Not welcome here…

“They are damn well not going to scare me,” Myrtle Stern said to me on January 27th.

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“At 8am this morning they woke me up, making all this ruckus, tearing all the trees down over here. I wish you could see it – it is a mess. They filled up all the dumpsters with tree limbs. They have those trees blocking up the side door where most of us go in and out, blocking up the parking lot so nobody can drive in or out. They are acting like we don’t even live here any more. Well we do. There is no good reason to be tearing up those trees right now.”

No reason, she felt, but to keep up the pressure to get out, to communicate that the Penn Plaza residents do not have any power over their own homes, that they can be woken up by chainsaws and dump trucks as early as the owners like – and that they too can be forcefully removed when eviction day rolls around.

The next day I took the 64 bus and walked up from the Market District to the bus stop at Penn and Negley. The big old p1000467tree at the bus stop had been cut down. Generations of East Liberty neighbors had waited for the bus stop under its wide branches, thick leaves, and cool shade during the summers, had walked down the sidewalk lugging heavy groceries toward their homes along those old sidewalks, shaded by trees now gone. I walked along the line of stumps. Snow was now falling on the many years of history torn open by the chainsaws, many tree rings disappearing under the fast-falling flakes.

Myrtle, bundled up in her coat, welcomed me with her careful records of the temperatures in her apartment. With her thermostat turned up as high as it could go, on any day close to freezing the temps had generally fluctuated between 63-64 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes going as high as 66 degrees in the kitchen when she was cooking with the stove. She said that several of the older people in the building were using their stoves to heat their homes, turning on the oven and cracking the door. She herself favored bundling under the bed covers as a safer solution, but to each their own.

Myrtle and I stopped by Mabel’s apartment – she had also been keeping careful records, but her apartment was warmer, mostly staying right at the legal limit the 68 degrees that any landlord is supposed to guarantee according to the Allegheny code, with occasional jogs down to 67 and little bumps up to 70 degrees. I speculp1000189ated that the placement of her apartment near the juncture of three wings of the building might provide her more protection. She was still bundling up in layers under her thick robe and felt grumpy that the thermometer I had left her did not accord with what her 79-year old bones told her was way too chilly. “Are you sure those batteries are working okay?”

No, her daughter was not doing well, she said when I asked. They wanted to take her off life support but she just couldn’t do it, couldn’t give them the go-ahead for them to pull the plug. She went and spent hours by her bedside at the rest home nearby, praying, hoping for miracle.  She wanted to make sure that the nurses kept doing a good job, felt that they often got sloppy when there wasn’t family to look in on them.

Myrtle and Mable had gone together to look at a senior high rise that they liked on Frankstown Ave, not too far away. They had gotten on the waiting list, but didn’t know if a place would come open in time. They wanted to stay neighbors. If no place came open somewhere near? “Well, we will both just pitch a tent in that parking lot out there,” said Myrtle. “Damn right,” said Mabel.

I thought of Mabel and Myrtle the next day at the Emergency Rally in Solidarity with Immigrants, Muslims, and Refugees. Nearly a thousand people had flocked to Schenley Plaza in Oakland with a day’s notice, responding to the call from Jewish Voices for Peace, the Answer Coalition, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a day after President Trump had signed the Executive Order that had resulted in the detention of any citizen of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen trying to enter the country – or re-enter, including many legal residents that had lived in the United States for years, who had put down roots, who had worked, paid taxes, and contributed to their communities in countless ways and were yet treated as aliens without the barest right to return to their jobs, homes, friends, families.

I listened to a young Muslim woman at the microphone, facing down the fact that our President had made it clear that she was not welcome in her own home, the man that had promised that he would build a wall and put her and others like her outside – a promise that had been part of why many millions across the country had voted for him.

we-all-belong-hereI heard the same stubbornness in her voice that I heard in Mabel and Myrtle’s voice when they refused to be bullied by the rhetoric of “market forces,” the rhetoric used to excuse the series of political choices that had created many thousands of economic refugees here in Pittsburgh, many thousands expelled from their own lifelong neighborhoods because our elected officials had paid only lip service to the Civil Rights laws that had been fought for, died for, lived for, the laws that obligated them to affirmatively further fair housing by meaningful action in this City and across the nation.

