Thursday, January 17, 2008

Routes and Relays

Heading home from Olney this afternoon, I caught the C bus just before it got messy out but at 3 o'clock, it was also the absolute worst time to ride, since all the school kids are just getting out. It can feel like the Fall of Saigon, with bodies trying to squeeze into every possible pocket of space in the aisle, a dense urban nucleus on wheels. It is city living at its finest.

I got to hear a choice exchange between two girls as we rolled down Broad Street towards Center City (I had abandoned any notion of trying to wedge to the front of the bus to get off at Hunting Park for the R; it would be easier just to catch the 27 at City Hall). It was an Insult Slinging match, like the ones we used to have in middle school ("you're mamma's so poor, when I saw her rolling a trashcan down the street and asked her what she was doing she said 'movin' "). These girls were hitting on dads, though, starting with the 'I regret' game:

"I regret pokin' holes in your dad's condoms."

"I regret not makin' yo dad pull out!"

Things quickly degenerated into all kinds of silly and vulgar things, most of which I can't remember. It didn't bother me much (though I wondered if we talked like this when we were 13), but it's always a little uncomfortable when there are older ladies in earshot.

One reason I like riding the bus is that it keeps me connected to my community. I see the interesting social dynamics at work--passing the train station in the morning, the platform is crowded with young white professionals. The buses seem to be passed up as 2nd class and many times I am the only white person aboard. This has become comfortable and even though you don't really talk to the person sitting next to you, you do realize that they are essentially your neighbor, at least as a Philadelphian. One of the most sickening aspects of suburban living is the isolated sequestering and the insulated cyclical movement from vinyl-sided-two-car-garage home to car to work to car to home again in the evening--remote controls keep you from even having to get out to open the garage door.

SEPTA came out with this stupid ad campaign during their proposed fare increase that got ridiculed in op-eds for being another example of the misuse of funds that has plagued them for years. It had something to do with routes and neighborhoods--like the 61 and Manayunk, and then it would be list a bunch of defining things about Manayunk. While it was kind of silly, I do tend to know neighborhoods by number: the locals like the 9 and 27 (rox, andorra, plymouth meeting, s. philly), R and 1 (nicetown, hunting park, NE), 65 (Germantown); 23 (chestnut hill, logan); 42 and 21 (w. philly) goes on and on.

There's always some characters too. Like the guy who came on the R one day wrapped in hundreds of rubber bands with a penthouse in his back pocket; the old wooly charley with his cane picking up the 65 gumming his teeth and smelling like moldy sweatsocks; the big hard mad woman who kept slapping her baby for crying and who bit a woman's head off for saying something about it.
The rotten smell of half smoked cigarettes tucked behind ears.
The exhale of hydraulics and the annoyed mutterings of folks having to move for people in wheelchairs.
Young mothers and their familiar tired technique of hoisting babies and folding strollers.
Old ladies in big hats and Sunday best off to Baptist churches in Germantown to sing and groan to the Lord.
The relief of a cool space in the summer for those without air conditioning and a warm one in the winter for those who pay too much for heat.
The standing for an hour waiting for buses that never show and not being able to do anything about it.
The old Metros.
The not having to drive.
The puttering Boulevard.
The bloody Schuylkill.
Late nights at 69th Street.
The backways through Stawberry Mansion when it rains.
The million and one things to write about from the big plexi-glass window.

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