Saturday, January 5, 2019

what are you doing new year's eve?

Mrs. Pincus and I welcomed 2019 at the venerable Trocadero Theatre, a majestic (if just a bit seedy) venue in Philadelphia's Chinatown. The evening's performance was a triple bill featuring local hip hop duo & More, Nalani & Sarina, a five-piece band fronted by multi-instrumentalist twin sisters and, the icing on the cake, Philly darlings Low Cut Connie. The show kicked off at 9 PM and would burgeon on into the wee hours of the new year.

Anticipating the dreadful parking situation in center city Philadelphia – especially on New Year's Eve – we opted to take public transportation to the show. A branch of the regional rail that serves Philadelphia has a station just a few doors from our suburban home. Although I took the train to work daily for 12 years, I haven't been on the train in quite some time. Especially at night, when a whole 'nother group of people ride. Because of the New Year's Eve holiday and expected increase in ridership, SEPTA (the overseeing body that operates public transportation in the city and surrounding area) extended the usual service to accommodate late-night travelers. The ticket window at train station near our house, however, keeps highly-unusual and very limited hours. They are never open on weekends and during the week, the doors are locked tight before the clock strikes noon. It being a holiday (well, a holiday eve, anyway), I didn't expect to see anyone selling fares until at least mid-week into the new year. We bought our tickets on the train when it arrived and settled into an empty seat.

The commute downtown is a short one, just under twenty-five minutes and then it's just a one block walk to the Trocadero. It couldn't have been more convenient. No fighting traffic, although Mrs. Pincus loves to drive. No worrying about the possibility of drunk drivers and no concerns about finding that elusive parking spot. (Actually, we passed several parking spaces on our short walk, including one that opened up just steps from the Troc's front door.)

The show was great, as expected. Adam Weiner and company even paused around midnight to lead the crowd in a countdown and treat them to a tinkling impromptu rendition of Auld Lang Syne before breaking into Suzanne from their latest release Dirty Pictures (Part 2). When the show was over, Mrs. P and I said our "goodbyes" to our son (who was there with his girlfriend and a few friends) and made our way back to the train station for the ride home. Despite the relentless drizzle that plagued the evening, the drunks were out in full force, reeling all over the sidewalks. We quickly made it to the train station and descended the steep stairs to the underground entrance.

It was a few minutes before 2019 was officially one hour old. I was surprised to see an alert SEPTA employee monitoring the turnstiles at such a late hour. I was even more surprised when he directed us to the open ticket windows to purchase fares prior to boarding the train. This policy is usually reserved for rush hour. But here we were, queuing up along with several other surprised late-night commuters.

Just ahead of us in line was a young lady and a young man both in their middle 20s and dressed as though they were at some sort of festive event for the evening. The woman was in a dark colored dress and she clutched a small purse in her hand. The man was in a light-toned suit which probably started the night crisp and pressed, but was now showing evidence of some heavy partying. His collar was undone. The knot in his tie was loosened and cocked to one side. His jacket was rumpled and not hanging comfortably on his torso. And he was alternately leaning to the left and right, as though he was straddling a teeter-totter. When the next ticket window was available, the woman walked forward. The fellow zig-zagged slowly behind her and then propped his shoulder against the glass, his head hanging down loosely on his neck. She requested two tickets to Hatboro (a suburb many stops past our house) and the ticket salesman obliged. Money was clearly exchanged. She grabbed the tickets and marched off, leaving her disheveled companion to stagger in her wake. She appeared very pissed off. Mrs. P and I purchased our tickets next and then proceeded to the train platform, which is even further below street level, accessed by more flights of steps. I spotted the couple stop by the SEPTA employee to have their tickets validated with a special hole punch prior to heading to the train platform. A few seconds later, we did the same.

On our way down the stairs, we encountered the ticket-buying couple again. He was having difficulty climbing back up – and then back down – the stairs. She was standing in the bottom stairwell with her arms folded sternly across her chest and an unpleasant scowl on her face. My wife and I quickly and precariously scooted past them and found a seat on the fairly crowded train platform.

After a short wait, our train arrived at a little after 1 AM and we boarded. We selected a seat and I placed our tickets in the little slot on the seat so the conductor would know we paid our fares. More folks filed in, including a gentleman in a Philadelphia Eagles jacket who was carrying on a very animated conversation with himself. Soon, we were joined in our train car by the inebriated fellow and his ticked-off better half. He lurched into a double seat by a window and she seated herself in the unoccupied portion, slightly turned away him.

When the train began to move, a conductor slowly ambled down the center aisle to check passes and collect tickets. He passed Mrs. Pincus and me, concentrating, at first, on those folks seated on the other side on the aisle. The man reciting the soliloquy flashed a monthly pass at the conductor and continued speaking something about what song was playing. (There was no song playing.) The conductor then stopped at the couple's seat and examined their tickets. He handed them back and asked them for the normal fare to Hatboro. Without a word or an argument of any kind, the young lady opened her purse and handed over several bills to the conductor. He handed back change and a long receipt into which he had punched a number of holes. Mrs. P and I exchanged silent glances. Not fifteen minutes earlier, we watched this couple buy tickets just a few feet away from us. We were thoroughly puzzled.

The conductor turned and was now addressing our side of the aisle. He smiled as he removed and inspected our tickets.

"These tickets are punched." he observed, pointing to the little holes in the tickets to make his point clearer..

My wife and I answered in unrehearsed unison. "Yes." we explained, "They were purchased up in the station and punched by an employee who wouldn't let us down to the platform otherwise."

The conductor frowned. "Well, no one told me that!," he announced to no one in particular.

He replaced our tickets, turned on his heels and headed back to the couple by the window. He startled them when he said, "You already paid upstairs, right? I owe you money." He peeled of a number of bills from a fat wad in his gloved hand and handed them to the young lady. Not a word was spoken. She just accepted the refund as though it was standard operation procedure. When the conductor moved on to the next car, there was no further discussion between the couple. He was fast asleep with his forehead flat against the window's thick glass. She was hunched over with her back to him, seemingly plotting an escape once the train doors opened in Hatboro.

The train pulled into Elkins Park and we exited. 2019 was off to an entertaining start.

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