El Problemo

Since rush hour traffic is so bad in downtown Philadelphia, I try to avoid taking the bus home. If I get out before 5:30p, and one of the two buses that goes to my neighborhood happens to come by right in front of my office right as I leave the building, then I'll hop on; even with bad traffic, the bus can go three miles in less than 30 minutes, so that I'm not late for picking up the kids. But if all of those things aren't there, I hoof it two blocks to the subway station, zip five minutes through downtown and under a river, and emerge in my neighborhood to walk the last half-mile to the kids' school.

(I take a similar approach on the way into work: if the bus isn't coming right by, I'll walk a little extra to catch the subway. I reckon that even if the bus is coming right by, the subway is faster, so if I'm hopping on the bus it's because I'm lazy and not because I'm in a hurry.)

Alas, three times in the past three weeks the subway, usually reliable, has failed me. One morning two weeks ago, I had to go into the office early for a meeting. I knew something was suspicious as I got closer to the subway stop when, at such an early hour, people were pouring out of the stairwell. I soon learned that someone had jumped in front of a moving subway car earlier that morning, and so they had shut down the whole line. I ended up on one of scores of emergency buses that shuttled people in lieu of the subway. So much for making my meeting on time.

Last week, I again had a meeting first thing in the morning, and this time I was on the subway when problems arose. The subway ground to a halt under the river between 30th and 22nd. The conductor announced he had to check on something, and several minutes later, updated us that the train was experiencing motor problems. We crawled, at probably three miles an hour, to the next stop, stopping several times for several minutes on the way. Right before we finally arrived at the next stop to get off, a passenger in my car started freaking out, and had to be calmed down by all of the people at that side of the car. I'm not sure what would have happened had we not arrived at the stop finally and opened the doors.

Yesterday, the problems were on the way home. I was already cutting it close in terms of getting the kids on time, so when the subway again slowed to a halt, I started checking my watch madly and calculating how fast I would have to sprint the half-mile from stop to school. Of course, to make things even funner, I was carrying three huge tins of cookies which I had bought in Chinatown and left at work to bring home to give to the kids' teachers. All told, we were delayed underground for ten minutes, which meant I would need to run at breakneck speed just to come close to closing time at school. The last of the three pauses on this trip was the most painful of them all, as we were just a half-block from my stop. Finally, we arrived, and I burst out of the subway car, through the turnstile, and down the street. What a sight I must have been, in full suit, work bag and three big red plastic bags full of cookie tins flying all over the place. I arrived at school, swooped the kids up in the administrative office, and then bent over completely gassed.

My life today resembles a great game of keeping the trains running on time. So it throws me off when the literal trains aren't running on time. Never a dull moment, I suppose.

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