Hejira

bethany rides SEPTA, but dreams of MTA

March 14. 2000

whoosh I think my fascination with public transportation can be traced back to living in Lebanon, a suburban sprawl of a town that had no public transportation system to speak of. I mean, sure we have County of Lebanon Transit (COLT), a fleet of twenty underused buses that drive hither and thither all over the county. Freight trains pass through Lebanon with alarming frequency. I remember watching those trains when I was little and wondering where in the box cars did the people sit.

So I guess one can understand my fascination with trains, buses, but especially subways. And especially New York City subways. I am obsessed with learning the NYC subways by heart, inside and out. I can't explain my interest, but there's something magical and exciting about NYC subways...they're so infamous. Songs mention them. They are cultural landmarks. Everyone knows what and where Grand Central is. They are, in a strange way, kind of beautiful. Beautiful because of textures and contrasts. The golden mellow sound of a saxophone echoing off the dirty tile walls. Watching the people walking in the opposite direction of me. The dark hidden secretness of passing abandoned stations while on the train.

However, when I got to Philadelphia, I found myself somewhat disappointed. I learned the subway lines quickly. All two of them. The Broad Street Line (Orange) and the Market Street/Franford Line (Blue). There. Now you know. Come visit me. Alas, there is no pop culture importance assigned to Philadelphia subways. No one sings about the Market East train station. No, we're known for the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Ben Franklin. Blech.

I took the train downtown today, which is what made me think of this very subject. Caught the R1 down to Market East Station, walked up a few blocks, got on the Broad Street Line, went North one stop before realized I was going the wrong way, got off and changed directions sheepishly and ended up at South Street mostly unscathed, and with realization that SEPTA will never measure up for me. It will never replace the void and longing in my heart for MTA.

And all the New York City natives who are reading this are probably shaking their heads, and thinking, "It's the subway...it's dirty, it smells and it's full of rats." Someday, when I live in NYC, the beauty will probably fade after a while. Still, right now it's a wonderful thing for me. I sit and practice perfecting my subway expression of complete boredom and apathy. I ride SEPTA, all the while dreaming of MTA.