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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide

ASERT has compiled resources for those with autism and those who care for people with autism relating to the current COVID-19 outbreak.

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Welcome Back to Public Transportation

By Dmitri 

Hello again dear readers, 

When we last left off, I had gone over with you the mixed bag of emotions I’ve been feeling about going back to the full in-person experience for work and school. I had stated that I had been into the city just two or three times when I wrote the last entry, and I left on an overall hopeful note sharing my excitement of seeing my co-workers and classmates again in the flesh. Since that entry, I’ve been traveling into the city once or twice a week all on my own! 

Before I had been driving into the city with my dad, I finally transitioned back to taking public transit. I had taken SEPTA almost daily before the pandemic as a commuter student, and I know that I’m going to be going back to that daily grind sooner than I’m expecting. Before the pandemic started, right around the time I got this job, addressing public transit and how to handle it while on the spectrum was a big topic I wanted to hit. But as you’re all aware, some events kept me side-tracked from tackling that issue. But now that I’m back to smelling the putrid odor of the Philadelphia underground once more, I think I’d like to circle back around and coordinate a little survival guide for my fellow readers as well as myself. 

It starts with the agonizingly early wake-up, I like to be in my office around 8:30 or so, which roughly translates to a 6:30 wake-up. I used to do this nearly every day, but now I find myself asking “How the heck did I manage that?”. After that, it’s a short drive to the Norristown Transportation Center, which at best is in shambles and largely acts as the borough’s homeless shelter. Disgruntled, most likely underpaid employees don’t deal with most of the messes left behind by their clientele, but will sometimes offer a pleasant hello to remind both parties that they’re human. From there I take the high-speed line all the way down to 69th street, a pleasant 45 minutes where I can sit, get some work done if I need to, listen to music and audiobooks, and watch the nice scenery passing by. It’s a time that I greatly appreciated before the pandemic and especially now. Then 69th street station, another poorly maintained station but with how frequent the subways run to and from there, you’ll luckily never be there for long. Then the real joys of the underground hit me in hot waves of stench and filth. A view of the dilapidated buildings and struggling businesses of West Philly pass me by, interspersed with beautiful cultural landmarks and murals. Before the pandemic, this could easily be one of the worst parts of my commutes depending on how crowded it was and how much an intoxicated person (regardless of the time of day) decided they wanted to harass a socially inept trans person. I finally slink my way through the final station before I emerge in University city and promptly get myself a well-deserved cup of coffee. Overall traveling public transit anywhere in Philadelphia or its outskirts feels like something between a nightmare about middle school, and the most grotesque of John Waters movies. 

Ok, so it’s a loaded bag, but it’s one I have to deal with for now. In just three months, I’ll be dealing with these hurdles daily. I said it before but I’ll reiterate, how the heck did I manage that? Well, in large part it’s relying on the ability to take what you can get and highlight the better moments. Certain points on my commute that I always love to see and serve as a physical mantra. A cemetery by 50th street, a small sheep farm by Villanova, a particularly inspiring mural which reads “#1 Goal: Love People, Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it doesn’t”, how many times in the past have these little locations gotten me through the day? When I can sit and just listen to music as I watch the breathing of the city, in all its catches and coughs. Before the pandemic, I would normally carry a discrete fidget toy in my pocket to soothe my at-times racing thoughts. This post-pandemic world has taught me that I’m literally never going to not wear a mask on public transit. Not only does it keep out the potential illnesses of the hundreds of people I can come into contact with, but it also greatly lessens the smell. I think plague doctors were totally in the right when they stuffed nice-smelling herbs into the beaks of their masks. In case of near melt-down experiences, I’ve always kept a very tiny stuffed hippo in my backpack which does a great job at getting me through the toughest of experiences.

I know this isn’t a post that every one of my readers will be able to relate to, but I hope that those who can relate could derive some tips and meaning out of this entry. And for some more thorough takes on traveling to the city in general, I suggest checking out Miriam’s recent blog on the subject; “Philadelphia Needs Better Transportation Options”. They go a lot more in-depth into some of the more nuanced flaws of public transit and mainly covering the bus system. I hope this summer will lend a grace period to all of us as we start to transition back to the much less savory parts of our old lives. I’ll be sure to keep you all in the loop as the new normal unfolds in my own life. 

Till then readers, 

~Dmitri