Friday, November 6, 2015

Football Stars don't block Metrolink

I get asked all the time if I actually ride bikes as part of my job. And just about as often, I get asked if I use Metrolink as a part of my commute to my job. I am, after all, the Executive Director of Trailnet, our regions most prominent walk/bike/active transportation advocacy.  "Absolutely" I tell them, "All the time".

In case you are unfamiliar with Trailnet, we do a lot of the planning and programming centered on helping make the region better for biking and walking.  We also advocate for the use of our transit system. We write policy for better streets and crosswalks and the connectivity between it all. We also host a ton of events that "get people moving". Whether it's a group ride art studio tour, or a bike ride to brew pubs, or even a 100 mile "century ride"--we inspire people to get out, live and move.  We also like to throw parties associated with the active living culture. We are a progressive community development project.

So yes, I ride my bike or take public transit any time I can. It is a lifestyle thing and a very interesting way to live.  It is fun being an active transportationist. I look forward to doing it, and and hell yes it's about being authentic!  
Also in my work I find myself surrounded by people much smarter than I; planners, transportation experts, educators, engineers, politicians and advocates.  One of these smart people is Jessica Mefford-Miller, Chief of Planning and System Development at St. Louis Metro Transit. We talked not long ago about Metrolink, and how participation was down for 2015. When I asked why, it came as no surprise the demographic most responsible for the downturn was my own; white suburban professional middle class.  

Our conversation went on to how there was a general perception of fear that was driving the numbers down--that Metrolink was dangerous and that the lack of perception of personal security was to blame. 

I am sorry folks.  I simply disagree.  Cultural misunderstanding perhaps, but not dangerous. But then I thought of an experience that might have put me into a different mindset; changed my perception of things. Perhaps you will see what I saw...

As I have done a couple times before, I got on the wrong train leaving from Eighth and Pine. The red line and blue line alternate arrivals every 6 minutes.  If you get on the red line headed west, instead of the blue line, you have to get off at Debaliviere and wait to get on the blue line that takes you out west instead of up north on the red line. If you have ever ridden the train, this will make sense. Bottom line, I forgot to change trains and found myself in the middle of this story.

It was dark and cold, early February, around 8:00 PM.  When I realized what I had done, I immediately got off the train at the Rock Road.  If you didn't already know, there are two heated lights at every platform, where, if you are lucky, you can take the edge off while waiting for the train.  There was a pretty good sized crowd of people, all African American, mostly young men, women and children.  

I am not going to lie.  I was a little bit nervous.  I was miles away from my home West St. Louis County; the people and the places that I am most familiar. I didn't really have a clue as to where I was or what to expect, other than the conversations around me sounded very loud, angry and yes, intimidating.  But I was interested in what was going on around me.

I remember that there was a young woman so very under dressed for as cold as it was, around 16 years old.  I was thinking about my own child, how I would have not wanted her to be out in the cold at a train stop like that.  She was cold and tough, and was doing her best to get the attention of a guy who was standing under the heated light right next to me. She was vying for his attention and obviously wanting to be close to him for his warmth and a space under the light. Almost fatherly, he let her in, and helped her warm all while she maintained her tough demeanor. I knew she was nearly freezing. The guy was around 30, a solid grill of gold teeth, long braided hair and tough as nails.
We were all kind of miserable lights or not.  There was a lady with a small child who everyone made room for without thinking about it. I was in a long wool overcoat with a baseball cap on, about as 50 plus white male Chesterfield as one could get. I was freezing my ass off, sticking out like a sore thumb, not feeling all that comfortable. 

And that is when it happened.  All of the sudden, the guy with the teeth takes his arms from around the young woman and stands up to me and looks me right in the eyes.  What he said changed my life forever.  He said:  "Yo man! You look just like Peyton Manning".

A silence fell over the entire platform until I processed what I had just heard.  Then he grinned real big with those gold teeth and we both started cracking up. The whole crowd broke out in laughter, standing there freezing watching two men from different places goofing on it. After a short while I noticed the whole group inching a little closer to one another, myself included.  We were all accepting of what we could all benefit from; being close together.

The train pulled in and off we all went to our destinations.  I couldn't stop smiling until I got back to the County. #IrideMetrolink.  #Ifyouknowhatimtalkinbout.  

1 comment:

Adrian Stillman said...

I have made that same detour, and yes, it can seem intimidating! Even for a tall guy that can pass for a pro football player. Thanks for sharing this story on how people are dynamically connected.