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The Market-Frankford El

March 7, 2006

I wrote this yesterday (or was it last Friday?  I truly can’t remember) on my ride to work…

The subway is alive today.  It’s usually pretty dead during the hours when I ride it. 

There’s a woman with a baby down the car from me (I’m sitting at the
very end, facing the rest of the car) struggling to make a phone call
over her infant.  A young black man is talking on the phone across
from the woman with the baby, not looking happy.  Two seats in
front of him (towards me), 3 working-class whites are talking
incessantly and LOUDLY amongst themselves, seated on opposite sides of
a stiff, sour-looking woman with grey hair who is gazing tersely out
the windew through her tinted shades–probably wishing the whites would
get off.  Two seats in front of me, another young black man
dressed entirely in camaflouge (or is it camouflage?)
is rapping out loud to the song pumping into his ears and veins from
his silver headphones.  The car is scattered with a handful of
other public transit riders, some old, some young; some black, some
white; pretty much all of them with hats on top of their heads to keep
the biting cold of this crisp, clear day from nipping their skin when
they step off the train.  Something in common.

“Rock-a-by baby on the tree top, when the wind blows, the cradle will
rock.”  A brief, sing-song interlude in the camouflaged rapper’s
rapid, hardened words.  For being camouflaged, he sure stands
out–but not for his looks.  Most young black men in this city
don’t get attention unless they’re in handcuffs, and even then, no one
pays much mind.  The rapper, like those who’ve caught the
attention of the cops, stands out by breaking social norms.

What else do we have in common other than sharing the same subway car,
these other riders and I?  The lost looks on our faces.  Some
of us are lost in our thoughts, some in our sadness, some in space;
it’s funny how no matter what’s going on inside our heads, we all
register nearly the same look.  We’re good at hiding our inner
selves, we “normal” Americans.  Is that a good thing?  My
guess is no.

Now I’m on the bus.  Same scene minus the rapper, although there’s
a kid listening to headphones across from me, moving his lips quietly
to his music.  His music?  What do I assume he’s listening
to?  Rap.  But he could be listening to Toby Keith or James
Taylor.  I shouldn’t assume.

Two working class whites, this time next to me,
are conversing loudly and unabashedly.  It’s refreshing.  I
hope I don’t have the same sour look on my face as the woman on the
subway did towards the loud talkers because I’d like the men to know
that their conversation is pleasing me.  It livens the otherwise
dull vibe given off by all those lost looks crowding the bus. 
Lost to each other.  Lost to the world.  Lost in our own
worlds.

I like the way black people aren’t afraid to shout up to the bus driver
to open the back door if s/he doesn’t realize someone’s waiting to
exit–they’ll even speak up on behalf of timid, middle class whites
trained not to cause a scene.  Not that speaking up causes a
scene; it just gets the door opened.  Why would we (me and other
middle class whites) rather walk an extra few blocks from the next stop
than speak up to have the door opened at the stop we’d prefer to get
off at?  Not that all blacks speak up or all middle class whites
don’t, but it’s definitely a pattern I’ve noticed. 

Now I’m at work.  Time to put aside my commuter’s thoughts.  Ate mais…

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