Thessaloniki, Greece: September 5, 1991...
he diagonal crossing of Europe was done. Thirteen rambling weeks from the English Channel to the Aegean Sea came to a quiet nighttime end without ceremony as we rumbled through the sea-level warm air of Thessaloniki's outskirts. The moment was auspicious, considering that I did it all within budget, at $96.71 per week, but after the previous night's fiasco my focus was on the virtual certainty of another one to be spent outdoors, for it was once again too late to attempt a Good Neighbors connection.
But Thessaloniki, I quickly discovered, presented me with exactly the opposite problem of Sofia: instead of empty, dimly lit film noir streets, I had to contend with illumination and crowds like a major holiday occasion. It was perfect, in fact, for my triumphant arrival and I thanked the people of Thessaloniki for welcoming me in such a blaze, except that . . . I was so bone-weary, and hungry, too, that I really didn't want the honor.
It was my introduction to one of the most charming characteristics of Greek culture: with the benefit of a mid-day break in their affairs, they celebrate life on a daily - or rather, nightly - basis, well into the wee hours. Charming, yes, but not always agreeable to one raised under less extravagant conventions . . . especially in the aftermath of the hard-driving few days I had just come through. The fact was, I had to find my way through it and to someplace hospitable to my night's needs.
Lacking two significant pieces of information, I started walking south, just a block or two from the water line. One part of my ignorance, of course, was how late into the night this festive madness would continue. The other part was how far its range extended along the shoreline.
After what seemed an hour of walking, with neither terminus even remotely in sight, I climbed on board one of the frequent local buses that came along, with the reasonable assumption that it would take me out into a quiet residential section. But it never did . . . I finally settled for an area with reasonable patches of darkness that should well enough serve my purpose. It was after eleven, now, and I thought that surely, surely this buzz of nightlife would quit by midnight, and I could wait that long at an outdoor cafe near the bus stop, at the same time satisfying the hunger that was by now clamoring for deprivational attention right alongside my exhaustion.
A Greek salad took the edge off, and then a second one. Salads at midnight are not my forte, but I was somehow sure that the celebration would cease at the magical stroke of twelve. It didn't, of course - a Greek evening doesn't quit until the roosters are ready to take over. Eventually, I gave up and lumbered off to make the best of it. Once down to the search, I found greenery everywhere and had little trouble picking a place for the repose of my tired body. Nestled up under camouflaging shrubs alongside an abandoned building, I slipped into an easy and peaceful sleep with little concern for the incomplete darkness or the occasional vehicle going by.
The mail that awaited me on Friday was disappointingly slim, but it contained the most important item, a London packet from Marjory with the routing I had laid out for my next and final stage: an island-hopping search for a wintering spot. A good deal of thought and some research had gone into what I'd look for. I wanted an island, but not the sort with white-washed buildings stark against rocks and sea. The sea, yes, but I needed a warmer, more livable texture and especially trees. I intended to work my way down toward Crete, checking out selected islands along the way before making my choice. As with every other instance of pre-planning, it wouldn't happen that way at all; but it felt like I knew what I was doing, which may be the only thing plans are good for.
Lesbos would be my first stop. The overnight ferry ran twice a week, the next one due to sail late on Saturday. That gave me almost two full days to get ready for it, with a lot to take care of: laundry, letters to write, new provisions to consider - for this island-hopping would be a different kind of travel. And I wanted lodging for Friday night. The strain of my pace through southeastern Europe, these past few days - not to mention two successive nights in the rough - had taken its toll of energy and enthusiasm. With the prospect of an overnight ferry up ahead, I really needed a sheltered night's sleep as a bridge. And a shower if I could manage it.
Coming down through eastern Europe, I was struck by how the culture seems to gradually shift toward Levantine ways. I had always thought there was some hard and fast demarcation line, probably because the map suggests it, between Europe and the Orient; but the fact is, each step along the way becomes a little more eastern in its style and ambience. Greece, if it falls to either side, seems more eastern than western, perhaps from many centuries of Turkish occupation that ended only 150 years ago. It could account for Greece having not nearly the Good Neighbors representation I had found throughout the rest of Europe. There were just two hosts in Thessaloniki, one of whom offered only daytime hospitality. I tried to reach the other, calling him several times before noon.
