I wrote that last post on the El.
For those of you not acquainted with Philadelphia, we have exactly two and a half brands of subway. One travels north to south. One travels east to west. One spends half its distance traveling from the center of the city to the west, and then emerges from the ground.
(I always laugh when people find the Philly subway system confusing. They’re named unambiguously and barely make a turn. Paris – now that’s confusing.)
The “El” is short for the Market Frankford Elevated Line, the east to west subway named thus because it runs along Market Street & Frankford Avenues and because after it exits the central part of its route in either direction it runs along elevated tracks. Creaky, red iron, elevated tracks that tower overhead, dripping rain that smacks as it hits your scalp.
Nothing in the world skeeves me out like the El. In fact, for several years at the old house I boycotted it entirely. However, it’s a reality of traveling to and from the new house.
The grime of it is paralyzing. The navy blue floor is encrusted with untold months of flotsam at every crack and corner. The blue seats are not plastic but a sponge-like blue fuzz that seems engineered to attract and retain dirt.
Then there are the people – the degenerate, tactless people. I have heard of and witnessed people doing things on the El that you would never witness elsewhere in public – let alone on public transit. Vandalism. Performance art. Investigations of personal hygiene. Sex acts.
The charming combination of environmental grossness and personal grossness is enhanced by the claustrophobic layout of each car. To a New Yorker – accustomed to their wide, hard-plastic benches and center-of-aisle poles – it probably seems like an amusement park ride.
A tiny, disgusting amusement park ride.
Whenever I ride a carefully tuck my limbs into my body like an Olympic diver, trying to avoid contact with something or something that will give me syphilis or leprosy.
Carefully tucked into myself, I pull out my laptop, and log in remotely to work for 29 blocks of elevation, before shutting down and doing my best to hold my breath and stay absolutely still for 10 blocks of subway.
The first thing I do every day in the office is wash my hands.