Fake chivalry, armpit hell and a death wish
As the Luas slowly takes over the city, Donal Lynch braved fumes, sweat and tears for a day on the Daniel Day
When the Luas was first introduced to Dublin I felt sure it would be the sticky end of me. Its stealthy, almost-silent glide through the city seemed destined to interrupt my zoned-out phone-addled strolling with a quick and easy death. I wasn't massively worried by this. It wouldn't be a bad way to go, all told, and certainly vastly preferable to spending more years rotting at bus stops. Optimistically, I turned up my headphones and readied myself for glorious martyrdom to the Daniel Day. Maybe they'd even give me a plaque.
But as the years passed, I realised that rather than quickly and humanely putting me out of my misery, the Luas would instead turn out to be death by a thousand fetid armpits. It starts at rush hour as you hurl yourself into the gap where the door has opened and hope that you fit into the narrow, sweaty space which is a million miles away from those "artist's visions" of 15 years ago.
You firstly trip out on the smell - an eye-watering combination of Lynx, BO and wet dog - as you settle in for 15 minutes in the company of a stranger's armpit. The name of the game is not to make eye contact with anyone, while simultaneously getting an eyeful of the few attractive specimens in the crowd. Headphones ("bitch shields" a friend of mine calls them) are obligatory. They don't even have to be connected to anything, as long as they're repelling human contact, particularly that of colleagues on the same route. Everyone is on their way to work and consequently the atmosphere feels cheerless and grim. The only thing that might cheer us up is the prospect of getting off at Charlemont for an iced coffee and walking the rest of the way.
Perhaps because of this sweaty claustrophobia, people do seem to be getting ruder on the Luas.
Nice try, heavily-pregnant lady, but it will take a little bit more than your second trimester to force these disgruntled commuters to get up for you. They too are pregnant, you see ... with exhaustion and resentment at having to go to work. Aboard the Daniel Day all chivalry happens slowly and hesitantly. There's a sort of mass shimmy as people feign giving up their seat, but not (they fervently hope) before someone else has actually taken the bullet. And you can spot the conflicted look of pleasant surprise ("chivalry is not dead!") slowly merging with creeping horror ("am I really that old?") on the face of an elderly woman as someone finally does, finally, give up their seat. Yes, you are that old. Now just sit down and look grateful.
The Luas is its own tale of two cities. The Red line, as you might expect smells considerably worse and has its fair share of 'freelance couriers' apparently delivering suspicious packages with impunity (when have you ever seen a guard on the Luas?). But it's also by far the more cheerful of the Luas lines, possibly because it's less stuffed full of corporate drones on their way into miserable little cubicles.
Red line travel feels more discretionary and fun, if not quite as scenic. When a red line scobie invades the sanctity of the green line there is a palpable sense of unease at the sight of tucked-in tracksuit bottoms and the sound of an unexpectedly loud voice. In New York City's subway there used to be posters with the thin-lipped warning to 'turn your stones (meaning: the whopping great rock on your fingers) in'. Our posters tend to be more blandly right on - racism won't be tolerated etc.
But perhaps more than their public service announcements we could use a little of NYC's public transport entertainment. They have Mexican folk troupes and legless beggars with epic sob stories, we just have the colourless intonation of the Luas cyborg (a close sister of the Air Coach cyborg) as she announces each station.
But perhaps you get what you don't pay for. With the traffic restrictions and congestion it does feel like we've already paid enough for the Luas without having to deal with the actual fare as well. For many of us, me included, having a valid ticket feels like going way beyond the civic call of duty, something you might do occasionally, like picking up someone else's litter (everyone has their breaking point - I'm fine with water charges but I'm not paying €1.80 or whatever to get from one end of the city centre to the other).
The machines don't take cards and who has time to fiddle about with change when you're being assailed on all sides by beggars and there's one pulling up right now? And what would those French-riot-squad-looking guys actually do if they collared you? A friend tells me that if you diligently evade the fare every day you will average out getting caught once every six months and that in turn will result in a €30 fine. Which sounds to me like it's definitely worth it. But it's actually worth it anyway. because fare-evading, like cheating death on the Luas tracks, is an addictive morning adrenaline rush and an end in itself: for a brief, shining moment you feel one up on the world.