SEPTA GIRL: Tales Of Ordinary Madness


BY PHILLY GRRL Life as a SEPTA rider can be strange and unpredictable. One moment everything is quiet. And then some guy starts talking to the girl next to him and before you know it – everyone’s gabbing like old friends. And all of a sudden, it’s not so quiet anymore. I kinda like those frenetic, frantic days. For instance, last Wednesday….

It’s 3 in the afternoon. I’m riding the northbound Broad Street Line to the Olney Transportation SeptaGirl.jpgCenter. An elderly Asian man walks down the aisle. He is carrying a plastic pink umbrella and a pink backpack. He is smiling widely. Or grimacing. I’m not sure. He sits down beside a young black girl. “Yo man, why you gotta pink umbrella?” she asks.

“Picking up granddaughter,” he says.

She nods. “That’s cool.” They start talking. By the time the express goes from Race to Olney, they’re in a deep discussion about her church. And they’re both smiling. As they walk up the steps, they’re still talking.

I get off the subway. As I go through the turnstiles, a stylishly-dressed woman taps me on the arm. “I’m curious,” she says, “why are you wearing a pink scarf in the summer?”

I look down, startled. “Dunno,” I stutter. “I like the color?” She nods and walks away, pursing her lips.

At Olney, I wait for the 26. Beside me are throngs of students from Girls’ High and Central High School. They crowd the platform in groups. Some of the girls are strategizing about prom dresses and prom dates. Beside me, two girls wearing African print tunics and skinny jeans. The shorter one yells across the street, “Hey, nigg*r! Didja see us in the dance today?”

A boy in a white T-shirt turns around. I recognize him as my parent’s next-door neighbor. (He’s the block Romeo. On any given day, there are 10 plus girls clustered around his yard.) The girls run across the street to talk to him. Behind me, a West African woman is talking to a SEPTA employee about her parents, who want to arrange her marriage. “I’ve been in America too long,” she tells him. “I’m different now. My culture is different now. Why can’t they marry off my sister?” She wrings her hands.

The 26 bus comes. The seats are all full. We squeeze in the aisle. In the bus, I’m pushed next to two boys from the Central High School baseball team (at least that’s what their T-shirts read). They’re both clutching their girlfriends protectively. Every now and then, they stop their conversations for some French kissing. I turn away. On the other side of me a woman is standing with her cell phone. She’s dictating the night’s dinner menu to her kid. “Macaroni and hot dogs,” she says. “Start boiling the water, Matt!” Her heavy cologne burns my nostrils. A man bumps into her. “Excuse you,” she says to him, glaring. “Where you think you can come off bumping into people like that?” The man apologizes, embarrassed. He hangs his head down. The woman keeps talking. “And set the table! You never set the table!”

As I step off the bus, the bus driver is deep in conversation with a passenger. “My sister is so stubborn,” she says, striking the steering wheel for emphasis. “I hate her!”

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