Meanwhile, I walked the streets in fruitless search of a laundromat. As near as I could tell, the concept of a public laundry facility had not yet reached this part of the world. I finally found a small dry-cleaning shop, with a kid there to translate for me, that would do my laundry that afternoon for just fifty cents. But I'd have to get back for it by closing time, for they didn't open at all over the weekend.
By mid-afternoon, still getting no response from the GN number, I tried a call to the daytime host to ask if he'd let me take a shower at his place, which would at least refresh me for another night in the bush. It was okay with him, and I said I'd be right over. But it was two hours before I got there. I couldn't find the shop that I'd left my laundry with. Lacking a map of sufficient detail, I had drawn my own. But these were angular street intersections crowded with small shops and Greek nomenclature, and nothing seemed to match on my second time around. Getting more frantic by the moment, but refusing to settle for the no-win choice between waiting for a later boat or going on without underwear, I finally located the cleaning shop just ten minutes before their closing hour.
By the time I reached Rudi's second-floor apartment - or more correctly, by the time he picked me up from a nearby cafe whose proprietor found it easier to call him than give me directions - the sun was low on the horizon. His shower was the best thing that happened to me all day. Twenty minutes entirely relaxed me, so that I wanted to linger at his place as long as I could. In fact, the thought of going back out in search of a third night's outdoor sleep felt increasingly bleak. Providentially, Rudi, a freelance journalist with solid English skills, was into tale-spinning and I was a good listener. He had prepared a modest feast while I was in the shower, featuring a Greek soup thick with seafood, and then my first sip of ouzo, which goes down hard but then softens one like magic. I was beginning to wonder if I'd even find the energy to leave, when he told me I'd be welcome to stay the night.
I slept deliciously late into Saturday. Rudi then took me sightseeing around town, and up to a great old castle site on a ridge overlooking Thessaloniki. Then it was more feasting, more ouzo, and good conversation well into the evening until it came time for me to go for the eleven o'clock boat.
It was 10:40 when I raced out the long dock from the street where the bus had dropped me - as well, that is, as a worn-out graybeard can race near midnight with 25 pounds on his back - and no boat was in sight. I quickly found assurance that I was in the right place for the Lesbos ferry. But shrugged shoulders from among the milling mass of people told me no one knew any better than I where it might be. Promptly at eleven, however, in a seemingly magical materialization, there it was, freshly in from Lesbos - a massive multi-decker called the Sappho (what else?) hulking its way up to the dock with a load of people and vehicles to disgorge, lights strung from one end to the other like a cruise vessel on parade.
The situation shortly became a comedy of chaos when the crowd ready to board refused to wait for those trying to debark. People carrying baggage over their heads collided with and bounced off one another on the narrow single gangplank, the thinnest of them making the most effective headway. The overwhelmed vessel and dock staff couldn't cope with it, and I was quickly caught up in the mood, myself, laughing at the idiocy but 'moshing' with the best of them. I never did see what was gained by it all, for there was no shortage of seating aboard. It was simply an instance of the Greek passion for direct involvement, whether functional or not.
It was well that I had gotten a decent sleep at Rudi's, for the ferry offered little in the way of overnight comfort to those without cabin space. Everyone crowded the main passenger area on bench-row seating with immovable side-by-side arm rests that prevented any real comfort. Lights remained on and a TV blared monotonously in Greek. I made for the deck - plagued, too, by overhead lighting, but at least it offered a full length stretch for my sleeping bag and only the sound of the sea in my ears.
THE TWELVE-HOUR RUNto Lesbos was split by a daybreak stop at tiny Limnos Island, apparently made for the sake of a single debarking passenger. I watched the docking with him and found out he was the island dentist, in a brief exchange that somehow bridged the gap between his limited Italian and my limited Spanish. An uneventful five hours later we steamed into a wide strait with coastal Turkey on our left and the huge island of Lesbos to starboard, sentried by what appeared to be a lonely castle ruin atop a barren hill. In another half hour the ship's whistle wailed as we cleared a stone jetty and swung into the calm water of Myteline harbor, the island's main city. Suddenly, I was in the pages of National Geographic . . . docking at an exotic Aegean port with bustling mid-day activity, harbor-side bistros and waiting taxi-cabs - maybe even one for me!
