It’s Saturday morning, you started the day full of energy, bolted out of bed, packed your best gear in your most-loved suitcase and made your way to the transport hub. Despite your best efforts to check that all was running to plan and your plane/train would be departing on schedule, you’ve arrived at the terminus and found that your departure is, in fact, very delayed.
You could go home and call the whole thing off, given that it’s just a 48-hour excursion. You could also find a comfy table in a café, chalk this up to wintertime travel in the northern hemisphere and wait it out. Or you could scan the perimeter of the concourse, find an unoccupied bench and settle in for a game of, “If I were an architect or operator of major infrastructure, this is what I’d change.”
Deciding that you’ll opt for a combination of options B and C, you first go in search of that lovely café that only exists in your mind and has never been constructed at any train station or terminal that you’ve visited recently.
What you want is quite straightforward: a banquette that’s not too deep, has just enough support and isn’t too low. You also want a table that is big enough to spread out this newspaper and that has a hook underneath to hang your tote bag. You want good coffee, a smiling waiter and a view across the terminal.
While you’d be happy to settle for a reasonable facsimile of your rail terminus or airport concourse café, you resign yourself to the mundane reality of fetching a mediocre coffee from one of the major international vendors of dangerously hot beverages and go in search of that bench. But you don’t see anything. There’s a little cluster of fixed seats bolted on to a table but that looks like a spillover from the food court.
A bit further down there’s a trio of chairs that look as if they might have been oversupply from Kim Jong Un’s rail carriage but you realise that these are massage chairs.
As you’re now mildly frustrated by the lack of seating, you now start to play, “If I were an architect or operator of major infrastructure, this is what I’d change.” Who designs a serious transportation hub and fails to either assign enough budget for seating or simply consider the need for people to rest weary legs? Yes, you fully understand that many operators don’t like benches because they have a habit of turning into beds but this is easily avoided by ensuring transportation runs on time and enough security is in place to keep the less fortunate from turning benches into pieds-à-terre.
Two weekends ago I arrived at a newish rail station in Turin and was craving good coffee and a place I could stretch my legs until my driver showed up from Milan to collect me. (My final destination was supposed to be Milan’s Garibaldi station but for some reason the TGV I’d boarded in Paris wasn’t up for the journey and Trenitalia was suffering a variety of delays, so it was trusty Mario to the rescue at 200kph down the autostrada!)
Built in five shades of grey, the station had no branch belonging to one of the city’s grand café operators and there were no benches. As it wasn’t particularly cold and I was bundled up in a new Comoli coat, I found a lowish wall near the taxi rank to perch on and watch Turin go by. It wasn’t such easy going for the 40-or-so British pensioners who were also dumped off the TGV and had to figure out how they were going to get to Florence. Already stressed from the three-hour delay at the French-Italian border, the group had to contend with an out-of-order escalator and other obstacles such as disrespectful teens walking down staircases tapping away on their pizza box-sized smartphones while not looking up at oncoming travellers.
I won’t even describe the public toilet conditions that were also part of the drill. We like to praise organisations and institutions for coming in on or under budget and beat them up when they overspend. What about praising, or offering awards, for just getting basic things right — like a collection of simple, solid, well-placed benches in a high-traffic place frequented by a variety of generations?
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
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