“Mother, It has gone from bad to worse. I believe this is the last time I will write to you,” the Aug. 23 tweet from Civil_War_MBTA began. “The track fires on the #orangeline has left all of us trapped in the city.”
In the real world that Friday afternoon, a track fire was burning between the Wellington and Malden Center stations. A train was evacuated. Power to the third rail was shut off. Shuttle buses were deployed.
But in an office building in Chinatown, monitoring the service disruption from the comfort of his desk, Orange Line commuter and history buff Brian Estabrook was, if not enjoying the chaos, at least getting gold for his Twitter feed.
“I will send you my monthly pass as there are no refunds.”
The T has been called many names — few of them nice — but in this, our summer of commuting discontent, perhaps it’s time to see it in a new light, as muse.
Go hunting around the transit-obsessed corners of the Twittersphere, and you’ll find more than a dozen accounts that take their inspiration from the T’s . . . let’s say “quirks.” Like poets devoted to Truth, these auteurs exist to needle the T.
With as few as 22 followers, or as many as 3,025, they are a cozy crew. LOL MBTA is followed by Crying MBTA, wtf MBTA, MBTAAirconditioning, Civil_War_MBTA, and Crumbling T, in turn followed by FixTheMBTANow, delayedbymbta, F*** The MBTA and Optimist MBTA, which is followed by Nihilist MBTA, idiots on the mbta, and, arguably among the most prestigious followers ever, the private account of MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
(For his part, Pesaturo played down any significance. “I also follow Polar Bears International,” he said.)
With the derailments, delays, track work, it’s as if Homer himself were whispering to the MBTA, “Sing, O muse . . . ”
And sing the transit system does.
On July 9, when the actual MBTA (@MBTA) tweeted, “#OrangeLine: Regularly scheduled train service has resumed,” you can be sure one of the attack accounts, MBTA ExcuseGenerator, was ready to pounce.
As students of the transit-focused Twitter genre know, style and tone vary.
There’s troll mode, as in this pinned tweet from Angry Tweets @ MBTA (@angryatthembta): “If you dread the GETTING to work more than the actual BEING at work, you just might be an #MBTA commuter.”
Then there’s the overly cheerful/absurdist style of Optimist MBTA (@OptimistMBTA):
Alas, the official account (@MBTA) does not follow parody accounts. But as Civil_War_MBTA might put it, all is not lost. The parody tweets are read by the MBTA, according to Andrew Cassidy, the MBTA’s new director of social media.
“I really appreciate the creativity,” he said.
Well, up to a point. So far, the MBTA has not taken action against any parody accounts that have names or graphics that might cause confusion by being too similar to the real @MBTA.
But, Cassidy said, without naming the accounts, “some might require a conversation.”
(In New York last year, a subway parody account called @TheOfficialMTA was suspended from Twitter after its tweet announcing delays on nearly every train line went viral, according to the Daily News.
“The 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,A,C,E,B,D,F,M,J,Z,N,Q,R,W, and G trains are running with delays,” the tweet read. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”)
Meanwhile, back at the front, Estabrook, the history buff, explained that his letters-home gimmick was partly motivated by another parody account, one that pretends to be Andrew Luck, the former Indianapolis Colts QB, writing in a letters-home-from-the-war style.
As for Estabrook, his quill is not heavy at all. While the Somerville resident is not, technically, happy when the T messes up, the tweets do give him a “sense of accomplishment,” he said, “which I know sounds ridiculous because it’s a Twitter account.”
Perhaps, or maybe it’s time for the T to start a writer-in-residence program.