I had intended to bus directly for one of the island's outlying towns; but just before we docked I got into some talk with one of the crew, who told me he had a house on the quiet side of Myteline with rooms to let - domatio, one of the first Greek words I learned. His price, $10 per day, was about what I expected. The guidebooks had said that island rates started below $5, but a few years of rocketing inflation had happened in the meanwhile. I asked if he'd take $7.50 if I stayed three nights, and he readily agreed.
I enjoyed only twenty minutes of bargainer's smugness before it crashed. As I waited on the dock while the crew finished their work, I was approached by someone who offered me a $6.50 rate. But I stuck with Antonio, who had promised taxi service as part of the deal. The taxi turned out to be a motorbike, the wheelman Antonio himself, careening me through the narrow, people-packed market streets with a fearsome abandon that certified his place on any roster of cab drivers.
He spoke just enough English to rent his rooms out; and his wife, Katerina, even less. But they installed a writing table for me, and the single-window room was restful and clean if not exactly charming. I was a half-block from the rich blue rippling waters of Myteline's original northside harbor, long ago abandoned and left to become a quiet beach with a rambling old fortress ruin at its far end.
By evening, a torrent of wind sweeping down the strait turned the gentle waters into a raging surf - a taste of the suddenness with which island weather can change. My shutters banged all night long. But it mattered little to me; I slept nine hours that night. And again nine hours, the next. These lingering days in Myteline were exactly what I needed, allowing me to let go of my travel urgencies and just fall apart . . . and to realize how much I did need that. But three days was about all I wanted of Myteline. Its bazaar fascinations were overwhelmed by the constant whine of motorbikes from morn until dark. With the angry insistence of a locust swarm, they possessed the town like demons and I was anxious to be out of there.
It may have been that hilltop fortress, seen when we entered the strait, that drew me up to Molivos. I couldn't recall the vaguest sign of a town there when we sailed by, but the map indicated a resort and artist's colony on its inside slope, sheltered by the castle promontory. A two-hour, four-dollar busride through some unexpectedly attractive country took me out there. Gentle inlets rising to rugged, pine-clad strongholds that reminded me of California's Sierra foothills, but with olive trees (by the millions) instead of madrone the basic ground cover, and quaint villages scattered along the way. A twisting downgrade to the sea brought us into Petra, named for a knobby rock that stands like a great thumb, with a unique Byzantine chapel at its crest - but it was hard to keep one's eyes on, for the equally compelling attraction of topless bathers along Petra's narrow strip of beach. Out of Petra, we rounded the headland to a sudden view of Molivos, its tile-roofed houses clinging to the steep slope below that dominating old fortress like children huddled in a mother's apron.
Close by where the bus came to its final stop was a tourist office, where the local landladies pooled their resources and visitors were parceled out like fatted pullets for the dinner table. I told the woman in charge of this sensible and simple operation that I was looking for a few days of lodging at $5 per night.
"No, there's nothing that cheap anymore," came the easy but firm reply.
"Please." I pushed on, "I can't afford any more. Maybe a small, out-of-the-way room somewhere?" I was really testing the waters for a possible wintering price.
She looked pained and told me to sit and wait awhile.
Others came and were taken in tow by bored-looking, business-like landladies who trooped out with them, and finally the last young couple from the bus. This pair was given to a grandmotherly, somewhat robust woman, and then the one in charge cast a baleful eye in my direction, saying something in Greek to the sturdy proprietress, who thereupon looked me over as a fisherman might eye a doubtful catch just large enough to get away with but hardly big enough to bother with. Finally, giving a half shrug of resignation, she nodded an acceptance.
So I went off with them, trailing behind the pair being led up the steep cobbled walkway at what seemed the pace of a forced march, marveling - between gasps for air - at the grey-haired woman's stamina. She led us along an arbor-covered alley, up past souvenir shops, vegetable stalls and cafes, into and through a tiny churchside courtyard that seemed to rest on the roofs of houses down the slope, and out the other end to one of the many old stone buildings, where we were ushered inside to a dining room that doubled as a reception area. She took the young couple, who were from Holland, upstairs and then returned to assign me a small room right off the dining area with one window framing a narrow view of the bay and distant mountains. I couldn't be sure of my rate, as it was posted at $10, the in-season figure, and the summer season had several weeks yet to run. But we three were her only guests.
