Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From GE Trolleys to METRORail Trains, “Carfare” Is Still Required.

This will sound so last century but I do remember when Atlanta replaced its streetcars with trolley buses. The electric trolley supplier, which happened to be GE, advertised about it in magazines like The American City.

My granddaddy, Max Baron, took me on at least one remembered ride on the streetcar that ran down Piedmont Avenue near our house of the era. So there was a jolt of flashback after I climbed onto METRORAIL at a parking lot at Bell and Travis, headed to OTC 2011 at Reliant Center.
I started riding the cars again last year for events in the Medical Center and in Reliant Center. Taking the train down to the Offshore Technology Conference this year (as in 2010) was a doddle. (That’s an informal British phrase meaning easily accomplished, a piece of cake.) Drive downtown. Find an easy parking place. Walk half a block to the METRORail stop, get your ticket and climb aboard. Fifteen minutes or so later, get off just 100 yards from the door to OTC. To get back, simply reverse the process.

It’s a buck-and-a-quarter fare one way. And that’s where the flashback comes: I wrote the $2.50 total cost into my expense-tracker as “carfare.” Even when you Google this phrase, you won’t find much about it, or its forebear “streetcar fare.” And I have no idea what mental attic corner I pulled it out of.

I do know that streetcars and trolley cars are gone (mostly) with the wind. Richard Layman, whose blog also supplied the photo of the ad above, is a bit whiny about the subject of public transportation but enough of a good sport to say:

I wrote recently…about how GM, Standard Oil of New Jersey, and Firestone led a conspiracy to replace streetcars with buses. The fact is it’s way more complicated and nuanced than that – just how history most often is, nuanced and more complicated than at first glance.

Whatever all the reasons for America’s cities eliminating seemingly more efficient means of mass transit, advertising about it was a staple of certain trade magazines; 50 and more years after the GE ad appeared, I was still creating print campaigns for transit bus motor oils like Exxon’s…and running them in American City and County…the modern name for The American City.

Subways and trains are fun, flashbacks and all. I wish we had more of them. Because despite downtown Houston’s empty buildings, riding the train to and from the center of our city is exciting and easy too. Even a little sexy. Just remember to bring carfare.

1 comment:

Mary Jo Martin said...

Now I've had a flashback. When I was growing up in Philadelphia, we had trolleys and trackless trolleys. And even subways! Of course, you couldn't do those in Houston without SCUBA gear.