Emily Lam

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Riding The T

Elmira was a traveler. Well, that was what she told me when she introduced herself to me. It wasn't until much later, though, did I find out she was – well, I'll tell you later. But right now, all that's important is that you know she loved to travel and she, very much, was, indeed, a traveler.

Anyway, November 28th, 2010.

Elmira stepped onto the T – that's what they call the subway in Boston – and found an empty spot to stand. There were no empty seats, but it didn't mattered, she was not one who liked to sit. It was rush hour and Elmira wondered why she picked such a busy time to visit her friends at BU. Oh that's right, she remembers, her friends at Harvard had insisted they go to  L.A. Burdick for hot chocolate. There was always a line at that place, especially on a frigid November day. She was supposed to meet her friends at BU, at 2pm. It was now 4pm. To get to BU,  she had to take the red line inbound to Park St. and then transfer onto the B line of the four green lines and head outbound until one of the multiple BU stops. Her friends were at the GSU (George Sherman Union) so she would get off at the Boston University Central stop.

Today, and tomorrow, were the two days she planned on staying in Boston. Today was reserved for visiting her friends still at university, and tomorrow for nostalgically wandering Boston. Thanksgiving had brought Elmira home to the Boston area from Montgomery, Alabama. Home for Elmira was her grandparents' house, which was not located in Boston but in a small city north of Boston. All the family gatherings were always held there. That was the only home Elmira knew besides her college dorm, which was also in the Boston area. Her parents had multiple houses and she moved from one house to another throughout her life.

Elmira had no permanent residence. The day after tomorrow, she would be off to Los Angeles.

Elmira checked her watch. She had gotten into the habit of checking her watch constantly when she wanted time to slow down.

"Excuse me!" a man exclaimed loudly in the middle of the T. Elmira looked up from her watch. "I finally have enough money to pay the deposit for a room and finally get off the streets. I'm so happy. However, I don't have an ID and I need one to sign the lease. Look, all I have is this homeless shelter one," the man held up a card with his photo on it, "and the landlord won't accept this as a valid ID. Please, could someone be as kind and point me in the direction of the nearest RMV to obtain an official Massachusetts ID. Also, I need twenty five dollars to obtain this ID. Please, a dollar or two will help. I'm really excited that I can get off the streets. Please, help me. Please!"

Elmira reached into her pocket. She sighed, thinking of the cash she had used to pay for her hot chocolate, no cash. She only had credit and debit left.

"Please," the man continued to say, "someone help me out. I really want this room. I'm so excited. So, please help me."

Elmira looked guiltily away from the homeless man. The man on her right, Elmira noticed, seemed hardly affected by the homeless man. He was concentrated on texting, since the T was currently above ground and there was cell phone service. Elmira smiled, this was a man who had mastered the T: texting while T surfing – the act of balancing while the T was in motion without holding on. Elmira looked to her right. There was a baby boy fast asleep in his mother's lap.

Elmira threw a quick side glance at the homeless man. Hardly anyone had helped him. He had a couple of one dollar bills in his hand. Elmira wondered why so few people had helped out the man, could it be the economy? "The homeless tend to lie about their situations," Elmira recalled her father telling her when she was young, "they'll make up the grandest lies just for your money." Surely, this man isn't lying, Elmira thought.

"Park St. Doors will open on both sides. Transfer here for the green line."

Elmira hurried off the T and up the steps onto the green line platform. She remembered how upset she used to be when she had missed the T. She slowed down her pace, the B line train had not arrived yet.

She walked to the designated waiting area for the B line and waited. She checked her watch again. It was 4:10. It was going to take at least 20 minutes for her to get to Boston University. The green line, all four of them, was notrourious for being slow, unreliable, and inconsistent.

Elmira looked to the right, it was the man she saw texting earlier on the red line T.

"Do you think he was lying?" she asked the man.

"Who?" he replied.

"The homeless guy."

"Oh, I don't know," the man shrugged, "I zone those kind of stuff out, you know?"

Elmira nodded, people really don't care about the homeless. So, why do I care? She returned to staring down the tracks, pondering, and checking her watch until the T came.

"But daddy, it could be us on the streets," she had told her dad.

"No honey. Your mother and I would not let that happen. There are so many opportunities in this world. There's no reason for anybody to be in that position, unless they chose to."

"What if the universe was just not on their side, or they were mentally incapable of helping themselves, or they were disowned by their parents?"

"Disowned?" her dad had chuckled and crouched down to look her in the eye, "Try not to to pity the homeless," he had said, "and if you must, donate your money sparely and wisely. Or even better, donate your money not to the homeless but to a better cause, like education. If the homeless really wanted to better themselves, then they'll seek an education. Your donation will indirectly benefit the homeless. And you can never go wrong with education."

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