For about a year in the seventies, I commuted to Philly on the PATCO High-Speedline and I loved the practiced hustle bustle of the passengers rushing to the train and then rushing up stairs to the streets. Invigorating.
I still take the train to Philadelphia sometimes, but rarely commuter times so when I took the train yesterday from the Walter Rand Transportation Center in downtown Camden, I revisited morning rush hour.
I hopped on the last car called THE QUIET TRAIN and I stood because there were no seats. I observed my fellow passengers. No one spoke a word.
People texted and played games on cell phones.
They read books on I-PADS and Kindles.
No one hid behind big newspaper pages as they used to do, but a few held the free small newspaper in their hands.
One woman stood holding the pole near the door and read Anne Lamott’s TRAVELING MERCIES. I was too far from her to catch her eye and to ask how she liked it. I wanted to tell her that I saw Anne Lamott in person—well, from across a crowded auditorium at the Free Public Library of Philadelphia. I don’t know if she would have been interested, but I would have tried to talk to her.
When I got off at 16th and Locust Streets, the quiet ended. People almost ran from the train to get in line to get up the steps to the street. It was every man and woman for himself and herself. You’d better stand by the wall if you needed to tie a shoe or put on your gloves without getting knocked down.
The commuter aggression that I remembered from the old days had not been eradicated from sitting on that civilized quiet car.
I waited for some moments for the line of passengers going up to start to move and I prepared myself mentally climb up those cement steps without pause. People needed to get to work on time and they weren’t going to walk up to the street in a leisurely fashion because I’m not as fast as I was forty-some years ago.
The line of people teeming down the steps stopped. The line of people going up the steps stopped, too. No one said a word. It was the QUIET TRAIN atmosphere again, but here the cease of activity and noise seemed weird.
What was happening? We stood in the damp cold and silence for what seemed a long time. So much for a day out in Philly… I’d never seen this situation. What my husband calls my writer’s imagination took over. I imagined the worst scenarios.
Finally, a man in a down jacket with a serious face and a cane walked down the stairs and his dog followed him. Step by step, they made it to the bottom of the stairs and dozens of passengers stood like statues, waiting on the “up” side of the stairs.
When the man and his dog got several feet away from the stairs, the horde came alive and surged to leave the station or to get a train.