Saturday, March 10, 2012

Riding the streetcar like rocking in a cradle

Riding the St. Charles streetcar is as soothing as being rocked in the arms of your mother. The car slowly rolls from side to side down the tracks on the neutral ground under the soft light of lampposts and the bows of giant oaks. Passing scenery is a continuous show of gracious, white mansions fronted by stately white columns and prismed glass doors.

Wide-open windows, a breeze and fragrance of flowering trees and shrubs rushing in, create an additional pleasurable experience.

I've slept in the belly of a cabin cruiser and felt the same effect of the tide beneath me - the sensation of returning to the comfort of the womb.

I usually take the streetcar to the French Quarter, anticipating an evening of adventure. On my return, the ride is a satisfying way to ease back into the stillness of the uptown neighborhood after a night on the town.

The overhead lights put passengers onstage, not only to each other, but to everyone they pass. It's always a motley crew - college students on dates, visitors on tour, workers on commute, school kids dressed in uniforms and the usual characters just riding back and forth. Strangers chat, smile and offer seats to those standing. Others just hang on as the streetcar ambles along, bumping into each other amicably.

Some of my most cherished memories revolve around the streetcar - not just riding it, but waiting for its arrival, seeing it slowly round the bend of the tracks and grind to a stop.

The conductors almost always greet passengers and kindly assist them in getting fares into the box if necessary. There's no hurry.

One of my friend's children, a recent Tulane student, said she didn't like the streetcar because it went too slow. She said: "When my friends want to go, we just want to go." How silly! They forfeited the pleasure of the streetcar going by car, a mobile fortress that insulates them from the social experience.

For me, one of the most satisfying things about the St. Charles streetcar is that it hasn't changed much since I was in college. The fare increased from 25 cents to $1.25 - still a bargain. They splashed some new paint on the cars after Katrina and fixed the brakes.

When the streetcars were down after the storm, people were devastated. Buses had to take over the routes. And when the St. Charles line got up and running - first to Lee Circle, then to Napoleon, to Riverbend and finally to Claiborne Avenue, there was celebration.

The streetcar was not only a convenient mode of transportation, it was a symbol of rebirth. 

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