Hejira

Trains

On Display Collab, July 2000. Topic: "Restlessness"

I think it must have been early April. Yes it was, in fact, because it was still very cold and there had been a freak snow storm while John and I were eating at the Times Square Olive Garden. As soon as I had gotten home to Philly, I didn't want to take the train because it would have required a mile walk home. So I decided to take the C bus. I had been on the bus for about 20 minutes before I realized I was on the wrong C bus. There are two, one going to Ogontz Avenue, and one going to the Fern Rock Transportation Center. I went on the latter, and before I realized it, the driver was saying "Last stop!" and I was deposited in a less than savory part of North Philly.

Fortunately, I knew where I was. I knew the next stop after Fern Rock was Melrose Park, so I guess I would have to take the Regional Rail back home, which meant walking. Bah.

Fern Rock is not only a connection to the Regional Rail, but also where the Broad Street Line, one of two subways in Philly, begins. The place looks like a giant skeleton of steel and concrete, with dozens of steps to climb to actually get to the other side of the platform. The electrical lines crackled above me in the silence. The place was practically deserted, but that wasn't surprising considering it was early Sunday evening. I imagine this place was mobbed during rush hour, but now it just looked abandoned.

The train platform was quiet. There were only three other people on it. There were no benches to sit on, but they were all leaning against advertising signs or garbage cans. I shivered, and snuggled farther into the sweater John had lent me. The sky was now clear, and the sun was setting.

The R5 train thundered past us, north bound. It didn't stop here.

I wondered where my platform-mates were headed. Some crazy part of me always wants to go up to strangers on train platforms and ask them where they were going. Where they live. What they do for a living. Who they love. But I never do, partly because I'm too chicken and also because it's probably not a good idea, especially in North Philly.

I wonder why I don't, sometimes. Part of it I know is the fear of maybe choosing some pyscho to talk to. But it feels so odd to pass so many people on a train platform, in a train station, in line at the ticket window, and just ignore them. You put a little cloud of self-absorbtion around your head and shut out so many people with so many stories and so much to offer. I know it's just a defense mechanism, but sometimes I wonder what we're missing.

So many people pass through the trains. They're all going somewhere. But I want to get on a train and not be going anywhere. Someday I am going to ride all the trains in Philadelphia. Just for fun. Just for the experience. Because riding trains are like riding the arteries of a city. It's where everything, and nothing, happens.