Is this the most vile act of tube map trolling ever committed?

"...as if millions of cartographers suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced." Image: Fabric Rehab

If there’s one thing we at CityMetric love more than cities, or even metrics, it’s maps. Especially transport maps, and especially, especially tube maps. Lovely, lovely tube maps.

So you'd think we'd be on board with tube map-themed fabric: just think, we could have tube map suits! Tube map bunting! Tube map hats!

But the terrible, terrible reality of it turns out to be this abomination, which is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone ever. Look at it. Look at the absolute state of it:

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Image: Fabric Rehab

This tube-themed “thrifty polyester cotton” fabric, offered by the Fabric Rehab website, is deeply upsetting on so many, many levels. Fenchurch Street is next to Knightsbridge. Downing Street has a tube station now! There are two Leicester Squares! THERE’S A LANCASHIRE TUBE STATION. WHY IS THERE A LANCASHIRE TUBE STATION.

This is even worse than the time the government put a tube map in the new passport and left off Southwark station. Or when TfL accidentally turned Morden tube station into a tram stop.

Presumably this is an elaborate attempt to create tube-themed fabric without raising eyebrows at Transport For London’s legal department, but would anyone really want to make anything using the design of the world’s most iconic transit map, except with absolutely none of the actually iconic bits? Well, apparently at least one person did, since it’s all sadly sold out. What a shame.

There is only one conceivable reason for this to exist: to troll tube map nerds into incoherent rage. Make a tablecloth out of it, invite one round for dinner and watch your delicious lasagne go flying through the window when they notice that East Finchley is for some reason now south of Wimbledon.


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Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.