Against all odds, against all advice, against even my own declarations of concern for their safety and well-being, against all evidence that they were not welcome in their own homes, Mabel and Myrtle declared they would stick together and refuse to move, even if they had to pitch a tent in a parking lot.

“We are family! Muslim, black, Latino, LGBTQIA!” the young Muslim woman declared. “And we are going to fight like hell for our family!”

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Big chill…big roar.

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The Judiciary Square Metro Station in Washington D.C. roared with the weight of subways packed full with women and men, teens and children, even babies and toddlers carried in their parents’ arms, carriers, strollers. The station roared with voices each time a subway delivered another nine or ten cars of people, cheering each other as the evidence poured out of the doors that many thousands were making their way to the Women’s March on January 21st, 2017. They raised their voices, they raised their signs, they raised their fists, they raised peace signs at each other through the windows of the subway cars as they flashed by filled with people of all genders and ages wearing pink pussy caps.

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Pink caps and pussy cat ears flashing by on the Washington DC Metro on January 21, 2017.

They poured out of the subway car doors and crowded close as they shuffled inch by inch toward the escalators up to the street, sharing jokes, bottled water, news, maps, directions, destinations, tips on where to find restrooms, food, and drink out in the streets. They shared their points of origin: Houston, Savannah, New Orleans, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh – place names from all over the nation flew back and forth.

They were ready to roar through the streets for the sake of their mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, sisters, brothers, friends, coworkers, immigrants and refugees, trans and bi and gay and cis and queer, black and white and brown and yellow. They were ready to roar in wheelchairs and on crutches and from each other’s shoulders. They would overcome; they would not be moved; they would not be pushed around or bullied into laying down, or giving up, or keeping quiet. These marchers might have been chilly but they would not be chilled.

I thought of Myrtle and Mabel back in Pittsburgh, bundled up in their robes and fuzzy slippers, standing their ground in their own homes, two old women together refusing to be quiet in the face of icy windows and threats of eviction. Neither of them would likely be caught dead in a pussy cap, but they are also marching together in stubbornness and solidarity.

Hear them roar.

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Chill…

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Myrtle and Mabel on a very chilly day at the Penn Plaza Apartments on January 7, 2017

On Friday, January 7th, I bundled up in my feather down coat, took the 64 bus from my home on Shady to the Giant Eagle Market district, and walked the rest of the way up Negley Ave in the fifteen degree cold to meet my friends, Myrtle and Mable, two of the last residents at Penn Plaza Apartments. Both women in their seventies had been displaced multiple times over the past years. After their homes in Auburn Towers had been torn down, both had moved to the Penn Plaza Apartment building – which then had also been torn down. Both had been promised the right of return to homes in Larimer that had not been fulfilled. Now both refused to be shuffled away from their home neighborhoods again. They were determined to stay in their apartments until they found something decent and affordable either in East Liberty or in Larimer. And they were determined to stick together in one firm resolution. They would stand for no more nonsense.

I had a bunch of house thermometers in my backpack for them and a few other residents who had complained of the cold in their apartment. When I buzzed Mabel’s place, she came downstairs to let me into the building in her fuzzy slippers and thick robe over several layers of clothes underneath. She gestured at herself and harumphed as she opened the door. In her apartment I gave her a thermometer, made sure that it was placed more than two feet from the outer wall, and more than three feet above the floor as per Allegheny County code:

Allegheny County Health Department Rules and Regulations: Article VI

  1. UTILITIES AND FIXTURES: HEATING.
    A. Every dwelling occupied during the heating season shall have heating facilities which are properly installed, maintained in a safe and good working condition, and capable of safely and adequately heating all habitable rooms, rooms containing a toilet, bathtub or shower, communicating corridors within dwelling units, and community corridors within rooming houses 
    from rooming units to rooms containing a toilet, bathtub or shower. 
  2. A temperature of at least sixty-eight (68) degrees Fahrenheit shall be provided in all dwelling units regardless of thermostat location when the outside temperature is ten (10) degrees Fahrenheit or above during the heating seasons..
  1. For the purposes of this Section, all temperatures shall be measured at a distance of at least three (3) feet above the floor level and no closer than two (2) feet from an outside wall.

I asked Mabel to make sure that she left her thermostat set as high as it could go. I would be coming back the next day to take photos of the temperature reading, her thermostat, the date, the time. We both headed down to Myrtle’s apartment. We found her just us bundled up, but huddled under several layers of blankets and quilts in bed.  I didn’t feel even slightly tempted to take off my feather down coat as I took photos of the ice coating her windows.