The room, the entire house, was a funky relic of earlier times when the tourists were fewer and less particular about the 'quality' of their quarters. I didn't yet know this, but in my subsequent search for a possible rental I found out the town had been glamorized by its tourist potential only in the last several years and had been upgrading facilities almost feverishly to a standard entirely without the old charm of this house run by Eleutheria. From an old register and 'memories book' that lay on the dining table, I could see she had been renting rooms here for some thirty years and had a faithful return clientele. Photos of group dinners lined the walls, with notes penned on them indicating that meals had once been part of the arrangement. Glass cabinets held antique table service and other oddments accumulated over the years, part of the harvest of Eleutheria's half-lifetime here.
A small but charming veranda porch jutted just off the big dining room. Sheltered by an overhanging vine, it offered a full view of the crescent beach and bay far below, like some Riviera vista, and became my favorite dining and writing spot. Feta cheese and big calamata olives were cheaply had in local shops, and Eleutheria donated olive oil for the classic Greek salad. A portable burner just inside the veranda door heated water for tea. At dusk, watching the sun drop into the sea, I'd remain in the warm night air to count stars coming out. Even at $10 a day, it seemed an incredible bargain.
Less providentially, there was a thorn in the bouquet - nothing ever comes completely perfect. At about nine in the evening, every night, amplified dance music came bounding up the hillside from one of the tourist facilities down on the beach and continued, hardly diminished, until . . . three in the morning! It was good music, but not so good that I wanted it with such all-night, boom-box regularity.
Eleutheria spoke not a word of English, but it seemed to make no difference to either one of us. We took an instant liking to one another that went quite beyond the mereness of words. She'd greet me with some Greek phrase, and I'd echo it - never quite knowing what we were saying to each other. She let me have refrigerator space, and I thought seriously for awhile about staying right here through the winter, confident that the juke-box-every-night would end soon with the tourist season. I put it to her, in fact, getting it across by using a calendar. But she merely shook her head and replied by an indication that I should take it up with the woman in the tourist office. Was it her way of saying it had to be brokered there, or a polite suggestion that I should find other quarters? I couldn't be sure.
But I went to check it out - for all the good it did me - next morning before the day's adventure of trekking out to a surfside hot spring. I was simply turned over to the next landlady in line, who led me off to her own offering, nodding cheerfully as I tried to tell her what I wanted . . . until I realized she didn't understand a word I was saying. She had the wits, however, to corral a teen-ager named Korina, who did speak passably good English, and she came along as translator. I was shown a living unit with full kitchen, still under construction and far more classy than I had in mind. It wasn't a bad bargain at a full-winter rate of $300 per month, though way out of my range. But the reasonable value of it encouraged the thought that I might yet find something affordable on Lesbos.
I continued on my way down the hour-long trail to the hot spring, going by several outlying resort inns along the waters of the strait, and finally to a building that had once been used for tub baths, now vacant. Alongside was the hot spring housed in a low, white-domed structure and open to anyone . . . free! The pool was only large enough for three or four people at a time, but I had it all to myself now. The water was just within my comfort range and just deep enough to stretch out in for a half-hour of mineralized, skin-tingling relaxation. It was at the very edge of the sea, some of its warmth even seeping into the outside surf.
The shoreside trail continued along a string of linked beaches, each one featuring more daringly exposed bathers, until at the very end I found myself among a fully naked crew, where I divested myself for a skinny-dip in their liberating company. It was like California of the early '70s revisited. Back then, in that brief and passing time of innocence renewed, I'd had my first release from a lifetime burden of conventional shame about my body . . .our obsessive fear of revealing it in public.
All of this, of course, increased the appeal of Molivos as a possible winter locale and I was primed for running into Korina again, who had been waiting for my return up the trail to tell me that her mother, who also rented rooms, might be able to work something out for me.
Alas, Korina's mother also had modernized rooms. But she was at least able to offer an affordable long-term rate. Yes, $5 per day for a full winter, starting in October as I specified, if I would take responsibility for electric heating costs. I couldn't imagine they'd be very high at this San Francisco latitude. She promised the use of a hot plate and refrigerator space for minimalist cookery. It really wasn't the accommodation I'd been hoping to find, but it was the first place within my range in Molivos, and thereby definitely up for consideration. I asked Korina to tell her mom (for she was still doing the translation) that I'd let her know, one way or the other, as soon as I could decide - presumably once I reached Crete. It certainly offered one considerable benefit: having someone nearby with whom I could converse in English.
