Somewhere, two blocks north, should be the Central SEPTA station, but I'm east of the outgoing tracks and have to cross blackened chain fences and railroads oozing creosote from their seams before I reach the rear facade. The facade is blacker than the chain-links through which I gaze, blacker than the combined blackness of the railroad ties and neo-pre-post industrial grime that has accumulated on the overpasses supporting the electrics for the city trains. An infinite population of these blackened metal frames, highlighted only by deposits of rust, sits between the last chain-link fence I have to climb and the industrial array of windowpanes forming the rear wall of the station. The frames are so numerous it would appear someone had reflected a line of single metal structres over each track between two mirrors, leading to an infinite reflection of cables running through metal girders and pulleys. Only the backdrop of the afternoon sun through the blackened windows of the station dispells any suspicion of some sort of mirror trick for aligning cables over the outgoing tracks.
I should have stayed on the shuttle. It only cost two bucks and it went right into the heart of Upper L*nx. I have no idea which train I need to take. I need a westbound train, or a nothwest-bound train, but nothing in this grimy station mentions anything about destination, direction or departure. Some of the signs above the tracks mention the final end-point of the line. I can just make out 'Lower Darby,' on one sign.. must be southbound. Another is going to Trenton. By the long line waiting outside the gate to the quai it must be late. I suspect the northbound trains will be on the nothern side of the station.. Cheltenham.. close perhaps.. Cresxodia, Germantown.. Tresstpass.. and a bunch more I can't read. Too many of the signs are in disrepair or just missing to make any semblance of what trains go where. I try to remeber how close Cheltenham is to L*nx.. East perhaps. I need to find a map, a large wall map or some pamphlet of the train system. By now the station is filled to capacity with commuters, all unable to determine which train will take them home. Apparently the rail lines change daily, and if the train doesn't match the destination sign above it, the station engineers remove the sign. I walk over to one of the ticket counters and ask the woman behind the glass if they have maps of the train lines.
'Oh sure, let me get you one.'
She walks along the corridor behind the ticket counters and shuffles through some disheveled stacks of paper.. talks to a few conductors drinking coffee at a table set up near an exit to one of the train gates, shuffles through some more papers under some mailboxes, but comes back empty handed.
'I know we've got maps..'
She leans out the front of the ticket window and yells to the man in the booth next door, a short black fellow wearing a blue uniform and blue chapeau like a French policeman's. He stops counting ticket stubs, puts down his cigarette and searches methodically through the 18 or so drawers in the counter before him. No map.
'Well, shit, I guess we got no maps.'
'Excuse me, but don't you think it's odd that such a main city train station with so many trains has no map, not even on the walls of where trains go, and when they arrive?'
'Hey, I just work here.. Why don't you try the men's urinals.. they got lots o' stuff written on the walls..' She returns to the corridor behind the ticket windows and sorts a large pile of letters into the wooden mailboxes.
I leave to find the men's bathroom, which I do, except after a few metres it opens into a large city square with a huge concrete fountain in the middle. The fountain is the largest of urinals and is heavily used, particularly during rush hour. I do my best to stay away from the occasional sprays of mist blown about by the wind. A group of inner-city kids has spread out a huge piece of industrial paper covered with contact paper at the northeastern corner of the square, well out of range of the fountain. They have magic markers, in yellow, orange, red and a pleasing hue of vermillion. One kid has a large black marker which he uses to draw jagged shapes that connect to one another. The other kids color in the shapes, making sure no two colors lie adjacent to one another. The collection of shapes looks oddly like a map of the townships and counties surrounding Philadelphia. I ask them what the paper is.
'Dis for the map project. 'Show like the trains from the stay-shun.'
I ask them if they know where the train lines go.
'Yeah sure..' and he draws in the northern and western rountes. 'Farlice do the southern ones, and Merl gots the ones to Jersy.' Farlice pulls out a blue marker and puts dotted lines across the paper showing where the southern routes are. Merl just smiles and says he lost his marker.
I ask them if they know where the stations are.
'Yeah, like.. here.. and here.. and theh..' He puts big black dots on the paper. Farlice draws 'X's in the southern townships. New Jersy is still empty.
'Do you know the names of any of them?' I ask.. ,
'No.. Nope. We leaves that to the station peoples. Farlice know a few..'
'Uhn'huh... Dis here's El-der-ber-rhee..' She X's, 'Gor-ma-uhn, Manistroh-nee, SoosMay-uhn... Where you need to go?'
'Mmm..mmnt mm.. I nevah heard of it. You better axe inside.'
I just exahle through my teeth.. and look over the map one more time, counting the number of westward lines, guessing which one goes to Upper L*nx, and hoping that its position on the map is represented by the equivalent number of tracks over among the north and westbound tracks on the right-hand side of the station.
Somewhere in the staion I run into my father. I wonder if he just came from the textile mill or if he just arrived from South Carolina. Whichever train we take seems to be the appropriate one. He asks me if I triangulated properly, but I find it difficult to explain that I choose this train though loose interpretations of the track signs and a map of the rail system drawn by city school kids.
We are heading west. I look out the window of the train, to the right. The train sways pleasingly from side to side with regular 'chunks' and 'clicks' as it passes under the cable overpasses. For the most part we pass by factories and industrial warehouses. Periodically the spaces between buildings expand into large junkyards. One has incredibly tall piles of shimmering material in silver, gold or irridescent green, constructed in the guise of Mayan pyramids. Some of the piles have reflective red stones in the main staircase leading to the top. The top is usually brandished by a large candle, lit and flickering in the industrial fumes released by nearby gas flumes. I ask my father if these are the new synagogues that were being built down town. He tells me 'No.' This particular yard also has a number of exceedingly large, upholstered chairs strewn among the pyramids, many at least five or six stories in height. Some have broken legs and rest precariously on three legs or have fallen to the ground. All seem to be in fairly good condition, even the ones with the broken legs. I ask my father what this place is..
'It's the upholstery yard.' He looks out the window momentarily, about to add some point of upholstering to the significance of the yard, but returns instead to his newspaper..
. . . I suspect we stopped at a station some time ago.. A six year old kid is sitting across from me. He has a collection of small toys which move randomly about the table between our rows of seats. He pays little attention to them, immersed instead in a comic book. I find an antique push-button phone hanging between two windows of the train, just the phone handle part of the phone. It needed no base. I suspect it was my grandmother's, and she used it frequently in the 1920s. It is made of brass and is carved with wavy whorls and art- deco hints of wings and other shapes. It is very heavy. and has buttons made of a rose-colored stone that would be turquoise if it were blue. Instead it is red, and mottled with patches of white, pink, red, and marroon. The numbers were once inlaid in the stone with gold, but much of it has worn away. The buttons still work, but it has no connection so I cannot call anyone. Something resembling the structure holding a dentist's lamp holds the actual receiver. It should be balanced between two sharp, brass points where it can hang and rotate freely on the points, as though it were a bird on its stand in a cage. Unfortunately the stand has been pulled apart so the points no longer contact the phone. I try to fix it, unsucessfully. My father raps me on the shoulder with his paper and says we have to get off now. I'm not certain if I should take the phone with me. I decide it is supposed to be attached to the train for someone else to take. Before leaving I tell the six year old kid he can have the phone of he wants it.. the holder is a little bent out of shape, but otherwise it would make a good phone, and it's an antique..