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Friday, March 21, 2008

SEPTA Karma

For the first time since I came to the US, I am catching a shit-tonne of public transport. I used to ride the train or bus every day when I lived in Australia, which encouraged a particular skill set, which I describe here because, sadly, 90% of Americans have no idea what it is to catch public transport every day:
  1. People watching. The most basic of skills on public transport, and one of its primary joys. I delight in eavesdropping on other people's conversations and phone calls, and watching the little tics people have when they're stuck in a public place with nothing to do and no privacy. I'm a better actor for it.

  2. The Fuck-Off Vibe. This is more of an art than a skill, and I consider it a mental state, though the vibe can be assisted with physical blocking devices such as sunglasses, headphones, and reading material. As its name suggests, the fuck-off vibe is necessary when you absolutely don't want to interact with anyone. When employed successfully, even the mentally ill, the mentally challenged, and panhandlers will leave you alone. I used to pride myself on my flawless fuck-off vibe in Sydney until the day I took an amazing yoga class, and it VANISHED. I was riding the bus home from yoga with giant headphones clamped to my ears, sunglasses covering my eyes, and obviously reading a book, and nevertheless every person who sat next to me felt the immediate need to engage me in conversation.

  3. Auto-Sleep. When I lived in Summer Hill and worked in North Sydney, my daily train commute was 45-minutes each way, with a transfer in the middle. I trained myself to fall asleep the minute I took my seat, and wake up right before my station each time by willing my unconscious mind to listen for station names. This only failed to work once when I was coming home stupendously drunk from a party. I ended up at the end of the line. I don't remember how I got home that night.

Whenever people have asked me what I miss most about Australia, I say public transportation. And the weather, but mostly public transport. So it's been a pleasure to get back into the swing of it.

The most disturbing incident I have to report so far while riding SEPTA (South East Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) occurred a few weeks ago, when a pretty black girl caught the R5 along with me. I was sewing children's costumes for my YMCA class on the way home, when I turned and noticed her sitting across the aisle, staring at me. I flashed her a smile, and turned back to my stitches.

"Yeah, that's right, you keep sewing, you fucking nigger," she said quietly through her death-stare.
"... Excuse me?"
"You heard what I said. You fucking nigger. You dirty fucking whore."

Then she got up and moved further forward in the carriage. I thought of possible ways I could defend myself against a budding schizophrenic with my sewing scissors, but luckily, although she disembarked at my stop, she instead shone her crazy on the hapless conductor, who received a nice gob of saliva on his uniform.

More recently, it seems I have tapped into some interesting SEPTA karma. My fuck-off vibe is obviously malfunctioning, so I have embraced my accessibility somewhat by attempting to be fairly pleasant on the train. Strangely, it's as though SEPTA is being pleasant in return. After helping a tourist find his way to 30th Street and unload his bags, I realized that my phone, which had been missing for several days, might have slipped from my grasp during my auto-sleep home one night. On a whim, I stopped at Passenger Services on my way to work ... and my phone was there. Someone had handed it in. I mean, really, when does that ever happen?

The next day, I offered a seat to an old man with sore feet who proceeded to have a conversation with me about immigrating from the Middle East (he left Kuwait two days before Iraq invaded) and making tabouleh ... and I enjoyed the conversation -- wondrous strange! Later, I thought I had missed my train home by six minutes and would have to wait an hour for the next one, only to find that my train was exactly six minutes late and waiting for me. Karma.

Things to do before I die, number I forget: Start a SEPTA religion, with an associated martial art and monasteries.

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