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Ice on Myrtle’s window pane at Penn Plaza Apartments on January 7, 2017.

Why were the apartments so cold? Both women felt that the landlords were literally trying to freeze them out of their homes, to make them accept that they would have take whatever they could get wherever they could get it. The ice was a big, fat “Get Out” sign. Many of the other residents had gotten the message and given in, even if all that they could find was way out in Penn Hills or McKeesport or any of the other suburbs where housing was much cheaper, but also much farther from public transit, grocery stores, their churches, their doctors, their friends, and family. Neither Mable or Myrtle had cars. Myrtle had serious health concerns that meant she had to visit her doctor regularly. Mabel’s daughter was also in terrible health and Mabel visited her almost every day. They took the bus everywhere. The costs to move out of their neighborhood were just too much to take.

Such displacements are now common in our city. The costs of gentrification, the loss, the impacts on health and on hearts are often too much to bear, as documented by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Myrtle and Mabel said that many people in the building had been getting sick over and over again. They said that a few people had died in the past couple of months, they weren’t sure what of.

What good would documenting the temperatures do? I went up and down the halls knocking on all the doors of people who had told me that their apartments were cold. Several of them asked me that question. Many said that they had rethought their initial request for me to give them thermometers and record the temperatures so that they would have a solid foundation of evidence to present when they made the request of their landlords to address the heating problems. They were frightened that LG Realty would take retribution in one way or another, either directly by evicting them earlier than March 31st before they found another place, or by indirect little revenges like “losing” their mail, or by or blacklisting them to their next potential landlords. They didn’t have the energy, the money, the time to fight such reprisals as they felt they were already experiencing. They were scared to even gather data on their conditions, much less to speak out about it to the landlords themselves, much less the press, or lawyers, or housing advocates, or the City or County governments that might help enforce the basic code of livability that any landlord should meet in return for regular payment of rent.

The very essence of a chilling effect is an act of deterrence. While one would normally say that people are deterred, it seems proper to speak of an activity as being chilled. The two concepts go hand in hand, of course, in that an activity is chilled if people are deterred from participating in that activity.

When I told her a few people were too petrified to even record their apartment temperatures, Myrtle got right on the phone and called two of her neighbors. “You got to record those temperatures if you want anything done about them. You got to speak out. No good to you or anyone to just let them do us this way.” She handed me the phone and I received an invitation to come on back down with the thermometer for their apartment.

“No way I should have to get up under all my covers and stay in bed all day just to stay warm.” Myrtle declared to me and Mabel as I hugged her goodbye.  “I’m not going to let them do us like that. ”

Powerful words to remember on Inauguration Day, from a woman who some might consider as too poor to afford the courage. Myrtle, on the other hand, considers fear itself to be a poverty she will have nothing to do with.

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Driven…

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Charles, leaving the downtown Port Authority Office on January 3, 2017.

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” — Dr. Martin Luther King

On January 3rd, I was passing down Smithfield on the 51 Carrick bus on my way to work when I saw the long line of people stretched down the block in the rain outside the Port Authority office. Only a few people had umbrellas. I jumped off the bus at the next stop to run back with my camera at the ready. Charles came out as I arrived outside the glass doors. He had come down to the Port Authority office to make sure that his PAAC senior pass was still good under the new fare payment system that had gone into affect on New Years Day.

“No, this change won’t affect me at all,” he told me when I asked him if the fare policy would make things harder for him – many people were having to pay the full fare twice if they had to transfer without a CONNECT card and it was often difficult to find a place to buy or recharge the card, especially if you lived out in the suburbs without easy access to a Busway fare machine or a Giant Eagle, one of the few retail outlets set up to distribute and recharge the cards. “Me, I’m 68.  I just double-checked all I got to do is hold up this card just like I been doing and they’ll let me right on. Won’t matter any much longer anyway. I won’t be riding the bus at all in not too long.”

“How come?  Has there been some problem riding the bus for you?”

“Oh, it’s not been too bad, but I would much rather be in my own car. I’ll be getting my own car again in not too long.”

“Were you riding the bus because you lost your car?”

Charles, who had not yet given me his name or image, was silent. Just looked at me for a long moment.

