Apr 16, 2007

Two Trolley Geeks Ride the Rails

When I hear about other families traveling to Puerto Rico, Disney World, or the Rockies, I think "We don't get out much." As a family we have travelled to Indiana and Maine, and we've lived in Virginia and visited all the Mid-Atlantic states. Oh, and we're going to Vermont in June.

But let it not be said that we aren't a venturesome bunch. In our first two weeks living here, John and I took the 109 bus to the 69th St. Terminal. We were the only white folks on it, and the quietest ones. It was like a party. Laughter and gossip encircled us. For a whole hour. Yes, that's how long it takes to get to 69th St. from our house on the 109. The only socially acceptable form of public transportation for us white middle-class people to take is the Regional Rail. There's also the Route 101 Trolley, which is more multicolored than the bus, but decidedly lower class than Regional Rail. And cheaper than the train. Many of its passengers are people who can't afford cars, people who are weary, dusty, and hardened by life. When we looked at houses our realtor said we wouldn't want to take the trolley because it "travels through rough neighborhoods."

She has no idea what a rough neighborhood really is. I guess she never rode her bike through the Richard Allen Homes in North Philadelphia on her way to class at Temple University. (Yes, I know that was dumb, and after a rock and then a full soda bottle were thrown at my head, I went back to the good old safe subway. My head is fine; they missed.) What I'm trying to say is I'm not a public transportation snob.

Anyway, Will and Jack, as I've mentioned, are train buffs. Trolley geeks. Bus schedule savants. Will had been begging to ride not just the 101 all the way to the 69th St. Terminal, but also the creme de la creme, the Route 100 Norristown High Speed Line. So I promised him we would do this on Saturday. And lo, that is what we did. We rode the 101 all the way from Media to the Terminal, then got on the 100 and rode it all the way to Norristown. Except for a dissipated old guy in the back, we were the only white folks, again.

More than twenty years ago I had a job in Bryn Mawr and lived in Center City, and rode on the 100 every day. Riding the rails with Will reminded me of those days. Everything looked almost exactly the same, which was oddly reassuring. Will pointed out all the Market St. El cars resting in the sheds. (The line is being renovated.) Fleets of idled buses waited for repairs. As we moved farther from the Terminal, swim clubs, golf courses, Main Line mansions, ancient tiny rowhouses, the Villanova University Stadium, all passed by us. We saw a large quarry near Norristown, shortly before crossing over the Schuylkill River on a high trestle. At the Norristown Transportation Center we even got to see the R6 train at its station, and then rode on a really long escalator.

Then, back to the very same trolley to ride back. The driver had moved to what was now the front of the car, which had been the back. I love the compactness and efficiency of trolleys. They can stop on a dime. Half the seats face forward, half the seats face back, no matter which direction you're travelling. Then at the Terminal we got back on the 101 for another ride. (Each leg of our ride took about 30 minutes.) Will began to flag a little, and started sitting on my lap. Still, he was observant all the way. We drove past Monsignor Bonner High School and its sister school Archbishop Prendergast, and the huge dirt swath promising a new building. We hurtled past Drexelbrook Apartments, where Will's "girlfriend" from school lives, and stopped at the all-important Drexel Hill Junction. That's where you can take the 102 to Sharon Hill.

Finally we stopped at the Springfield Mall before hurtling under the Blue Route and through the woods of Pine Ridge, and then into Media, passing only a few yards in back of the Acme. Then we were at our stop. We got off, my back a little stiff from all the sitting. "Maybe he's gotten that out of his system," I thought. But the next thing I heard, as Will clutched my hand and jumped up and down, was "When can we ride the 102?"


M-j said...

Oh, You've got Trolley and Train buffs, too?
Mine don't know the schedule by heart yet, but whenever we go downtown we plan on taking the train. We've taken the trolley back and forth to 69th street several times, but have not been brave enough to go all the way to Norristown.
I don't know what it is they enjoy about it. I do know that they are smiling the whole time, Bugaboo claps his hands and laughs and when we are finished our ride they seem calmer and happier.
Thanks for sharing this. It is the little things in life, isn't it? Let us know when you finally ride the 102!

BOSSY said...

Growing up in the city, Bossy's family never used the family car for fear of never being able to locate another parking space again. So Bossy is quite used to Public Transportation in every form and color, although admits that she'd rather poke her eyes out than take a bus or trolley from the suburbs to anywhere. Like life in the 'burbs in general, it takes too long to be over.

Lilian said...

If you ride the 102 before we move, we can meet you in Sharon Hill and maybe go to the nice playground there... :)

Fascinating rides! I feel like taking the trolley too! (I can count on one hand the times I've taken the train... it's pretty expensive so I haven't used it that much. I took it to the MLA with my husband's card, btw ;)

Punchinello said...

It was a pleasure meeting you at the kids' baseball practice.

I apologize if I broke blog etiquette by being a "stealth" reader of you Dream Kitchen blog. With this comment, I am officially out of stealth mode.

When I was a single, auto free guy in Philadelphia, I was a public transportation junkie. I made frequent trips to Norriston to visit a friend and to 69th Street to buy appliances and bath towels at Sears (my mom told me I should be doing my apartment shopping at Sears and there wasn't one downtown).

The educational opportunities for a suburban child are too numerous to count. It was an education for me as a college grad never having lived in an urban setting.