Riding Philadelphia public transportation isn’t always the most pleasurable adventure. The grime and garbage on the subway tracks aren’t the most welcoming of environments. This picture is quite different from the spotlessly clean Washington D.C. subway.
Getting on the subway, one is reminded that this isn’t the rough New York subway that many people talk about. There is little pushing to get on. Once seated, “the show” begins. The show that I speak of is not always playing, but can be caught on most evenings.
Tonight a muscular man stands in the doorway. Despite the bitterly cold weather, his chest is covered only by a suede vest. With a Walkman in hand, he begins to shake his hips and sway.
He is not swaying to the jerky movements of the subway car, but to the music that blasts from his headphones. Abruptly he proceeds to belt out the words to a song that sounded familiar. It took a few moments to realize that it was Wrexx and Effect’s “Rumpshaker.”
“Zoom zoom zoom just shake your rump,” he announces to no one in particular. As he made snazzy, 80s style break dance moves to the music, suspicious marks running up his arms became noticeable.
“I hope he doesn’t get off at my stop,” said one girl worriedly.
A soft-spoken elderly gentleman seated next to her responded, “He’ll be getting off soon. Don’t you worry.” Sure enough, the man shuffled his “shaking rump” off at the next stop.
Apparently he was a common site to those who regularly rode the subway, so much so that they knew at which stop he exited.
Once this spectacle was completed, it wasn’t long before the misogynist seated a few seats away began to spew out profanities regarding women. Even though only every other word was decipherable, the language used would make even Howard Stern blush. Then there was the “mock boxer,” to be seen on another subway journey. This “Muhammad Ali-wannabe” jumped his way through the car, boxing the demons that only he could see. To us it just appeared to be a man talking gibberish and fighting the air. He was good, though. Had there been a real person before him to fight, he most likely would have won.
It was difficult for us college students not to watch these events taking place right in front of us. It was like a car accident that beckons to be gawked at. It had to be viewed, even if from the corners of our eyes.
For those who were raised in the suburbs, these characters are shocking, sometimes even amusing or fascinating.
For the average Philadelphian who rides every day, it is a nuisance and a disturbance. However, underneath this “subway show,” lies a deep social problem. It is underground, beneath the streets of Philadelphia, where the true tribulations of city life subsist. The drug problems and mental problems all show their faces on a daily basis. And they dance for us and perform for us.
They inspire curiosity and awe from us, the relatively new inhabitants of Philadelphia. But once we finish up at Temple and perhaps leave this city, they will still be there. It seems they will always be there.