Eleutheria wrote her charge on a slip of paper: $5 per night, and I left it with an extra $2.50 for her kindness when I departed Friday morning. It seemed too soon to leave, but I had my ticket for that afternoon's ferry to Chios, purchased before leaving Myteline. But boarding the boat, I was suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion. I felt chilled, despite the warm sun, and huddled myself in extra layers of sweater and jacket as we sailed past the jetty into the open sea. It wasn't so bad as to drive me from the deck, but enough to warn me that I was on an energy borderline, notwithstanding the amount of rest I'd had during my five days on Lesbos.
It was the season, of course. My arrival at Lesbos was two days shy of a full year since touching down in London; and once more, as in many Septembers past, I was intent upon getting settled. The three weeks it had taken me in London had very nearly sapped my reserves of energy. Was it to be the same again, with this dogged determination of mine to get to Crete?
Quite suddenly in the midst of these reflections, I saw something unbelievable up near the prow of the boat: a pair of dolphins, skimming in three graceful arcs right across our bow! A few moments later they came back beneath the boat, amidships, to soar in one final, great leap practically in front of me, their slick bodies gleaming in the sun. No one was around me to verify that it really had happened, and in a few moments I wasn't at all sure . . . it was so silent and swift that it began to seem more like a vision. Perhaps something calling me to attention?
CHIOS IS JUST a few hours to the south of Lesbos, a first stop on the overnight ferry run to Athens - and again, our approach was through a strait, passing this time close to a small and rather barren island called Oinoussai. I could see a small settlement on its hilly slope, already in the lengthening shadow of a swiftly sinking sun. It was so warm as we came into Chios harbor that I made a quick decision to save myself a night's lodging cost by heading for the hills that rimmed the town. But the sun had already set by the time the ship's lines were thrown for our brief docking, and I had very little daylight time to work with.
I dodged my way through the now familiar dockside madness as quickly as I could, making tracks at an urgent pace with the already bright moon as a navigation aid. It was uphill all the way, the light fading steadily. There was barely enough left to see by when I reached some sort of ravine slicing in behind the last street of houses, though I could see a few dwellings on its far side. In the near-darkness, scattered shrubbery gave it a bit of a parklike quality - but park or not, I had no time to be choosy. What I couldn't see, as I headed into it, was that the local kids used it as a gathering place. Consequently it was a bit of a surprise when I suddenly became aware, as I laid out my gear, of several youngsters standing on a low ridge about forty feet away, watching me.
It was a bit like the situation at Mallaig, back in Scotland, and I figured I'd better defuse it. Hoping somebody understood English, I hollered up that it was a nice night for sleeping out. And one of them agreed with me. They stood there a few moments longer, and it was too dark for me to see any expressions or even guess their ages. A mother's voice rang out, then, from somewhere, and they left . . . one of them calling back to me, "Sweet dreams!"
It set the tone for a long relaxed night of intermittent sleep. I'd waken from time to time with the aroma of sagebrush in my nostrils and just lay there looking up at the clear ceiling of stars. Their brilliance was awesome in the wee hours after the moon had set. The increasing rareness of a star-filled night has made them that much more comforting, for every constellation up there is still where I remember it as a young boy - just about the only thing for which that can be said.
In Saturday morning's first light I saw that I was practically surrounded by houses on hillsides, much as if I were in the center of an arena. I hastily got dressed and out of there before anyone was up to see me.
Back at the harbor looking for information, I saw that a Saturday boat went to that little island of Oinoussai and didn't return until Monday morning. Even with a good night's rest I still felt weary at a deep level, and suddenly the idea of an entire weekend on a tiny, out-of-the-way island seemed immensely attractive. Maybe I needed such time to peacefully reflect on what was going on with me. Maybe I didn't want to go on to Crete, after all!
That possibility had been intruding on me ever since I had seen the dolphins, and as we drew close to the dock in Oinoussai's tiny harbor I could actually feel tension dropping off like a heavy topcoat, at the sight of a village with absolutely nothing going on in the streets. No motorbikes, no bazaar, no Saturday noontime market activity at all. I found a single open cafe and went in to see if anyone could tell me where to find a domatio. After she first placed a phonecall, the woman sent me up the hill toward a hotel, which was not what I had in mind, but with these streets so empty it might be what I'd have to take. I had never seen a town so starkly abandoned, the shutters closed on practically every building in sight.
