End of the book tour, and 99 Percent Invisible


I made the last book tour stop on the 99% Invisible podcast, with Roman Mars.  It's the largest audience I think I've ever had, and it marks the end, ten cities, fifteen stops, and three printings later. It's been gratifying to meet so many people, and to discuss something that has been my labor of love for so long.  I was still in law school when I started working on my transit maps. This was my hobby, a side project.

I never thought that The Lost Subways would turn into what it is today.  It's given me the opportunity to travel all over the continent and see parts of North America that I never thought I would go to, much less enjoy.  If it weren't for the book research, I never would have gone to Houston, Richmond, or Cincinnati - places that don't exactly have glamorous reputations, but that I greatly enjoyed. It also gave me the chance to scratch some personal itches, like finally visiting the little town in rural Virginia where my first ancestors in America settled in the mid-1600s.

It's been a fascinating experience seeing how people live.  Some of the stuff that surprised me the most had nothing to do with transport or housing. Instead, it had to do with culture.  In Cincinnati and New Orleans, the first question people ask when you meet someone new isn't the usual "where do you live" or "what do you do for a living?"  They ask, instead, "where'd you go to school" ... and they're talking about high school.  I expected Vancouver to have a similar vibe to Seattle, and boy, was I wrong.  Vancouver is extremely put-together and fashionable, while Seattleites prefer the stereotypically crunchy Pacific Northwest style.  Dallas and Fort Worth are right next to each other and share an airport, but they couldn't be more different. Dallas is flashy, and tries to emulate the big cities of the coast; Fort Worth is low-key and proudly Texan. I noticed a shirt that said, "In Dallas, they call it sushi - in Fort Worth we call it bait." The Twin Cities had a similar split, where the joke I heard multiple times was, "date Minneapolis, marry St Paul."  None of this made it into the book, but it definitely colored my impressions when I was writing.

The question people have most commonly asked me is, "what comes next?"  Well, the first thing I'm going to do is recharge the batteries. I'm traveling to the Philippines to see family this summer, and along the way, I'll stop in Seoul and Tokyo to get the experience of what East Asian transit and housing looks like.  Seoul built out an enormous 809-mile subway system - the size of NYC - in 50 years, and has kept expanding continuously.  Tokyo is the cheapest megalopolis in the developed world, and managed to build its way out of its housing crisis of the 1980s. There are lessons for us in North America to learn, and it will be helpful to see it with my own eyes.

It's been a great pleasure sharing the Lost Subways with you all. I'll see you on the flip side.


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