Guessing wrong, I told him how I had lost my own car a few years back when I’d had to choose between paying rent and paying a steep towing fee, how embarrassing it had been to admit the fact to friends, had avoided telling my family for years.

“No, no, that’s not it,” Charles said. “See, I’m in a rehab program and they don’t allow us to drive cars.”

“So, you mean that people who drive drunk or high and get in an accident aren’t allowed to drive?”

“No, I have a good driving record. Never got into an accident. But they just don’t allow any of us to have a car or to drive while we’re in the program. If we have any drug offense, doesn’t matter what kind of driving record, that’s just the rule. But I just spent a couple months looking for a job,  just got one and it won’t be long until this rehab program is done and I’ll be able to save enough to get back behind my own wheel.”

“But wasn’t it hard to go looking for a job by bus – all those transfers?”

“Well, it was a lot of time back and forth, yes, and that made it harder, but not so hard for me as for some others that were not seniors. They did give us some bus passes, but not really enough and sometimes a lot of them in the program didn’t have the money to go out hunting from place to place for a job, so they would just have to wait out there, kicking around, like. I wanted to get back to work, bad, and I know quite a few out there that really want that, too.”

“Well, that doesn’t make any sense to make it tougher for them,” I said, wondering if it was just this particular program that had helped to create yet another barrier for people struggling to rebuild their lives.

“Well, I am feeling pretty blessed now, I gotta say. I found a job right downtown here at the Urban League. I don’t really need a job with my social security, moneywise. But there at the Urban League, I’m going to be able to help people out. That’s what I need to do now, and here the job just came open right when I needed it.”

Two days later, a New York Times article popped up in my Twitter feed: “Drug Licenses: Caught in the War on Drugs.”

Historically, people lost their licenses after being convicted of offenses like drunken or reckless driving, but they generally got them back after completing a mandatory driver’s education course. It was understood that licenses should be taken away only when drivers become dangerous, because people need them to work, care for their families and get medical care.

These reasonable considerations fell by the wayside during the war on drugs, when states adopted three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentences and a host of measures that denied drug offenders all kinds of public services. Congress accelerated the trend toward lifting licenses in the 1990s, when it threatened to cut highway funding to states that did not automatically suspend the licenses of people convicted of drug offenses.

Pennsylvania is one of twelve states in the U.S. that continue to enforce laws that have been shown to directly damage people’s ability to rehabilitate their lives.

Needless suspensions impact poor communities most. Research in New Jersey found that while only 16% of the state population is low-income, 50% of the people who have their driver’s licenses suspended are low-income. More than 40% of drivers lost their jobs after the license was suspended. These suspensions create a self-fulfilling prophecy. By making employment opportunities harder to access, driver’s license suspensions produce economic instability. Altogether, a suspended driver’s license translates to less social mobility: people living in poor communities stay poor.

Charles was more than willing to use his full name. After we had finished talking, he held out his senior citizen bus pass for my camera, looking into the lens with trust, ready to document himself. And he gave me permission to report here everything he had shared with me. It’s me that can’t bring myself to post that photo, to attach his full name to his story.

“Me, I want to make a good difference for people,” he said. “You tell the story and it might help somebody else.”

I won’t post the photo with Charles’ identification card because I know the damages so often done when the word “rehab” is attached to a man or woman trying to make a new start after struggling with drug addiction. Charles is doing his best to get behind the wheel of his own life, to drive forward rather than be driven.

 

 

Transfers after dark

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Inbound on the 71B from Highland Ave and Bryant St to Fifth Ave, on New Year’s Night, 2017

When I left my brother’s place after our New Year’s dinner, I was tired, the temperature was dropping, and the wait for the bus seemed long. I stared at the Transit app on my phone, but the 71B was not moving on the map, the driver probably on his short break, the bus sitting a few blocks away, up near the Highland Park Reservoir. I had to fight my sleepiness, my desire to relax into my phone, Twitter, Facebook, the never-ending possibilities of passive consumption of news, editorials, commentary, retweeting other people’s thoughts and work rather than staying alert, paying attention to what was happening around me, at this bus stop, this street, these people passing down Bryant toward the interactions at the little restaurants and bars and corner stores and homes that helped make this neighborhood a good place for my brother to live.

