Rails Forward

 

 “Hello, remember Gandhi? When are folks gonna realize that kicking young people off trains is a bad idea? It can only lead to trouble.”  - Athena Stevens

 

“Sorry, we can’t get you this one either,” he says to me for the third time in a row. It’s rush hour in London, a time that can only be classified as every man for himself. It’s a phenomenon which I can’t even complain about as, during the hours of seven to ten in the morning, I’m as savage as any of my ablie-bodied peers and nearly twice as fast. The past three years have given me a post doctorate degree in defensive driving. I weave in and out of bodies better than most footballers looking for a breakaway. Morning rush hour leaves no excuse to be late as the best thing you can do is pick up your feet and keep moving, 

Unless you are reliant on public transit. 

“Why not?” I contest back to the rail worker. “Seems to me there’s enough room to get on.”

“No, no. We need to wait for the next train. People like you really shouldn’t be out  and about during this hour anyway.”

There it is. I was wondering when I was going to find the arrogant chink in his seemingly paternal armor. I wasn’t supposed to be going to work with half the city of London. What possible appointment could I have at this time of day which would be of any importance? Why would I have a schedule to keep so tight that I actually spent my own money to buy a more expensive ticket to travel during the peak periods of the day? What could it even matter if I was late for work? 

Transit is a very strange business to be in. The things that can go awry while going from point A to point B is almost infinite once you add the Human Element. The idea is simple enough,  but in the process of trying to get everyone where they want to go, transportation has become the battleground which nearly always precedes the war of social justice. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, she challenged the whole of the American racial hierarchy. When Gandhi was thrown off a South African train, it caused one man to shift his entire world view, thereby shifting the world. And in the 1970’s the disability rights movement began by people chaining themselves to London busses in order to demand equal access. Clearly, we’re still in the trenches on that one.  

History should have taught us by now, refusal to give people reliable transport is a surefire way to start trouble. 

“Put me on this train now, please,” I slowly say between clinched teeth desperately trying to rail in my temper.   “I need to get to work.” He doesn’t move. The train passes. I am now officially late. 

The movement towards civilization has been founded on the movement of people  getting to where they want to go. Without the rails, roads, the very veins of the city our opportunities are limited to what’s just past our front door. For many, this limitation continues to be unmoved. In a world where we assume that just because there’s a little wheelchair symbol on the map means that everything is accessible, we forget that attitudes often stand more immovable than any concrete barrier. 

“So where do you work sweetie?” He’s trying to get on my good side. I’m now trying to call my boss. 

“I’m a consultant for the transit system here in town.” The truth slipped out so easily that it almost sounded sarcastic. 

“I bet we can get you on the next train.”

Yeah, funny how that works. 

As the next train rolled up he put down the ramp with a smile, and I thanked him by name. The outside began to flash past in an ever increasing cadence. I was on my way and almost on time. I thought about how far this world had to go in learning to accept the frailty of the human condition. It is a place that no motor will take us, save the drive that comes from knowing that all men are made equal;  the ones who have refused to forget that, even while simply commuting, have done a great deal to change the world. 

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