Today we celebrate Martin Luther King’s abbreviated life. For those of you living in a cave the last 40 years, he was a black minister that advocated non-violent protests against segregation. This was in stark contrast to the white police that sicked attack dogs and turned high pressure water hoses on the peaceful ‘African American’ marchers. This was on top of savage beatings administered by the Selma, AL police. Fast-forward 50 years and things still boil down to the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots..’ While not entirely related, it’s as close as I’ve come to true empathy. Please enjoy this posting from 2008:
Good Morning Conjunct and Huddled Masses,
Before actually commenting, I wanted to spend the entire week absorbing a ‘day in the life’ of public transportation. I’m glad I did because it would have been easy to subjugate the characters I’ve met (some are new readers) into stereo-typical behaviors without regard to how or why they’re riding a bus.
While not wanting to sound elitist (my circumstances aside) I couldn’t help but notice the great variety of human-kind on display at our bus stops and train stations. Oddly there’s even a difference between those that ride the train versus the bus! This is evidenced by posted signs on every bus but not anywhere on the light trains. The sign warns.. “Causing a disturbance maybe considered hindering the operation of a public conveyance or endangering public transportation, punishable by up to a $750,000 fine and up to 16 years in prison. All violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”
Without going out on a limb I suspect few riding the bus know the meaning of the word conveyance! There are students and those working downtown that find the train more efficient than driving so they get themselves to a station to park and ride the rails. Those that must suffer the often times circuitous meanderings of the bus are the abject poor. The two modes of transportation overlap of course, and I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing both making me qualified to comment. That said, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between poverty by choice, circumstance, or whether it’s all pre-ordained.
For the two or three of you reading this ‘transfer’ let’s not forget this is after all about me. In the ongoing struggle to rise above my self-inflicted wounds it’s become necessary to access public transportation. Typically there’s very little interchange between the passengers. With the advent of Smart phones, Tablets, and the good ole newspaper, most keep to themselves quietly suffering the personal indignation of riding a sardine can.
I decided early on that when forced to share a seat I’d engage whoever it was in conversation. Aside from the few that didn’t speak English, in my five day adventure I’ve met Juan a self-admitted graffiti artist, Justin a proud assistant manager of a McDonalds, Lexi a Latino women who is hell bent on breaking the Guinness world record for birthing babies, and Gertie an 87 year old woman that volunteers at the Senior Center.
The conversations tend to be brief so it’s important to get right down to the meaty issues of why, how, and where do you want to go before they get off at the next stop. Juan is a bit of an enigma in that he never came clean as to how he made money to devote himself to full time vandalism. I suspect he deals drugs, but the young man is passionate about his graffiti insisting the freight train cars (his specialty) are ugly and monotonous and his work gives them individuality and beauty.
I’ve noticed his work since speaking with him. Next time you take light rail, you’ll pass an area where many freight cars are just sitting on the rails. Look for big 3-D white block letters on a powder blue background that spells ‘LIBERENOS’ followed by a caricature of Marilyn Monroe. I never got an answer as to why Marilyn Monroe but suspect it was just something he’d learned to draw early on and likes it.
Justin never finished high school but found him to be surprisingly articulate. He was promoted to assistant manager after a year of being the fry guy. His purpose in life is to someday manage his own restaurant if you can call McDonald’s a restaurant. He seemed very determined to me and have little doubt he’ll achieve his goal.
Lexi is way out there and one has to wonder what color the sky is in her world. In a heavy Mexican accent she explained the Virgin Mary spoke to her. Mary indicated her calling in life is to bring children into the world and raise them as Catholics. Lexi is 28 years old and already has seven kids and expecting her eighth with three fathers. She’s “on a mission from God”!
Gertie is a piece of work! She has no problem telling people what she thinks of them and will gladly point out one’s rude or inappropriate behavior. She’s been widowed for 23 years and I think I know what put him in his grave. Gertie seems to be a bit on the harsh side and for my money is a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, yet she travels 12 miles daily to volunteer at the Senior Center in Loretta Heights. As she stood up to get off she said loud enough for all to hear, “Young man (meaning me!) you’d attract more women if you lost some weight” She turned away and left with more than a few snickering about it.
While not to be compared with Rosa Park’s ride on Public Transportation my experience served its purpose to be sure, as I’ve seen dwarfs, the mentally retarded, crazies mumbling to themselves, and as one might guess have come face to face with wheelchair-bound people.
I nearly always claim to be agnostic but when confronted with inconvenience…..I turn to prayer…. “PLEASE GOD…..GIVE ME MY CAR BACK!!!”