The hotel, too, looked deserted. A relatively new two-story structure with a groundfloor veranda balcony that gave access to a spacious, low-ceilinged reception area, sparely built but attractively decorated in a blend of Mediterranean and Greek styles. Sturdy, dark-stained wood furniture stood on tile flooring and colorfully decorative ceramics lined the exposed wooden beam supports. But nobody was in sight - neither guests nor staff. I waited a decent amount of time and began searching the hallways.
Some noise led me toward a room being cleaned by someone who fortunately spoke English and spoke it as though she were in charge. To her room price of $10 per night, I protested short funds and we came to an agreement on $15 for the two nights. But it was all very strange, for she told me not to lock the door to my small and elegantly furnished room, for there were no keys! It fed a growing suspicion that the place had closed for the season and the cleanup crew were taking advantage of anyone who turned up. It made little difference to me, however - could even be seen as a blessing, for there were never many people around and I discovered that I could use the small back-bar kitchen behind the reception lobby for making tea when I wished. I could even spike it with their shelved liqueurs!
The town itself struck me as 'closed for the season' when I strolled its full extent on Sunday morning. A spic-and-span spotless little town, sloped up a hillside like Molivos, offering nothing at all to do on Sunday morning except follow the tolling of a bell to the church - where I at least saw some people. But I was not into a Greek church service any more than an English one, and I set out instead on a long walk toward the west end of the island, picking one or two of the ripe pomegranates that grew abundantly along the way. The day was quite lovely, with no traffic to speak of on the roadway.
I came to a little cove beach absolutely out of anyone's sight except for the rarely passing motorist. I hadn't even thought to bring trunks or towel, but it seemed to make no difference here. For over an hour, I frolicked naked in the blue water and then sat in the sun to dry. It was here, in an ambience that heightened my sense of Natural Being, that I finally accepted my need to settle at once, without going on to Crete. The room in Molivos was far from perfect, but it was affordable and available, and I knew at a deep level that I had no energy for continuing onward.
Late that afternoon, the town suddenly and strangely blossomed with people - as though they had been awaiting my decision. Down the street they came, behind a little marching band in black and white, right past the balcony where I sat drinking tea. Something about 'Mary,' I gathered. The Virgin Mary? No, my informant had said marry. It was a wedding!
The festivities carried on at the town's single cafe, and I strolled down to watch a bit of it before turning in. Greek dancing at slow tempo with its careful steps and half-steps, both arms high or one held at the back, hips doing half the dance, studied and serious facial expressions . . . no two of them doing it exactly the same, yet each preoccupied with getting it just right. Then a fast tune was played, and two men, whom I supposed were the new fathers-in-law, were out there by themselves joyously swinging to the beat and the rhythmic crescendo of hand-clapping. It was all very marvelous to see.
I hadn't seen anyone - ever - at the hotel desk, and the cleaning woman only once since that first occasion when she gave me the room. So I was in a quandary, early Monday when it came time to leave for the return boatride. I had nothing smaller than a Greek bill worth $25, and I wasn't about to leave it. I left, instead, a note asking to be billed in care of poste restante in Athens, where I was to call for mail around the first of October. (Needless to say - and hardly to any personal surprise - no billing ever arrived for me.)
All that was left, now, was to get back to Lesbos on Monday's boat, and back to Molivos to claim my winter quarters. I could just about see the surprise on Korina's face, and her mother's, at my sudden return. I wasn't wrong about that . . . but oooh, the surprise I was about to run into, myself!
"...our obsessive fear..." What I didn't yet know was that these naked bathers were tourists, about to vanish with the departing sun. The local people, as far as I ever knew, were as up-tight over such exposure as we Americans.
"...rocketing inflation..." I fully expected my costs to start soaring on the island hopping, for hostels are scarce on the Aegean and Good Neighbors hosts virtually non-existent. I was counting on more opportunity to sleep outdoors in the warmer southern clime.
"...the Greek passion..." On reflection, the Greek method of boarding a ferry was not much different than the Romanian way of boarding a train . . . suggesting that it may just be another touch of Eastern style. Whether or not, I could certainly see a relationship between the way that transit agencies corral people with little regard for their comfort, and the tumbling insanity with which the facilities are given their use.
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