A dozen years ago I drove a pedicab in Washington, DC… think rickshaw built on a mountainbike frame. I hauled tourists and locals for a fee. The little company had four cabs and we stayed in touch with hand-held radios. Lots of stories from that experience.
But I thought of one in particular tonight over dinner with friends. I often found myself hustling fares at the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in the evenings half-way between the Georgetown bars and the monuments on the Mall.
When a train pulled in, I’d be enveloped in a sea of people flooding by. Once the tide ebbed, assuming I hadn’t landed a customer, I’d settle in waiting for the next wave. In those intervals, I realized that I wasn’t alone. A half-dozen of us stayed put, while thousands of strangers kept moving.
The cop, the souvenir vendor, the panhandler, the mechanic working on the escalator, the girl with the guitar and open case, and me.
After a few rounds, a rapport developed. “Did you see the guy with the hair?” “Yeah, I wonder what he does when it rains?” Whatever… my point is that we treated each other as humans; we shared friendly chit chat.
I had never stood still at a subway stop for 20 minutes before. What had I missed?
I viewed the teeming masses slipping by us as curiosities and potential customers. The street musician and homeless guy probably wondered who might be a soft touch. The cop was looking for troublemakers. The mechanic maybe just saw weight limits being exceeded. I don’t think any of us saw them all as people. None of us standing still tried to make a real human connection with the movers… although if one of them had stopped and hung out for 20 minutes he’d likely have joined our little social club.
Which takes me back 25 years to Cedar Point, a huge amusement park in Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie. Two of my older brothers worked summers there, and, as an impressionable high school kid I got to go for an overnight visit (what were my parents thinking?).
This park was filled with hundreds of 20-year-old summer staff standing still, while thousands of people streamed through every day.
After pitching in to get the place ready in the morning and connecting with dozens of co-workers, my oldest brother turned to me as the front gates swung open and said “hang on, here come the animals.” Same as the Metro stop.
So, all this reminiscing brings me back around to Front Porch Forum. Many folks I’ve talked to recently say that they feel like the subway passengers and “animals”/customers at the amusement park in their own neighborhoods. And they don’t want to be strangers in their own community, marching through it anonymously.
So, short of standing on the corner and attempting to engage any person who happens by, how do you become one of the folks who is tuned in and connected with your community?
It seems that Front Porch Forum can provide a way of “standing still” in the neighborhood, even while people move their busy day. An increasing number of our members report feeling this way… and that’s no mean feat.