When Brian gave me the Lyft to my brother’s home earlier in the day, he had asked me what this blog was about. I told him how in November of 2013 the newly elected Mayor, Bill Peduto, had invited our fellow Pittsburghers to apply to join eight different Transition Teams to consider the various challenges of City communities and government.

“Consistent with my long-held vision to open up city government to the public, I invite all city residents to apply to join our transition teams and become a direct part of building a new Pittsburgh,” said Mayor-Elect Peduto.

Almost 1100 Pittsburghers had applied to join the Transition Teams, the Mayor had accepted them all, and they had divided themselves into 47 subcommittees. In one month, those hundreds of people had produced many hundreds of pages of recommendations that the Mayor called his “blueprint” for change after the transfer of power from the administration of Luke Ravenstahl to his own. Weenta Girmay and I had started the Buses Are Bridges blog to map that transition, to track the progress of change, to engage Pittsburgh residents who would be affected by those changes – or lack thereof – and to record voices that had been left out of the Transition Team deliberations.

Now, I had told Brian, the Mayor is running again. And I’ve been part of his administration. He appointed me to the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, which upholds civil rights law in the City, educates Pittsburghers about their rights, addresses intergroup tensions, and attempts to build intercultural understanding.  I share responsibility for how things have gone. I’m really concerned about how they’ve gone. Seems like a good time to start trying to understand how we’ve gotten to where we are, and where we’re going.

But also, I told him, as an activist, so much of my life is spent fighting against  injustice. I want to focus more attention on what I’m fighting for, the people and everyday life of Pittsburgh, all the stories that I hear and see on the bus, at bus stops, and yes, on Lyft and jitney rides – all those “in-betweens” as well as the destinations, our movements and waitings together on the way from here to there that embody so many of the critical concerns, differences, conflicts, compromises, and struggles to live together with some sort of fairness and caring as we transfer between geographies, neighborhoods, cultures, classes, and identities.

I did not tell Brian that I had let the blog lapse two years ago partly because telling true stories had become so much more difficult and complicated after my appointment to government.  Or that I had been impelled to start trying to do so again after the recent revelations of our Mayor’s dealings with Uber in the figurative back rooms of exclusive email communications that had shut out his fellow Pittsburghers from the government he had promised would be transparent, accountable, inclusive.

It seemed to me, it seems to me as I now think about the latest news from Rich Lord regarding the active solicitation of campaign contributions from developers by the Mayor’s Chief of Staff and Chair of the URA board, that along with many sincere efforts and hard work, the Peduto Administration has echoed the patterns of the national Democratic Party in adopting the rhetoric of inclusivity and visual appearances of identity diversity even as it has colluded with the powerful, wealthy corporate forces and capitalistic systems that throw their weight to overbear the scales of all power relations, as we continue to carry forward grossly disparate impacts on the most vulnerable of the “protected” classes, as the most basic human needs and rights are often swept aside in the rush for profit under cover of technocratically polite language, as technological innovation, market forces, big development, and neoliberal “efficiency” are valued over the most basic fairness and compassion.

As I got off the 71B at Fifth Avenue and waited to transfer to the 64, as I reflected on my New Years Day, it seemed to me that my silence over the past two years has most surely contributed to that set of choices in this city. I now serve as part of a government that I can no longer claim is democratic.

As we wait for the transfer of power to our new President who far more impolitely and openly tramples forward the neoliberal agenda, as the glaciers melt, as tornadoes and hurricanes and drought and wildfires sweep across many thousands of communities across nation and globe, as our polluted water and air poisons us, all stakes for silence seem far higher. It seems more important to look closely and say openly what we have left in the dark: our own participation in the erosion of our rights and liberties and abilities to survive on this planet as a social species.

It seems more important to me to value each other and the daily texture of our lives together, no matter what happens in the future, to value this now that may soon be gone.

So, this blog won’t be polished. It will be an imperfect, fragmented record and a celebration and a mourning for what I see and hear and care for with my fellow Pittsburghers as we travel across and express what this city is and what we are.

When I got off the 64 on Shady Avenue and walked up toward the home where I rent a room, I was once more struck by the beauty of the big old sycamore trees that line the street, these trees that breathe so hard each spring and summer. The trees are bare now, but they are the bones that hold up our world – each future leaf one tiny engine of life for us all.

