Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Head Out of Your Ass, Pennsylvania -- Like NOW

This evening, I was riding home on the bus, and as sometimes occurs in the evening -- never in the morning -- I felt a bit too nausea-prone to try reading. This makes no sense to me, since in the morning my gorge is unstable when I so much as brush my teeth. I can eat, and all, I'm just sensitive. In the evening, though, apparently the bus shakes more or something.

Anyway, these rides when I can't read are interminable, they really are, unless one of my bus buddies is aboard, which is unfortunately rare. It's actually exceedingly rare, because I have never had more than two guaranteed bus conversation partners. No, actually, only one. And she works outside the city now. The other one is lovely and sweet and sings for a band in town that I adore but now she's almost never on the bus, and for some reason, distant acquaintance that she is, when she is around it so takes me aback that I fail to register that it's her until I'm firmly implanted on a seat several rows back and not sure whether to move forward and start a conversation or not -- what if I'm wrong? What if it's not her?

I think this happened yesterday, but it's the nature of the beast that I'm still not sure. Here's what happened: I was just hanging up an awkward phonecall as the bus pulled up in front of the USX tower, and the combination of stimuli temporarily shorted something out such that I didn't immediately move to enter the bus. The driver, fortunately was patient and evidently recognized me, because he didn't close the door. When I boarded, however, he asked, "Everything alright?" Distracted -- at that exact moment I didn't realize that I'd brainfarted and dawdled unnecessarily -- I just smiled and gave the only answer anyone could give to a bus driver posing such a query: "Yeah yeah, I'm fine," smile stretching as the words came out, and turning to head back.

Upon turning, in a seat toward the front, a fair apparition was looking straight at me, wide eyes with upturned corners shimmering, head wrapped in a crocheted hat that almost spherically contained her short hair, smiling so sweetly she might have melted rock. Again, reflex predominated; such a smile when matched to an unwavering top-of-the-eyes gaze (jesus, the eyelashes alone could ruin a vow of chastity) permits only one reaction: hold her gaze, smile back, blush, and get the hell out of those double klieg lights. Which I did.

So unsettled was I by the smile that I sat there staring at her left shoulder for five minutes, imagining she might look back, knowing she would not. Indie kid -- cute red 70's style windbreaker; big bulky herringbone skirt; black tights; trendy sneakerish flats. Not looking back. After five minutes of this, it occurred to me that this must have been her, and now she probably thought me a jackass for not lingering in the aisle to talk.

I'm not talking about what I intended to.

So anyway, bored out of my skull today and unable to read away the ride home, I scanned the ads in the brackets overhead and saw evidence of what I'd somehow forgotten was coming: a notice of service reductions and fare increases taking effect in March, pending some sort of extraordinary relief from the Commonwealth. Which, evidently, isn't going to happen, at least not in a timely fashion. We're not the only ones going down; Philadelphia's (SEPTA's) rate increases and service reductions are in the same ballpark as ours. WTF?

Lower income workers are the lifeblood of any urban community. And mass transit provides the vascular system. All the well-to-do, suburban interests who guard every penny of their swollen incomes like street urchins a crust of bread against any tax that doesn't provide a conspicuous direct benefit to themselves are going to watch their city hemorrhage and bleed out if they don't start acknowledging the importance of the service class.

You can't go cutting weekend service, raising fares without raising incomes, and so on. Sure, on paper, a $.50 fare increase doesn't seem like a lot. But if you're making $6.00 an hour and trying to raise a kid, every penny counts. We can't afford to make this community inhospitable to the very people who keep the city humming. We just can't. It takes a village. And that something hasn't been done about this already demonstrates how out of touch Harrisburg is with the needs of the shining communities at either end of the Commonwealth that represent it in the eyes of the rest of the country.

Oh sure, our buses are turned over regularly and attractive. And let's not forget our busstops, which are now glass instead of plexi, and faux-bronze instead of blatant aluminum, logo'd and newly signed. That's all nice. But what about the laid-off employees. The service cuts. The fare hike. These recent improvements, literally, represent the rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. Somebody better go below and shore up the leaks before the whole thing sinks.

People need to get their shit together and right quick, too.

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Blogger brian said...

Nice post. My mother-in-law runs a senior care home, and she is very concerned about the reprecussions of the cutbacks on her staff and her ability to take care of the residents. She and the other administrators have worked hard to communicate with the Port Authority, but to no avail.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Moon said...

Sad thing is, it's not really PAT she needs to talk to. They've got a budget, and I'm sure they're doing all they can. Hell, they're working to save their friends' and colleagues' jobs. It's the policy makers at the state level that are dithering and dawdling this situation into a full-blown crisis.

9:49 AM  

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