It was a long ride home last week.
I am at the very end of my current employment, and the train ride from our home into Center City is brutally long. It’s long when the train is an express, usually clocking in around an hour and ten minutes. But when it’s a local, it’s closer to an hour and forty minutes. And that’s just the time I spend on the train. Not waiting for it, not walking or driving to and from. Just me, sitting in a pleather seat, watching South Eastern Pennsylvania slip by, day after day.
I began thinking, as I watched all the other passengers riding with me on the Paoli/Thorndale line, about all the lessons I’ve learned. About myself, but also about life. While commuting on Regional Rail for the past year and a half.
First, timeliness is everything.
Y’know that saying, early is on time, on time is late, and late is fired? It applies to Septa. And it should apply to all aspects of life. I used to be habitually late. I mean, you could set clocks knowing that I would be fifteen minutes late … at the very least. But I learned really fast: that didn’t fly with Septa.
Think about it this way. If your train is at 6.50am (which mine is) and you arrive at 6.50am, the train is gliding away from the station. You’re late. I mean, technically, you’re on time. But you’re actually late. If you get there after 6.50a you are just plain out of luck. In order to be on the train, making your way laboriously into the city, you have to be early for your 6.50a train. It’s not negotiable.
Now, Septa can be late. And without fail, they are.
But YOU can’t be late. And knowing that, living your life by that, helps give structure, and teaches you to appreciate timeliness. In all aspects.
On that subject, when I made the adjustment from driving to commuting via train, I began to prioritize my life. When you drive, time is loose. Maybe you stop for a coffee en route. Maybe you sleep in one morning. Maybe you leave the office at 5pm. Maybe you don’t. You have a lot more freedom, but with that freedom (let’s say it together now) comes responsibility.
When I started to have a set time for work, I began to be more efficient with my tasks, prioritizing things that needed to be completed in the morning, things that could wait until the afternoon, and projects that could be spread across a few days. I began to know exactly what needed to be done when, and how to do all of the things I needed to do within the time allotted.
I began getting home at a reasonable time every night. Eating dinner with my husband. Taking my dog for a walk. Knowing that I did the best work I could during the hours of the day that had been ear-marked for work. And that my evenings were my own. (Sort of. I work in the restaurant industry, so really, no time is truly your own. It’s all the restaurant’s time).
All because Septa only goes to Thorndale once an hour — even during peak hours. If I missed a train, I had to wait an entire hour, and get home even later. That stopped being okay in the first two months. It was exhausting, and I had no quality of life. At all.
Something else about Septa.
Everyone is equal. There isn’t a first class. There are no special seats. We all shuffle in, grab a seat, and hope that our seat mate showered that morning. When the train is overly packed, the conductor speaks to the car like everyone is an adult with a brain. He tells us that he’s not coming through to check our tickets. To please show him when getting off the train. He thanks everyone for their cooperation.
Not just me, the thirty-something white woman. But the Indian and Hispanic people, the black men and women. The Asians and the Arabs. The women wearing hijabs. The mother with three children. The man with the seeing eye dog.
All of us. As equals.
Every person riding Septa has a story. Mine is pretty basic. I live in the countryside of Chester County, but I work in Center City. I commute during peak hours. Sometimes later, when I stay to have dinner with my girlfriends. Sometimes earlier, when I have to be at Penn for medication. There are other people like me. But there are other stories, as well. Students riding in for classes at Drexel, Penn or Temple. Men and women traveling to see a relative or loved one. Someone commuting to the airport. Someone who just got divorced. Someone who just lost someone. Someone suffering through IVF. Someone with cancer.
Septa is the great equalizer.
We all show up on time. Or we miss our train. We all share seats. We all smile when someone sits down, or gets up. There are some exceptions (Septa isn’t utopia, people) but there are common courtesies that are observed on Septa. Every night, the conductor wishes me a pleasant evening. When people are lost, or confused, he helps them. He maintains order in the microcosm of Septa.
I bet I’ve sat next to many a Trump supporter on the train.
I shudder thinking about it. But I also think about how we are all just people on Septa. Just people making our way through life. I’ve had so many people help me on Septa. When I was new, and completely terrified, people pointed me in the right direction. When I jumped on a train, people let me know where it was going. When I haven’t been able to lift a bag, someone has helped me.
And even when trains are delayed, or schedules are modified, or trains are pulled off the tracks or strikes affect travel… People band together on Septa. People watch out for each other. It’s sort of heart-warming.
Anyway. I am eternally grateful to Septa for making the past year and a half bearable. I am grateful that instead of gripping my steering wheel in utter frustration, I could lean my head back and close my eyes. I am grateful for learning timeliness. And the greatness of people.
Thank you, Septa Regional Rail Paoli/Thorndale line.