Exit Strategy / by Courtney Mehlhaff

Let me start by saying that I'm all for saving the planet. I may not be out there embracing the nearest knotty pine, but I do my part. I recycle, use eBay and Craigslist like they're going outta style, and take the bus.  I like to say I do the latter because I'm environmentally conscious, but really it's because I can't afford to pay for both parking and gas. I also greatly enjoy having the freedom to nod off for an extra half hour on the way to work without causing a 14-car pileup. And now, with the new hybrid buses cruising the metro, I can feel even better about my commute. Nevermind that they're freshly upholstered, smell like new cars, and don't guzzle gas. I love them for their entertainment value.

It's the back doors. If you haven't noticed, the back doors on the hybrid buses require you to push lightly in the middle instead of on the handles. If this tiny detail has escaped you, don't worry. You are not alone. 

I have this mental image of the folks at Metro Transit, sitting around a table, trying to figure out the best way to communicate the exit procedure to riders:

"So we'll put two strips of bright yellow tape that run the entire length of the doors, right where you need to push on them."
"We should write some instructions on them."
"How about PUSH HERE TO OPEN?"
"Okay. That should be good. No one could possibly screw that up."
"Well ... maybe we should put little drawings of hands on there, too, so riders know exactly which appendage to use and where to place it."


I watched three people in a row try to exit the back doors yesterday, and each of them did the same thing: wait for the green light, grab both handles, push two times, look back at the green light, rattle the handles, look angrily at the driver, yell "Back door!" and finally give an exasperated but proper shove that sent them spilling out into the street. The week before, I watched a girl struggle, give up, and then run to exit through the front. 

It doesn't seem that complicated, really. I mean, it's not rocket science, people. It's not even "Speed." It's just reading.

Now, I have been known to push on a pull door or pull on a push door, but I try not to do it when there's a fluorescent sign two feet from my face with very clear instructions to the contrary. And I'm not picking on any ESL learners. But even when I lived in Japan, I watched how people got off a train or onto a streetcar or bought a movie ticket or accomplished other necessary daily activities. There weren't diagrams ... there weren't even letters! I couldn't read a lick, but I paid attention.

Maybe that's why I can't help noticing all the botched attempts to flee our lovely mass transit vehicles. Old habits of observation die hard.And so, apparently, do exit strategies.