Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pennsylvania: Not Really Better Than Indiana

Before we get too angry about the new "religious freedom" law in Indiana, let's remember that in Pennsylvania gays and lesbians are not protected groups under Pennsylvania's discrimination laws.  Gays and lesbians can now legally marry in Pennsylvania but it is still legal to fire someone just for being gay or lesbian.  Given that, we can't feel very superior to our neighbors to the west (not directly to the west but in a westerly direction).

Some Thoughts on The Gallery

On average three days a week for the past 20 years I have walked through the Gallery, as one of the estimated 13,000 commuters who use Market East / Jefferson Station.  It’s a quick and easy way to get from the train station to the next point of my journey.  I have been reading the articles in the paper about the future of the Gallery, which has been slowly closing stores and clearing out the kiosks.  Without the ambient lighting from the stores and kiosks the walkways are fairly dark and dreary now.

I’ve gone through several stages of thought since the news broke that the Gallery would be closing.  At first I was concerned about public safety – after all, you can’t move 13,000 people from the underground walkway to the city streets unless you widen the sidewalks.  There just wouldn’t be room.  But then the number of people in the Gallery started to decrease.  These days the former streams of people walking through has slowed to a trickle.  There is room enough now for people to charge up their cell phones at the outlets along the wall.  In busier times there wouldn’t have been space for them to do that.  Either there are more high school students loitering around or they are easier to see now that there are fewer commuters there.  The train people I know well enough to ask tell me they have found other ways to get from Jefferson Station to wherever they go next.  They are unlikely to return.

Just the loss of the stores has taken a toll.  For me personally, the Gallery was the second most frequent place I shopped.  I bought something there once or twice a week.  The grocery store is the only place I spend money more frequently.  Granted some of my Gallery purchases were just snacks or cards but others were expensive (clothes, shoes, books, gifts, etc.).  I remember when there was a CVS along the way.  It often opened up early enough to catch the morning commuting crowd and I took advantage of that.   Several of the merchants saved me from disaster – a fruit tray for a work party when I left the one I intended to bring at home, flowers for a new colleague, gifts for the holiday toy drive, safety pins when a wardrobe disaster happened, and so on.  I will miss this quick fix to daily problems, and the convenience of being able to shop going to and from work. 

Mostly I will miss the camaraderie of my fellow commuters.  People were busy and in a hurry so there wasn’t a lot of conversation but if you dropped something someone would tell you or pick it up for you.  On a regular basis a group of deaf people met in the food court and watching their sign language conversations which, for all their silence, could get loud (at least judging by the large and adamant gestures), reminded me that the deaf have a vibrant community of their own.  For awhile a sharply dressed older man would sit facing the foot traffic and insist on making eye contact with the ladies.  I think he just wanted some attention.  One day I was going slower than usual because a toddler was wandering around and I wanted to make sure an adult was with him.  A man behind me was so close he nearly stepped on my heels.  I apologized and said I was just making sure the little boy was okay.  The man stared at me intently and asked “Well, is he?”  My interpretation of this is that he had noticed the boy, too, but did not feel comfortable pausing himself.  He had zeroed in on me as a “safe” women who was also concerned.  One day recently a group of high school kids was loitering in the area and two of the boys started circling each other, fists up.  I used the lowest voice register possible and yelled for them to cut it out.  They mocked me but scattered and I went off in search of a guard.  I helped police my corner of the universe and I saw others doing the same. A few years ago a middle aged man would hang around and try to chat up the teenage girls in school uniforms.  I was not the only woman walking by who told him to buzz off (or some similar to that).

Daily courtesies like friendly smiles, doors held, and so on, gave me a sense of community.  This is pretty much gone now, leaving with most of my fellow commuters.  If the renovation plans were public or if there were a published timeline I would view this as more of a temporary blip.  But all we have heard is that the real estate company that owns the Gallery seems to be in pursuit of the corporate retail unicorn – wealthy shoppers who will stop by every day and spend large sums of money.  There is talk of “upscale” stores and restaurants.  That excludes me and most of my fellow commuters as customers.  We can only provide regular reliable sales of a middling nature.  I do not think upscale stores (whatever that means) will find the location appealing enough, no matter how spruced up the walls and floors are.  Certainly they would not view my level of shopper as sufficient to move in. 

Personally I don’t see how you can do much better than having 13,000 people walk past your store front every day but I’m not a retail specialist.  I do mourn the loss of this pleasant way to begin and end my regular work routine.  Most of the commuters are gone.  I’ll stick around until the rest of the lights go out, but at some point I’ll have to find another way from point A to point B, probably up on the sidewalks or using another train station altogether.  Like the other train people I’ve talked to, I probably won’t return either.  For me, this is a shame.  I’ve enjoyed my walks through the Gallery.  They’ve been an important part of my life for two decades.

