A friend of mine from out of town gave me a call this past week. “Johnny,” he said, “I’d like to check out your award-winning transit system. It sounds amazing.”
Needless to say, I was excited to show it off. When you’ve got the finest transit system in all of the land, one that was just named the best large transit system in North America, it makes you just burst at the seams with pride. So I told him to come on over. He told me he’d meet me at 30th street after riding in from Wilmington on the R2.* His train was scheduled to arrive at 3:31 p.m. It showed at 3:30. He told me that, before getting off the train, the conductor had come up to him and apologized for arriving slightly early. “We’re gonna get it right for you next time.”
Not surprised, I uttered, “Yeah, Mussolini wishes he could have run a train system like ours. It’s the best.” We headed out into the warm summer air, and walked a few blocks over to Spruce, where the 40 bus would pick us up and take us down South Street. Unfortunately, we were running a few seconds late. When we got to the bus stop, the bus was starting to pull away. When my friend threw his hand up in the air, however, the bus driver slammed on the brakes and motioned for us to hop on board. “Man, that was a close one!” the driver said as he shot us a huge grin. “I’m glad I was able to accommodate you!”
“How much is the fare?” my friend asked. When I told him $2, he was taken aback. “That’s a lot more than other cities have to pay.”
“Yeah,” I answered, “But do other cities have this?” I opened the silk curtain that separates the driver from the passenger section, and my friend got to see the plush leather couches, the soothing silence, and the first-class accommodations that those of us in Philly take for granted when we ride SEPTA, but which people from out of town are simply unaware of.
“Holy Toledo!” he shouted. One of the passengers on the bus piped up in a stern whisper.
“Please keep your voice down! You are riding on the #1 transit system in America. Part of the reason for that is all of us riding on the bus respect each others’ desire for a quiet ride home.”
My friend quieted down immediately, and we took a seat on the closest couch. The bus attendant came over and washed our hands with warm rose water. After drying his hands on a soft, comfy towel, my friend noticed a remote beside the couch. “What’s this?” he asked, innocently.
“Oh, that’s the massager, so SEPTA can help us relieve stress after a long day at work.” He had no idea that transit systems like ours offer such a thing. So naive.
The bus driver’s voice came on over the loudspeakers (built by Bose): “Ladies and gentlemen, who’s ready for a sing-along?”
“Man, these drivers just love to have a good time,” I told my friend as he suggested we sing the Growing Pains theme song by tapping it onto the handy SEPTA app that makes travel on SEPTA both more fun and more convenient. (“Growing Pains Theme” was edged out by “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith.)
We got off the bus at Broad and South (“You two have a great day, now!” said the driver as we stepped off the stairs.) We immediately headed down into the subway station. No sooner had we descended than my friend asked the inevitable question:
“What’s that smell?”
“Lavender,” I answered. “They use a lavender-scented biodegradable cleansing agent to keep the walls and floors clean.”
“Well, it smells terrific!” he shouted. We went down the stairs, then headed up to the gentleman in the booth. My friend asked the man if he could sell him some tokens. The man quickly and eagerly did so. When my friend came back to me, he said, “Wow, that guy was great. I’ll be honest, for a second there I thought he’d just keep staring at his Daily News and pretend like I wasn’t there.
“Hahahahaha!” I laughed out loud (or LOL, for short). “Could you imagine!” We went through the turnstile and down the stairs, and waited for the local. We were headed to the Phillies game. Sadly, our day enjoying something that was #1 in its field was about to end.
*Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s still the R2 to me, dammit!