Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Ride on the 47 Tram

(Note: For my course on Hungarian culture, I was tasked with taking a tram from one end of the line to the other, then reflecting on what I observed in a journal entry. I chose to ride the 47, a tram I take for a spin almost every day. This is an adaption of the journal I wrote about the ride. It's not your typical travel blog post, but I think it offers a window into my daily life in Budapest).

The 47 tram is almost completely empty, and I relish the rare opportunity to select my own seat. After a short deliberation, I settle on the second seat from the front on the left side. A fairly rotund, older couple follow me onto the tram. I watch them struggle to stuff themselves into the seats diagonal from me without spilling over into the aisle—until the woman catches me staring. I don’t dare look at them again after that. We sit there about five minutes, and I start to think we will be the only three passengers. But just before the door closes, a girl about my age hops on the train, bringing our number to four. Her eyes flit toward me for a second, but she quickly loses interest and shifts her attention back to her iPod.

Two older women with shopping bags board at the second stop and sit across from me. They chatter amiably—perhaps discussing what they plan to buy at the market, maybe talking about something funny one of their husbands had done the day before. One of the women wears a flowery skirt—the kind little girls are prone to twirling in until the world starts spinning with them. I wonder if the woman still likes twirling in front of her mirror every now and then. She’s much more made-up than most of the other Hungarian women her age and her snowy hair is carefully sculpted. She looks so feminine, so her voice—she has the dulcet rumble of a longtime smoker—comes as a surprise. She sounds much more like I expected her friend, who I’d dubbed “glam rock grandma,” to sound.

Her friend’s shirt is what earned her the name. Its meticulously ripped and torn sparkly gray fabric overlays a light black mesh, through which her flabby white rolls are clearly visible, as is her lacy white bra. It’s the sort of thing a teenage girl who wants to make her parents upset puts on—definitely not the kind of clothing I would expect or desire to see 70 year-old woman wearing in any circumstance. Still, now that I am seeing it, I’m kind of fascinated. It takes a certain amount of attitude and confidence to put on a shirt like that at this woman’s age, after all. I watch the women until they get off at the market.

I also try to get a taste of the neighborhood from my tram window. Save for a few run-down convenience stores drenched in spray paint, towering apartment buildings dominate the landscape along the first few stops of the 47 route. I guess that most of the passengers we accumulate at these stops are residents of these buildings heading into the city. And I wonder if there is anyone in those apartment buildings under the age of 60, because for a long time, the girl with the iPod and I are the only people who don’t qualify as senior citizens on the tram.

Because there are so few younger passengers, I pay more attention than I normally would when a man looking to be around my age boards a few stops before the dorm. He’s short—no more than five foot seven—with glasses and an earnest-looking face. He also happens to be staring at me. At first, I think he might be paying me attention for the same reason I noticed him. But he keeps staring. I count the stops. One, two, three stops since he boarded. And still staring. I fidget nervously and turn my head away from him. He moves closer. Now he’s leaning against the seat next to me. His arm reaches for the bar above the seat. I get a whiff of his desperately-in-need-of-deodorant underarm and struggle to stop myself from gagging. Mercifully, a woman sits down in the seat against which he’s leaning. She spreads out a newspaper, partially blocking his line of vision, and her strong perfume masks his rancid scent. Still, I can feel his stare and I struggle to pay attention to anyone else. When he finally gets off at the Móricz Zsigmond stop, I notice that, while I was worrying about him, the tram was filling up with people—many of them young. There are still older people seated along the sides of the tram, but they are officially the minority, I realize.

A whole crowd of people gathers to get on the tram at the stop just before we cross over into Pest. The last to squeeze into the now-very-full tram is a middle-aged woman carrying a bulging Spar bag in one hand and dragging a heavy-looking, large blue suitcase behind her with the other. A tall man in his twenties with tousled dark hair and feet at least as big as the Dutch boys’ at Calvin, who had been standing in front of me, rushes to her aid. I watch as he lifts the suitcase over the stairs and clears a path so that she can get into the tram. Something falls off the suitcase, and another young man picks it up and hands it to her. She says something to the young men in Hungarian, and they both smile and nod. As I watch the sweet little scene unfold, I find my lips curving upward, too.

Several groups of university students board the tram. All of them, I notice, are immaculately dressed. Based on clothing alone, they seem more well-off than other Hungarians the same age I encountered earlier in the trip. I find myself wishing I hadn’t worn flip flops. The students fill the tram with their continuous chatter. While I don’t know what they were saying, I don’t need a translator to know what they’re doing. I watch the boys puff out their chests and adopt a tone of bravado, and I see the girls lean in and look up at the boys with sparkling eyes and overenthusiastic giggles in response. Flirting, I decide, is a universal language. They get off at Astoria, as does the woman who has been sitting next to me.

The woman with the large blue suitcase takes her place. I’m studying the older man across from me and thinking he looks like he’s dressed for a fishing trip when the woman with the suitcase addresses me in Hungarian. I know she’s asking me something about Deák Ferenc tér, but I can’t tell what, so I say, “Nem beszélek magyarul.” Even though I can’t answer her question, I’m proud to have passed for a real Hungarian and managed to explain my inability to help her with a real sentence (usually I end up saying “Amerikai” over and over until they get the message). The woman gets off at Kálvin tér, as do many of my other fellow passengers. And when the train lets out a final scream and lurches to a halt at Deák Ferenc tér, the remaining passengers stream out of the tram, too.

Once again, the 47 tram is almost completely empty. I have the opportunity to move to whatever seat I want, but this time, I relish the chance to stay put—to be alone with my thoughts for a moment before the tram fills up with a new crowd and we travel the now-familiar path back to the dorms, back to home.


  1. Okay, Grace, you've been gone just about long enough now. COME HOME! We all miss you!! :) Happy travels. Love your posts.

  2. Grace we received a call recently from Annette Shaver and she said she had enjoyed your article in The Banner. We dug up The Banner and sure enough you were listed as the student author. WOW - you have scratched the surface of CRC fame. I'm not sure if that is resume material or not but we loved it ! Love and prayers. Grandpa & Grandma R.