[Photo by TOAST QUEEN]
BY PHILLYGRRL It was a quiet week on SEPTA — for me anyway. Perhaps the hothouse weather pacified my fellow passengers, because everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. Even the otherwise-active subway kids opted for their headphones instead of mild flirtations with their peers. Hot in the city, indeed. Nobody moved as much as an inch when the homeless man on the C bus tried to start a fight with the driver. And he gave up as quickly as he’d begun. So it was that yesterday found me in a sad state of affairs as I met a Philly-turned-Berkeley girl for dinner in Chinatown. A little background on her if you will. This Philly girl, like myself, grew up in the Olney/Logan neighborhood. She’s taken SEPTA longer than I have. And naturally she’s seen more. So she told me her SEPTA stories. Five stories. And she told me I could share them with you, dear reader.
One: When I used to take the Broad Street Line, there was a man who walked through the subway cars selling the most curious item I’ve ever seen sold on SEPTA. It was your all-inclusive, handy-dandy pocket knife cigarette lighter. That’s right. It was no mere pocket knife. It was no mere cigarette lighter. It was a two-in-one combo designed to protect the safety of ladies and gentlemen like yourselves. And the vendor knew the peculiar charms of his particular product. He had even coined a little jingle that he sang out as he displayed his wares. “Stick ’em and burn ’em motherfuckers if they try and rob you,” he’d say. And in case you wanted to stock up on lighter fluid, he carried capsules of those too, which he kept stowed in a black briefcase that I was always afraid would explode if the subway were to jolt a little too hard.
Two: One night around 10:30 when I was on my way back from an LSAT class at UPenn, I was doing some practice problems in my seat while on the Market-El line when a man sat on the seat opposite me. I looked up and lo and behold, he had a giant ax lying across his lap. This was no ordinary ax. It was more like a Paul Bunyan/ax-murderer type ax. I looked down quickly. I could feel him watching me. I stared hard at my problems and scribbled at the page with my pencil. But the entire time I was pretending to do problems, I could feel him watching me.
Three: I used to take the R bus that went from the Wissahickon Transportation Center to the Frankford Transportation Center. I would catch the bus every Friday one summer, around 6:30 PM. And every Friday there would be a man in the back of the bus who ran a hustle. I guess he knew that people got paid on Fridays, because he had set up one of those games where you try and guess where the pea is under the three bottle caps. He would let people win for a while and they would get happy and put in more money. But without fail, sooner or later he would have a good chunk of their paycheck. I was always surprised at the amount of money that got passed around in those games. Crisp fifty-dollar and one-hundred dollar bills would change hands in a matter of minutes.
Four: I had just gotten off the Broad Street Line at the Hunting Park stop across from the McDonalds when I saw the woman in front of me stop and say, “Oh my gawd,” in the kind of voice that lets you know she really, really had to go the bathroom. She was a pretty normal-looking lady. About 250 pounds. She had on some Baby Phat sweats. That was all I noticed before she abruptly stooped to the ground and in a swift gesture pulled down her pants before depositing a pile of feces on the sidewalk. I was surprised by three things. Obviously the fact that she went on the sidewalk instead of running to the myriad of public restrooms available in the area was a surprise. As well as the speed with which she pulled down her pants and the dexterity with which this rather large woman balanced on her feet was truly a sight to behold.
Five: I was sitting in the back of a very crowded bus when a group of flushed, black teenagers came running into the rear entryway. The driver, had opened the back door because there was no room by the front door. I could hear them talking as they came in. Apparently they had just robbed a Korean mom-and-pop store at some corner by the bus stop. They laughed as they talked about how they’d taken five dollars from the chink. I remember thinking how terrible they must be at robbery if they could only manage to rob a corner store of five dollars. And I remember laughing to myself as it occurred to me that that we were all riding in the getaway car.