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The mustache

This is Brian, the Lyft dribrian-the-lyft-driver-on-new-years-day-2017ver who saved the Neapolitan ice cream (my brother’s only request of me for our New Year’s dinner) after I missed the 75 coming back into town and I stood at the bus stop facing a whole 39 minutes of strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream melting in my grocery bag in the unseasonably warm weather.

The glaciers are also melting. I do not own a car and I am a public transit advocate, partly for the sake of us humans sticking around on this planet and I believe that the evidence shows that for-profit, unregulated “ridesharing” is actually increasing traffic congestion and pollution, exploiting workers, and making mockery of many good laws that protect public safety. And yes, the title of this blog is “Buses Are Bridges.”

But the ice cream had to be saved.

Lyft today emailed me celebrating the fact that I have broken down and called them 21 times over the past year for a grand total of 144 miles of travel in 2016. Of course each time I also told myself I was doing primary source research on ridesharing, while never once stooping to calling on Uber, the robber-baron bully of ridesharing that rolls over public safety, liability, and  civil rights laws, pays a tiny proportion of its fair share of taxes, and slings around its billions to subvert democracy across the globe. And right here at home, helped along by our own Mayor Peduto.

Brian says he drives for Lyft for extra money on top of his full time job – he thinks it would be very hard to make a living ridesharing because of all the attendant costs of maintaining a car, insurance, gas, etc. He won’t drive for Uber and says almost every other rideshare driver he’s talked to far prefers Lyft. He thinks they offer a fairer share of the profits, are easier to work with, and he very much appreciates that they include tipping in the app payment prompts.

All he said pretty much accorded with what I’d heard from 17 out of the other 20 Lyft drivers I had talked to over the course of 2016, most of whom also drove for Uber because they were indeed trying to make a living at ridesharing and had to work for both companies to be able to rack up enough trips to make a living share of the profits of what they are told is their own business. Brian said he had been told the same thing.

“Yeah, but do you set your own rates? Can you change anything about how your business is actually run?”

“Well, no. But I do set my own hours. Which helps.”

And no doubt, Brian had helped me by showing up within minutes. No doubt ridesharing technology is very cool, very helpful, very much a critical piece of the multimodal puzzle that we have to fit together – but, yes, together. As exemplified by a wide range of law-abiding, technologically innovative carsharing and carpooling services, many of which allow neighbors to actually carpool with neighbors or actually share their cars when they aren’t being used such as Getaround, BlablaCars , Sidecar, Zipcar, and Trees For Cars. There are also innovative, responsible private-public partnerships that have demonstrated accountability to the taxpayers that help to pay for them and a commitment to equitable pricing and access for low-income and disabled passengers, such as City CarShare and Carma.

And which don’t exploit drivers – or replace humans with robots with which we have no mammalian connection of empathy and for whom we need feel no inconvenient responsibility.

When we got to my brother’s place and I asked if I could take Brian’s picture, he said, “wait!” and spent a little bit of time curling up both sides of his mustache and shaping the points.

“The mustache is the most important thing,” my fellow furbearing mammal said.

Transference

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East Liberty at the inbound 75 bus stop on New Years Day, 2017. The third dude split.

On the Ellsworth sidewalk across from my bus stop, I could hear three people figuring out the new bus fare payment system that just had gone into effect for New Years Day. Not being practiced at poetic distance, but instead a grassroots organizer and loud-mouthed Pittsburgher for Public Transit, I walked across the street and butted right into the information transfer.

“Yeah, everybody gotta pay as you get on the bus from now on,” the guy with glasses was saying.

“And get off at the back door?”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard. But lots of people still getting off up front. And some of the bus drivers, they encouraging people to do just like before unless the bus is crowded.”

“No more extra dollar to go out into Zone 2, is that right, now?

“Yeah, but if you pay with cash, you have to pay the whole entire fare all over again every time you transfer. You have to have a Connect Card if you just want to pay the one dollar when you change buses.”

“What about a Medicare card? My mother, she has a Medicare card. That is what she has always used on the bus. That’s still good, right?”

“I think the official rule is that she has to use her Medicare card to apply for a special Port Authority senior pass.”

“I am going to have to take my mother downtown, then. She lives way out. She does not drive at all. I’m going to have to take her down there to the Port Authority office tomorrow afternoon.”

“What about all those people that don’t have someone to take them where they can buy a card?

