker bringing his favorite chair from home every day on the train? Then again, I suppose an office worker wouldn’t be bringing a bass on the train with him either….
I often see colleagues carry not only a bass but also a stool with them onto a crowded Chicago train. This, to put it mildly, doesn’t work so well. Then again, maybe the stool can be used to bludgeon anyone who comes within striking distance of your bass, so perhaps it isn’t so illogical after all.
Even better, I have seen colleagues with bass, stool, backpack, and garment bag taking the train downtown. I wonder if they also eat a sandwich and talk on their cell phone while on the train.
7. Trains are cheaper, but at what cost? – I really like the idea of taking public transportation to gigs. Not only do I save a lot of money ($4 round trip versus $20-30 for daytime Chicago Loop parking), but I like to think that I am doing my (admittedly microscopically small) part to help the environment (and perhaps atone for my five years of 200 mile round trip commutes to my university job).
At some point, though, you’ve got to be realistic. If taking the train involves leaving four hours early for the gig, squeezing onto a crowded rush hour train with a bass, stool, and garment bag, and then walking a mile in the freezing cold or smothering heat, with the same situation facing you after the concert, you’ve got to ask how much your time is worth. If I have to dedicate eight hours and deal with all kinds of hassle or spend fifteen more dollars but only dedicate four hours plus some gas and mileage, I usually (but not always) opt for the lower investment of time.
After all, I can’t be wasting four hours just to save a few measly bucks—I’ve got some blogging to do!
Read the complete series: