Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Dead roaches

I commute daily on the Los Angeles Metro rail line, and almost daily, I see a dead cockroach at Union Station. I saw one today on the ramp leading from the platform and was sickened at the sight. I was highly irritated that my morning must be greeted by such a grotesque visual. Then I walked into the main thoroughfare and thought immediately of the thousands of people who traffic it every day: thousands of potential consumers with nothing presented to them but bleak concrete walls. If the train station were run by a for-profit company, it might have the gumption and liberty to sell ad space on its walls. Not only would ads liven the place up, their revenue could fund basic maintenance: like keeping the station clean enough that roaches wouldn't abound. But like so many other services, rail transport is thought of by the left as too sanctified to be sullied by the market.

In contrast, the last leg of my journey to work, an 18-floor elevator ride, is much more pleasant. Every elevator in my building is equipped with a small screen that receives real-time news updates and (horrors!) advertisements. Far from making the elevator feel like a carnevale of depravity and greed, it provides a nice little read for me 2 or 4 times a day. And the management can use the revenue from the ads to keep the building nice (nary a roach is to be seen).

Why can't a train station be as nice of a walk as an outdoor shopping mall, with pleasing movie posters of Reese Witherspoon and bold, artsy Apple Computer ads gracing the walls in clean glass cases? Instead we get surly public-sector train staff, dreary station walls, and dead roaches.

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