The woman who was going to take care of her mother nodded hard. “And what about disabled folks? What happens with them?”

“And the people who have to transfer a couple of times to get to work – what if they can’t get to where they can recharge their card?”

“Yeah, especially out of the City there’s lots of places it’s hard to get to a Giant Eagle or to a Busway station. And lots of people don’t have computers. If you’re working a low-wage job, a bunch of transfers back and forth,  that’s a big hole out of your paycheck.”

“Yeah, they going to do this they need to have more places you can fill up your card.”

“Hey, there’s the 75.”

To transfer persona from fellow grumbler back to blogger-photographer as fast as a bus pulls up to a stop is awkward – my explanation was rushed and the man in glasses looks at me hard out of the photo, “well, okay, but what?” 

But as she got on the bus Shirley Perkins said to use her whole name and to make sure I put down that the Port Authority needed to be thinking about the elderly who can’t get anywhere without the bus – and the disabled folks, too! I believe that the exclamation mark is Shirley’s but there may be some transference going on.

 

Protective glass

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Driver of the 64 outbound bus on Sunday afternoon of New Years Day 2017.

Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, I took two buses to get out to Waterworks Mall because that was the only Barnes and Noble that had Paterson, of which I’d read just a snippet and had to have more of. And, at my brothers request for our New Year’s dinner, I needed to buy Neapolitan ice cream at the Giant Eagle next door to the bookstore.

I took the 64 from Squirrel Hill North and told the driver my plan to write and photograph stories I witnessed on the buses. I did not tell her that…

…Inside the bus one sees our thoughts sitting and standing. Our thoughts alight and scatter – Who are these people (how complex the mathematic) among whom we see ourselves in the regularly ordered plateglass of our thoughts, glimmering before shoes and bicycles?

But I told her the name of this blog and asked if I could tell her story and take her picture.

She immediately got very nervous, but she was very friendly and wanted to help but also wanted a way out without saying plain “no” so she called Port Authority and asked them if it was okay if I took her photo and put it on a blog. When they said”yes,” surprising us both, she went digging for her lipstick in the bag she had hanging on the other side of her driver’s seat.

“You don’t need lipstick!”

“Yes, I do!”

“No, you don’t! shouted the nearest passenger across from me, a middle aged man. “You look just fine! You look pretty just the way you are!”

She stopped digging in her bag and turned her head to me, her smile stretched big and fake in an agony of nervousness.

“Hey, it’s a green light!” shouted the middle-aged man.

So I waited until we got rolling again and stepped back behind the protective glass and every now and then just talked to her about this and that and, when she got less nervous, took a few shots over her shoulder of the city streets she knew so well, the big wheel, her hands, a snippet of her face reflected in the rearview mirror.

She let me off on Negley and I headed down to the 75 bus stop across the street from the East Liberty Busway station, nearly empty on a Sunday holiday, barren and bright against the windowed walls of the high-priced apartments that have been built between Penn Ave and the train tracks.

east-libery-bus-station-on-new-years-day

East Liberty Busway station, seen from the 75 bus stop on New Years Day 2017

A bus is in itself a city…

To warp William Carlos Williams to my own particulars: bus is in itself a city, beginning, seeking, achieving and concluding its life in ways which the various aspects of a city may embody…

bus-stop-on-new-years-day

Bus stop at the corner of Highland Ave and Bryant St, New Years Day, about 7:30 pm, 2017

We step onto the bus and out between lines of houses, paragraphs of street, chapters of neighborhood. We leave bits and pieces of story unfinished on the bus, along with backpacks, umbrellas, hats and gloves, glances, greetings, collisions, and conversations interrupted by our destinations, encounters punctuated by the ellipses of bus stops that lead us on away from home and then back again…

A Departure

When Mayor Peduto first came into office and announced his Transition Teams, I knew we were at a turning point. I jumped at the chance to be a part of creating this blog, tracking Pittsburgh’s political process under this new Mayor, and collaborating with Helen, whose ever-thoughtful and constructive point of view I’ve always appreciated. I’ve had an amazing time digging into these pivotal issues but I’m writing this post to announce that I’ll be leaving the blog and shifting my focus to other projects. I’m signing off with a big thank you to Helen, for opening my eyes and being my guide through this process. I know that only the best is yet to come from this project and its extremely talented author.

–Weenta