Jim's underground experience riding the Budapest Metro, the city subway.
|CHAPTER FIVE: THE BUDAPEST METRO
After arriving home from work that day, Jim headed out immediately for the Metro station a few blocks away from his flat, but not before reading a bit about it in one of his guide books. Fodor’s Hungary 1989 said this about the Budapest Metro:
A dark maze of tunnels underneath the city, Budapest’s Metro is a study in how a subway should be run. Take care not to get discouraged by the unusual transfers. Patience here pays off.
“Hmm,” he said to himself, gonna have to check this out for myself.”
Once there, he scurried down the steep stairway and from there rounded a little bend until he was at the top of a monstrous escalator, like one at a shopping mall only much, much larger.
There he saw a cross-section of the Budapest population: Moms escorted by men carrying baby carriages; teenagers holding hands; young men and women in love, but not openly expressing it as they do Stateside; businessmen carrying briefcases, but cloaked in casual street clothes or tennis attire; athletes carrying ice skates or tennis rackets; military personnel (almost all Russian, but some Czech, Yugoslavian, Serbian, and the odd American); and old pensioners, spending what little they had.
Jim was awestruck at what he saw and looked for a ticket booth to buy his ticket, but saw none. “Surely they don’t let you ride for free,” he thought. There must be a place to buy a ticket.”
He joined the queue to the escalator, preparing mentally for his journey close to earth’s core, or so he thought. As his group walked on they passed a booth that looked like might sell tickets and Jim frantically tapped the shoulder of the person in front of him, a dark-complexioned young woman who looked as if she could have won a staring contest.
She just shrugged as if to say, ”What are you bothering me for?” Jim took out his wallet, took some forinths out of it, and gestured giving them to an imaginary person. A look of vague understanding crossed her countenance and she muttered, “Nem” and shook her head.
Then she led him to a booth with Plexiglas windows and pointed, saying something in a sing-song lilt. Obviously she had said, “You can buy them here.” He looked into the booth, which was strangely illuminated in an eerie blue light and said, “I’d like to buy a ticket to ride on the subway,” and displayed some money. A rather old man appeared in the window and again said, “Nem” (no). “Well when do ya pay, I wonder,” he said to himself. He watched the old man closely as he tore some crude tickets from a clipboard kind of thing and then say, “Tiz forint” (about US $3.00). “Wow, that’s pretty cheap for a ride, and it’s bound to be better than the damned tram,” he thought. “Wish I could take it to work everyday.”
Jim re-joined the group, passing through a turnstile; and then they marched on, making their way to the tracks and feeling a cold gush of wind from the rumbling trains passing in the tunnels. A subway train came after some time, its brakes squealing as it came to a stop. The doors opened almost instantly and a herd of people came pouring out of its guts.
He wiped his brow, which was dank and dirty with the soot of the underground, then turned and steeled himself to approach the task at hand, boarding the train. He stepped onto the shiny metal tube and heard the doors slam shut, again quickly: He was committed now and was going for a ride!
The train jerked forward and they were off; they hurtled forward now at seeming break-neck speed to a point unknown. It seemed to Jim like an amusement ride gone wild, so seemingly unguided was it.
“Batheny tèr kvek kazit” a voice on the loudspeaker said over his head.
A small group of passengers made their way to the door, almost running over each other in the process.
“This must be a stop coming up,” he thought. He then looked at the map of colorful routes on the wall and saw where they were. “It’s quite similar to the London “Tubeway,” Jim pondered. “Great way to get around.”
“Well, I do have all summer to figure it out.” In actual fact, he would learn the system in very little time and get around the city quite easily using the Metro.
As he was thinking this, the train suddenly jerked to a halt, and those passengers that had gotten up jumped off. He decided he would see what this ““Batheny tèr” was and jumped off himself. Jim followed a stooping, but attractive, middle-aged lady through the door. They then went up a steep staircase up to street level, a beam of bright sunlight showing them the way.
When they reached the open air, the first thing Jim noticed was a imposing church with a spire rising high into the air. Throngs of people were clustered around it, seemingly doing nothing, and he decided to join them out of curiosity.
As he ambled up to crowd, he felt someone staring at him so he turned around. There in front of him, grinning ear-to-ear was a little boy of maybe five or six years of age. “He’s the first jovial person I’ve encountered over here,” he thought. I wonder why he’s so happy. As Jim looked around the crowd, he noticed a lot of people were wearing red, white and green ribbons on their apparel. Puzzled, he continued to people-watch until he felt it was time to get back on the Metro and head back to the station near his flat. So he re-traced his steps and boarded a train going the opposite direction, a maneuver that required a lot of effort, as it was not clear how to get on the other side, initially.
“I see what they mean by ‘unusual transfers,’ he thought as he boarded the train in front of him.