Transportation and People Watching

When you’re approaching an intersection, or driving down the highway in Switzerland, and you see a big flash of light come from the approaching overpass, you know you’ve been caught. A few weeks later you will receive your ticket in the mail for 250 CHF, around $220. We know this from experience.

The day we moved into our current flat, we borrowed a University van and managed to get a 250 CHF ticket for running a yellow light. A few hours later, as Doug navigated down our narrow European street, an approaching car clipped our side mirror and sped off. That evening we found a parking ticket under the windshield wiper. This experience, coupled with gas at $8 per gallon, confirmed our decision to forgo owning a car and stick to public transportation.

The Zurich transport system is among the best in Europe. Buses, trams, boats, and mountain cars crisscross the city so you are never far from a stop. At 80 CHF per month for all of Zone 10 (Zurich city proper) it’s a bargain, and a superb venue for people watching.

Wait at a stop, climb aboard, and you will encounter a potpourri of city society. The well-attired woman in Prada sunglasses sits just a few rows ahead of the disoriented woman waving her finger and yelling at no one. Mothers wrestle on and off with their strollers. An old man hobbles to find a seat. A 10-year-old boy boards, unaccompanied, on his way perhaps to his piano lessons. You may even see what my 8-year-old neighbor, Florence, calls “Sheeky-Meeky Ladies” – young women strutting across the tracks wearing $50,000 of the latest styles.

Once I struck up a conversation with an Iranian man who told me of the dangers of the Republican Party. Once I lost my balance as the bus pulled away and bumped into a man who turned around and hit me. It didn’t hurt, but still…

One Saturday afternoon on our way to the mall, a French-speaking woman was playing with Abe. All was normal until she reached into her purse and produced a living box turtle. That’s right…she had a turtle in her purse. “Coo-coo, coo-coo!” she said, and kept trying to give it to us. “No, no!” I said, aghast. We got off the tram and walked away in stunned silence. “Did that woman just pull a turtle out of her purse?” Doug asked in disbelief. Still shocked, “Yes…yes, she did,” was all I could manage in reply.

I’ve been the weird one myself a time or two. Everyone is so reserved here, I’m sure more than one person has thought me missing a few marbles when I, in all my Southern eagerness, attempted to strike up a conversation. Once I decided to practice my German and said to my neighbor, “Er ist heiss,” meaning that Abe was hot. I later learned that “Er ist heiss” translates “He is horny.” And, sometimes, I find myself repeating the names of the stops out loud, working on my German pronunciation – the equivalent of a foreigner on the NYC subway mumbling “Brrroooaaadwwaaaaaay.”

So here we are…all of us with our own special brand of weirdness, everyone on their way somewhere, or just riding along wherever the bus will take them.

What a capacity God must have to love, to understand. I can hardly sit with some of these people for 20 minutes on my way to church, but He is with each one of them always, just as He is with me. How wonderfully generous, compassionate, patient, and laid-back He is to go with us wherever we go, and love us all the while.

“The Lord of hosts is with us…” Psalm 46:7a