So, farewell to a much-loved place and to my fellow travelers, and to the merchants who sold us what we wanted or needed.  The walls and ceiling kept me safe and warm regardless of the weather.  I’m really going to miss this daily ritual.

Statistic on the number of commuters is from “Gallery Mall stores close for planned renovations,” by Valerie Russ, Philadelphia Inquirer 1/22/2105

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Another Rumor Proven Wrong, Ted Cruz Edition

Senator Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring, the first declared presidential candidate in the 2016 election.  Cruz was born in Canada and I've seen a lot of blog posts and online comments regarding his citizenship.  Cruz's birth certificate lists his mother's birthplace as Delaware.  People seem to be questioning this.  They should stop.

Anyone with an Ancestry.com membership can check on this.  There is a girl in the 1940 Delaware census (the most recent federal census available to the public), with the right name and the right approximate age to be Cruz's mother.  She is listed as having been born in Delaware, as are her parents.  Names tend to run in families and I see some evidence of that here.  It is possible that this is another person entirely but the simplest answer is often the correct one.  This is most likely Ted's mom.

This information is not terribly difficult to find.  People are just being willfully ignorant.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

SEPTA Statement on Controversial Ads

from the inbox:

A federal court judge presiding over a dispute between SEPTA and a group seeking to purchase advertising space on SEPTA vehicles has ruled that SEPTA must accept the ads, even if they contain messages that may be disparaging to riders and SEPTA employees. After careful consideration, SEPTA has decided not to appeal this ruling. Our policy was revised in October 2014 to allow the Authority to reject these types of ads without violating the First Amendment. However, this policy change was made after the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s (AFDI) initial request to purchase advertising space and is not applicable in the matter. 

Consequently, AFDI has executed a contact with SEPTA’s advertising management agency, Titan, to purchase advertising space on the side panel of 84 SEPTA buses. The ads will contain what some may view as anti-Muslim messages. These vehicles will be placed in normal inventory rotation throughout the SEPTA service area. The ads will begin appearing on vehicles during the first week of April for a four-week period. “We understand that our decision to not file an appeal will be disappointing to those who will be forced to view the disparaging ads,” said SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey. 

“We are aware that the presence of the ads could anger the public, but caution that attempts to vandalize the ads or deface SEPTA vehicles will not be tolerated.” 

Abby Stamelman Hocky, Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia said, “Ads like these violate our values, even if the judge ruled they do not violate the law. We applaud SEPTA for its efforts to restrict the placement of the controversial ads." The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia has chosen SEPTA as a co-recipient of its annual "Dare to Understand" award, to be presented April 29, at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. 

SEPTA regrets any discomfort that may be caused from viewing these controversial messages during the weeks they will be displayed. Those who wish to comment or voice their concerns may do so by completing a SEPTA Customer Service comment form at www3.septa.org/customerservice/. 

Upcoming State Supreme Court Candidate Forum

A broad coalition of organizations are organizing a public forum for state Supreme Court candidates from both parties.  It will be held on Wednesday, April 8th from 6 pm to 8:30 pm at the Philadelphia Free Library, 1901 Vine St.

Reggie Shuford, executive directory of the Pennsylvania ACRL and Holly Otterbein, associate editor of Philadelphia Magazine will be the moderators.

RSVP on Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/events/311524612390758/

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Marriage Rates by State

Slate ran an article on which states have a higher multiple marriage rate ("The states where second (and third and fourth marriages) are most common," by Jordan Weissman 3/13/2015).  According to the map accompanying the article 20% of Pennsylvanians over the age of 15 have been married more than once.  That is below the national average.

The article is based on a US Census Bureau report, which also provides statistics on marriage rates by educational level, age, and income ("Remarriage in the United States," by Jamie M. Lewis and Rose M. Kreider, March 2015).  It supports articles I've read showing that marriage, and long lasting marriage, is becoming a perk / privilege of the wealthy and well-educated.  This should be of serious concern.

Interesting stuff.

2015 International Operator Appreciation Day

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is International Operator Appreciation Day, and our friends at SEPTA would like us to thank our favorite SEPTA driver or operator.  In addition feel free to post notes about your favorite drivers or operators in social media.  On Twitter please copy @septa_social

Play nice, now, this is not a time to rant about a few bad apples.  There are some wonderful SEPTA employees out there.  Let's give them a shout out.