Like most proper cities, St. Petersburg is one that is best navigated by foot. With the convenient position of my hotel, the lionshare of the city center is a leisurely stroll from my room with few locations that are unreasonable to hoof. Most everything is either a 20 minute walk or a 45 minute drive away, it seems. However, my office is on the other side of the Small Neva River, which is certainly walkable but much faster to make use of the subway system of Piter.
After a quick premier by my associate Denis, I was left largely to my own devices to navigate the Metro. It took precisely one drive from the hotel to the office to elect the Metro, which by comparison is three times faster and one hundred times safer. Between BART, Caltrain, PATH, and Boston’s T-system I would like to think I am an accurate judge of commuter rail quality and frankly prefer the ability to occupy one’s commute with reading or fiddling with my iPhone as opposed to issuing terrified shrieks at every intersection.
Additionally the Metro affords premium people watching time, for a culture is never as transparent as when it is five minutes late for work. Unlike American rapid transit, Metro stations serve as congregation points with small pockets of folks socializing nearly all times of the day. This has exposed valuable information about the Russian rule of law:
- Minimum legal smoking age is 12.
- Drinking on the street is not so much permitted as recommended.
- No blood, no foul.
St. Petersburg, being settled on the delta of the River Neva, has a pretty high water table. As a result, its subway system is located approximately two inches from the center of the earth. The escalator to the train stretches for what looks like miles. Never in my life have I seen such a single long continuous staircase.
“Jesus,” I thought to myself. “Wonder if people had to walk this.”
At that precise moment a 60 year old man walked by me literally running down the stairs without a hint of sweat on his brow. Say what you will, but Russians are carved out of wood.
I’ve been in several mosh pits that are tamer than trying to get on one of these damn things. As soon as the door opens, minor bedlam erupts with frantic pushing to make it in before the door closes. At first I thought perhaps I had caught this particular entry on the wrong day as I was initially jostled. However after catching an expert elbow in the kidney by an old hunchbacked woman I knew the blow she delivered came from a century of daily practice. By the time I had my foot punctured by a third stiletto heel, it was on like Donkey Kong. The last 20 feet to the entry I cut a swath of humanity worthy of the former Soviet Union. Sparing not child nor minstrel all who remained in my path were prompted ejected, falsing their hope of catching the 8:40am Metro. After grabbing a military officer by the shoulder and chucking him aside, ducking into the train only moments before it slammed with shuddering finality, I smiled. Literally pressed up against 50 or so people like we were watching Rage Against The Machine at Coachella, they smiled with me. They shared grins implicitly approving of my rapid adaptation to this age old Piter tradition. They welcomed me as one of their own.
At the next stop, the Metro tram belched people. As I emerged triumphant from my first baptism of fire, I was dishearted as I looked at the station around me.
In my fervor, I had forgotten that perhaps I should have taken the correct train.