Tales from the two cities

In Tạp văn on 2010/07/09 at 15:12

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We traveled to Philladelphia last month for a conference. We usually rent a car while travel but this time we decided to take public transportation. We used the subway, train, bus, and trollies for commuting between our stay at the Days Inn hotel by the Philladelphia airport and our destinations (the conference center, downtown Philladelphia and its landmarks, NY). Philladelphia public transportation is quite good. However, it takes time to go places, particularly if one doesn’t know the schedule well enough. We were surprised with many encounters while using public transportation. It offers us many opportunities to see things which we would not be able to have if being well confined within a rented car on a defined route. Stripped off our confinement of comfort and priveleges we see more of the real.

On the Saturday that I took the bus (Megabus) from Philly to NY to see my son, I got to the bus station quite early so I walked inside the 30th street station to take cover instead of waiting on the JFK/Market street corner under the hot and humid weather. This is an old-time big city train station, beautiful and enormous. It houses Amtrak station and Philly’s regional rails and subway. Inside, on the main concourse there are pairs of long wooden benches facing each other for people in waiting, for departure or for pick-up. I sat on one corner of a bench, in the middle is a Caucasian mother and her daughter, and on the other corner is a fourty something Black man. The mother is probably mid-fifty with an adult daughter, looking like a college student. She was plugged with earphones and using a computer. On the opposite bench, empty from across my corner, in the midde is a White couple in the fifty, and at the other end is an African American mother and her late teen daughter. There was a White lady in late fifty, crutch under one arm and a removable cast for the foot on the other leg walking to our benches. She was neatly dressed and clean. She really looked like a person just down on her luck. She approached the mother and daughter next to me asking for help with food and meal, saying that she was out of job since March. She went across to opposite bench asking the couple, who just sat down a few minutes earlier holding two fast food bags and drinks. They shook their heads, did not say a word. She walked away. I turned around watching her approached another White lady from the bench behind with same result, no one give a handout. She did not ask me, an Asian American, neither the African American mother and daughter nor the Black man. I did not know how to act. I was thinking of approaching her to help, but afraid of offending with unsolicited help. A few minutes later, I looked back behind me again but she had disappeared. I should have approached her earlier, regardless.

The next day, I went back from NY to Philly. I took the subway from 30th street terminal back to the end of the line, the 69th street terminal, before taking another 40-minute bus ride back to the hotel. This terminal is in Darby, west of Philly, a small working class town, predominantly blacks with low-income families. The subway line passes through rows of run-down old houses along the track. Those houses seem to be built around the same time period with almost identical facing, two-stories brick houses, nice looking at one time but now with broken windows, boarded up, patched up roofs, damaged gutters, ruined by time without repairs. The 69th street terminal is a pretty small enclosure up the stairs from the subway. It has large glass windows on two sides and two short benches looking out to the bus stop outside. There was a White gruff-looking man with disheveled oily hair and dirty clothes. He looks like an old-time panhandler. He darted inside the terminal and asked for changes. I gave him whatever changes in my pant pocket. He walked to the Black man next to me and asked the same. The Black man gave him a dollar bill. He then went to two more persons sitting and standing around the benches but without result. He ran to the bus stop outside asking from a Black lady and she gave him a bill. He went to a couple of people outside then darted back inside the terminal and ran down the stairs to the subway. Within a few minutes he got some changes from three out of 7-8 persons that he asked.

I ponder on the race and class of people who ask, who being asked, and who help.


Philladelphia, 06.20.2010

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