Matthew Lickona 12:45 p.m., Dec. 11
The air is stifling. Soap on school kids, a woman’s heavy perfume, a unwashed homeless guy , exhaust from the buses, burning fuel , and the metallic scent of dirt blanketing everything in the region from the state transportation project. This government funded hardscape & landscape contract forces every commuter to take the long way around to get to the trolley, the bus, or the street, which is my destination. Since it was launched, everyone seems to be rushing , safety be damned. Of course they’ve hired guards to patrol the construction zone, although I haven’t seen anyone but the guards, so I guess the construction workers only work part time. Nice, bet they have a pension too.
Meanwhile all of the customers using the transit services have been forced to cross over several train tracks and run up and down stairs just to miss their bus, or if they actually work nearby , to wait through at least two additional stop lights in order to get to work. And that’s if they’re lucky, and a train or trolley doesn’t fly through the station disrupting the sequence of those signals and causing a few more minutes to be lost.
Down the stairs to the tunnel, up the stairs to the bus stop and parking lot. That stairway is a real challenge because my timing puts me at the top when a trolley is getting ready to leave and the crowd surges towards me like a tsunami . They don’t give, they don’t care, they just want to make their trolley or train.
An old man in worn levis totally absorbed pulling handfuls of bread crusts out of his backpack, scattering crumbs on the filthy cement walkways between the bus lanes. He looks up , but there is a vacant look in his eyes, and they quickly return to the birds pecking at the ground. As I pass, little groups scoot to another area of the walkway. A black raven swoops low and grabs an ice cream wrapper, liquid vanilla streaming from the sky as he heads for the building across the street. The pigeons make a ruckus, pissed off that the raven got the wrapper, then distracted by the next handful of bread.
A woman in her 70s with chin length hair, a fake rasta ponytail clumsily pinned on the back of her head with a giant clip. She looks like somebody’s mother, gone wrong. She is smiling to herself, but not making eye contact with anyone. She has a trash bag full of water bottles at her feet today as she waits for the bus. I’ve seen her on the train on my way home in the afternoon with a cane, and either a missing leg, or wearing a heavy brace, I couldn’t tell one way or the other.
Just last week, she was sitting upstairs and everyone was watching her as she slowly, painfully made her way through the mezzanine area to the bottom floor. A young guy sitting in the handicapped seat jumped up and offered it to her, and she sat down gratefully. As we approached the next stop, I saw her stand up and head back upstairs. She made it all the way to the top, where she was blocked by three guys who were trying to head downstairs to get off . I heard her say no, no , no, and saw one man, with kindly eyes, try to put a $20 dollar bill in her pocket, that she had apparently left on the seat. Her voice was getting louder no, no, no, so he grabbed the bill from her pocket and put it in her hand, feeling embarrassed and unsure of what to do next. The good Samaritan had set her off.
I stood up, and watched another young guy watching her attempt to get back down the stairs. He held out his hand, and she said no, no, no. His girlfriend had already made it to the main floor and was waiting by the door. Three of us now were watching her, eager to help, but she was having none of it.
I headed for the door as we slid to a stop. I stuck my hand out, waving my arm up and down to try to get the conductor’s attention. The young guy and his wife took off, and I heard him say something to the engineer as they passed. I was still waiting by the open door to help her out when she hobbled right past me and took a seat. The good samaratin lept out the door as the train started moving again, “that was interesting” he said. It was very kind of you to try to help. The conductor reached us, took one look and said, she doesn’t get off here, and jumped back on the train, closing the door. We both stood there for a moment watching as the train headed north, looked at each other and said Have a nice evening.
This morning I finally make it to the transit center driveway past the half dozen RVs that pulled into the parking lot at 5:00am to catch up on their sleep because they aren’t allowed to camp on the street.
A van from ARC beats me to the exit and I pause while they make a wide right turn into the fast lane. I cut across the highway as the traffic recedes, safely reaching the center divider, weaving through the cylindrical pillars that support the thousands of cars racing across the sky. Drivers use this strip of highway like a race track, and if I falter or fall and don’t get up in time I’ll be a goner. During the next lull, I dash across the remaining two lanes and hop onto the dirty sidewalk, narrowly missing the murky water hugging the curb.