26 February 2011

Pearls of Wisdom

In the Summer 1986, I realized that "just ain’t right in the head" extended to other people who were not described to me as "Hon, he’s your 3rd cousin whose not right in the head. Pay no mind and go give him some shu-gah". I can’t recall the specific events of that day but most likely it was one of the many weeks we spent with my grandparents with no particular agenda. There were always blueberry Pop-tarts with small dollup butter gleaming on one side for breakfast, outdoor chores in the morning, inside chores when it got too hot, then after about 3pm we got to rest until super. Our resting period coincided with General Hospital which my mother forbade us to watch, but my grandmother, Pearl, never minded my mother’s instructions in that regard. She had raised six happy and healthy kids and had done well thus all parenting directives were ignored.
I’m sure it was after supper while watching that handsome Peter Jennings, when I asked her, "Who is Kadafi and why does he hate America?" (Until just recently I didn’t realize there were so many spellings to his name, al-Gaddafi, Gadhafi, Khadafy to name a few). I don’t recall Pearl being one who followed politics on the world stage. Yet, she did the best she could to explain her answer in a way my 10 year old mind could understand it. Looking back, she probably was the best one to answer the question. She said sometimes leaders get upset and they start shooting rockets at one another and "Kadafi" was "just not right in the head" and he was in power. She went on to say that when crazy people are in position of power they try and show off with their weapons and such. She explained that his army had attacked an American ship in the spring and there were people in Libya that were suspected of doing bombing all over the world.

I had understood what nuclear warheads were, Reagan was president during my formative years and Oak Ridge was practically in my back yard—if you used Sarah Palin’s geography—and Pearl’s explanation of "bombings all over the world" sent chills to my very core. My world was Sulphur Springs Elementary School and I had a vision of the "Kadafi’s" army bombing my little community. We got bomb threats all the time so why could they not be "Kadafi" instead of what they were—a high school kid playing a prank. Pearl assured me the whole mess was all "just talk" and told me to go get another Little Debbie raisin cream pie if I wanted.

The conversation with Pearl and that feeling of being vulnerable to whims of faraway people who were "just not right in the head" has always stuck with me. There were very few "why" questions I’d ask her for which she would give me an answer. So as I count my blessings that "Kadafi" is not my 3rd cousin, I am reminded once again Pearl was right. In the last 25 years, Libya has made the American news as about as often as someone reports on killer bees. Both are dangerous but only one is "just ain’t right in the head". Libya’s recent resurgence into our news is uplifting if you see it as people standing up for change and overlook all those that are dying during protests. But when "Kadafi" starts into his crazy rhetoric I am reminded of my conversation with Pearl so I’ll just have go get another Little Debbie raisin cream pie and wait for the next report on killer bees.

04 February 2011

Hookers Don't Wear Herringbone Pants

I have a friend who loves all the ideas of public transportation and the real estate development potential associated with better mass transit options such as light rail EXCEPT when it comes to riding the bus in Charlotte. I would say that he is not alone in this thought. Many Charlotteans would say that CATS buses and the system itself leave a lot to be desired especially convenience but that is a whole separate discussion.

I know many who advocate for better transit choices, place-making neighborhoods and walkability who don't live out their advocacy principles. Last week I used our City's transportation system to make my way to the 10th Annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference. I don't have a lot of opportunities to use public transportation for my commute (seriously it adds an hour one way to my daily drive in order to take the bus) and honestly, I rely on my car more than I care to admit (guilty of first sentence in this paragraph). But when I can, I make a point to take the bus into Center City (formerly known as Uptown thanks to a new marketing program).

There are many reasons to like the bus. One is the bus stop. If you are lucky enough to have a bus stop with a bench and shelter over your head, waiting on the bus is not a problem. This is important because the laws of physics say that you will see your bus leave as you get within 50 feet of the bus stop so you are bound to wait for the next one. One morning I waived to my neighbor while sitting on the bench on Central Ave. Obviously, he was taken by surprise. We talked later and he said, " You looked like a hooker on that corner". To which I replied, "Hookers don't wear wool herringbone pants or hang out at bus shelters in front of the McDonald's". These things hold true in Charlotte. We may have hookers, but they aren't at my bus stop.

Another reason to love the bus stop are the conversations you overhear while pretending to look ahead for the next bus (again, because you just missed it by 2 minutes) or pretending to check your facebook page on your fancy-dancy smart phone. I had the privilege of "not hearing" a conversation between a lesbian couple. In that conversation, I learned that one of the neighborhood business owners has not paid his rent in over a year and has given the IRS a bad check. More importantly, it is the theory of the couple that this occurred because God changed his "luck ". God did this because he had wronged his wife when he left her. The neighborhood business owner had thought his karma (apparently an interchangeable word for God's "luck") had changed because he sent some kid to see his dying father. This could not be the case according to one of the women telling the story because he did this benevolent act with gambled winnings. And, somehow being lucky at gambling has nothing to do with God's "luck". I didn't want to point out that they waited just as long as it would have taken to walk the 1.5 miles to their destination because I was much appreciative of their $3.50 investment in order to receive their lesson on luck and God.

The last thing I personally like about public transportation is that it is the great social equalizer without resorting to income redistribution. No one is greater than anyone else on that bus. My need to get to my destination was no different than the blind man with the most heart warming smile, working mother and her child who was learning to spell on a smart phone app, the mentally-disturbed man who carried his important papers in a CVS shopping basket or suit-wearing banker type trying to ignore his surrounds with his ipod. The only difference I could tell was that it was my choice to take transit into Center City and most on my line do not have that choice. So one day if there is in fact a hooker that wears wool herringbone pants (to be clear again....not me) and she rides the bus, I hope she feels just as equal as us all.