Public Transportation: Is this Freedom?
We have two meetings today, and I am skeptical. One is in da Parish and the other is up at UNO. We board the Algiers Local at 8:30 a.m. Twenty minutes to the Ferry and across to downtown. Then it’s a short walk to Rampart St. to catch the St. Claude bus. On the way, we pass by Canal Place. Shitty music (not even good music, ya’ll, this is the birthplace of Jazz) is blasting from the outdoor speakers. Brands like Chanel and Saks have window displays that show me exactly what I can’t afford to buy. I have to remind myself that I have opted out of consumerism else I might give up my Quest and start selling crack on the street so that I can buy me a Hummer.
The bus is coming, so we sprint to the stop in the heat and humidity. I stink already, and my dress is sticking to my butt crack. What bus is it? Nobody knows because there is a political ad on the display that normally tells you which bus it is. Information is passed down the line that it’s the Jackson bus. We wait around the corner in the shade.
A fluffy girl in pink crocs is relaying a story into her cell. She was waiting for the Street Car when a group of white boys approached her and asked if she had change for a twenty. They were participating in some kind of race that involved them taking public transport. They had T-Shirts and all. She didn’t have change for a twenty. Who does? The boys asked her how much she had. Eight singles. They took the eight singles and gave her the $20 bill. Now I’m glad that the fluffy girl in the pink crocs made $12, but I’m kinda indignant that public transportation is a game for these people.
Finally, the St. Claude bus comes and we ride all the way up to the Auto Zone on St. Claude and Aycock where my sister’s man picks us up to take us to our appointment. It’s 11:05. We left ma maaama’s on the West Bank 2.5 hours ago.
After our appointment, my sister’s man drops us off: “Stand by these two benches. That’s where the bus stops.” I guess the budget for signposting went to pay for those crime cameras. Don’t bother going onto the RTA Website for the maps. They are abysmal and do not indicate where the buses actually stop. Don’t bother running around with your baby on your hip and carrying your shopping trying to find a pay phone to call the RTA to find out where the stops are. Their “ride line” is an answering machine promising to call you back, but they never do.
Our next meeting is at UNO. We get the St. Claude bus and have a chat with the bus driver while she’s waiting to take off. She tells us that there is a free white bus that goes further into Chalmette. I chuckle at the irony of her description. Finding out about this bus will be another project.
At Elysian Fields we transfer to the bus going to UNO, and the bus driver tells us that the stop is in front of the beauty parlor. We look around for it, but it’s not sign posted. I ask a neighborhood lady where the bus goes from. “Right there in front of the beauty parlor. Stand right there, baby.” So we wait there in front of the beauty parlor while she calls her friend on the cell and tells her the story about the two alabaster people in funny shoes trying to get the bus from her block.
We have already spent 3.5 hours on public transport, and we have only done one of our meetings. I think every politician and RTA employee (and their families) should have to take public transportation for a month. Just to see what it’s like. I know that New Orleans is no London, but this city does aspire to be a world class city. In London, all classes of people rely on public transport: students, working class, unemployed, professionals. But, unless you live and work on a street car line, it’s just a grind here.
To wit: a few weeks ago, we waited 30 minutes for the Carrollton bus with a lovely lady who explained to us how she had a four hour a day commute on public transport from Metarie to her job at Walgreens uptown. Now I ask you: is that freedom? PJ says he can sum up American Freedom in one word: CAR.
I overheard another lady talking about how her boss got pissed off at her because she had to leave work ON TIME so that she could catch the bus to pick up her baby. “If I miss the bus,” she said “I won’t get home ’til after eight, and I don’t want to be out after dark with my baby.” I bet her boss had a car.
People should be rewarded for taking public transportation with great public transportation facilities. They are doing their bit for the environment and traffic and society. Like a lot of other things in New Orleans, public transport seems like it is DESIGNED to keep the poor in their place. How can you possibly have any job choice (read FREEDOM) if you have to spend four hours on the bus? How can you have good quality of life if you have to spend four hours on the bus. Wake up America: all this freedom that Bush and McCain and Palin are talking about you losing if you don’t elect them back into office? Ain’t dere no more. You are not free.
P.S. If you are tempted to sing that old chestnut “because of Katrina,” don’t. It’s just an excuse. Public transportation sucked before Katrina. At least now there are some new buses in the system thanks to donations from other cities that felt sorry for our asses.