I left the house unprepared. It was 4:30 a.m. and I was on my way to thePhiladelphia International Airport.
I parked near a friend’s house ready to make the mile-long trek to the Elstation with my suitcase and two carry-ons. As I walked through the dark neighborhood,a working class part of the city now populated with starving artists andlow-income families, I was scared. Any area underneath the El is notoriouslysketchy. Abandoned warehouses tagged with graffiti made me feel like I was inGotham City.
I made it to the El, lugged my things up two flights of stairs only torealize there was no attendant selling tickets. How could I have been sostupid? It was 4:30 a.m. after all.
I walked down the stairs, defeated, sweaty and on the phone with a cab companywhen a sole black woman saw how pathetic and lost I seemed.
“Where you tryin’ to go honey?” she asked.
“The airport. I have no idea how the night schedule works,” I admitted.
“Why you gon’ take a cab for? The last night owl bus into the citycomin’ in five minutes. We just take that down to Market East station. That’swhere I get off for work, been doin’ so for 40 years. You’ll catch the trainthere to the airport. Jus’ follow me,” she said.
Sold. I followed my new friend named Shelia onto the bus. We zippedthrough the city, passing beautiful murals of strife and conquest. The streetswere quiet and empty. No tourists lined up to see the Liberty Bell.Independence Hall was dark.
We turned onto Market Street and I saw City Hall with its illuminated yellowclock, William Penn standing atop the gargantuanstructure of granite and marble. It’s a building that always makes me feelregal and proud.
Our bus crawled to a stop and I followed my veteran tour guide into the dark.She hobbled onward, the 40 years of hard work evident on her frame. I stillstruggled to keep up.
“Lord, it’s days like today we jus’ get out of bed and wait for Fridayso we can have our weekends off to be with our families. E’ryone love Fridays.”
We walked into Market East station, Shelia saying I’d need $7 cash for the trainfare. I was embarrassed to admit that I only had enough money to ride the nightbus.
“Don’ worry, that’s what I’m here for. I’ll take you to the cashmachine.”
I withdrew $20. I lucked out having had met Shelia underneath the El tracksin the dark.
“Now don’ miss it. The train gon’ be here any minute now. Have a safetrip!” Shelia yelled after me.
I rode the escalator down to the platform waving goodbye toShelia. The train pulled in, lulled to astop.
“Train to Philadelphia International Airport! Cash only!” Theconductor yelled.
I handed him my $20. I knew to expect change.