“In vain we build the city if we do not first build the man.”Edwin Markham
I’ve always been a proponent of “alternative” transit, by which I mean any method of transportation other than driving. I didn’t own or habitually drive a car until after I was married, at 24 years old. During that time, I successfully transported myself around multiple cities with a combination of riding my bicycle and taking mass transit. Eventually during my time living in Denver, a wonderful invention emerged called a “car share”, which enabled me to borrow hybrid cars and trucks on an hourly basis. Car sharing was a game changer, since it enabled me to explore the mountains. The hourly rental rate included insurance and gas, so it was super convenient to live a car-free lifestyle.
Since I’ve lived in Dallas, I’ve owned a car but have continued to use alt transit on the regular. That’s partly because it enables me to avoid dreadful rush hour traffic and costly parking tickets. But it’s also great because the Texas weather is nice for so much out of the year, so why not enjoy it and ride my bike or walk when I can?
I’m starting off this post gushing about alt transit because I truly believe in it. The invention of ride sharing (Uber) has helped cities manage their issues with traffic and parking, however there’s still a huge benefit to mass transit and bicycle routes.
That being said, something happened to me last weekend on the Dallas light rail and that’s what this post is really about.
My friend Tandi invited me to a holiday light show at Fair Park. Every year, Fair Park hosts the Texas State Fair and the Cotton Bowl, as well as numerous shows and concerts. It is made up of 277 acres of beautiful gardens and historic art deco structures, including five museums. Parking is limited and prohibitively expensive, so most people arrive there by light rail – or as it’s called here, the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit).
So last Friday night I got on the DART rail to go meet Tandi. Immediately I noticed bad behavior all around me. The man in front of me was drinking out of a liquor bottle. At his side was a younger man who appeared to be his teenage son, cracking open a beer. The two men yelled “cheers” and cackled, right in front of a mother with a baby on her lap who looked extremely uncomfortable with the situation. Obviously alcohol is not allowed on the light rail, and neither are open containers. I looked around to see if I could wave down a security guard, but there were none in sight.
Then behind me a fight broke out. Two large men began ghetto-yelling at each other and throwing punches. I looked around to see if anyone would step in to break up the fight, but the other passengers pretended like it wasn’t happening. Where on earth are the security guards??
I was relieved to hop off the train 15 minutes later, as it pulled up to Fair Park. Tandi was waiting for me on the other side of the tracks, and we walked in together past the moody security guards. We explored the light maze, which was disappointingly small and geared toward children. Then we had some fun spending money in the little gift shops and watching the ice skaters fall all over each other. It was a good time.
Afterwards, Tandi and I decided to ride the train back to my apartment. We were chatting and not paying close attention, and got on the wrong train. I heard the recorded announcement saying “Next stop, Martin Luther King Station,” and froze.
“Oh no!” I exclaimed. “I think we got on the wrong train.”
A man in front of us turned around and smiled, his mouth full of gold teeth. “I was wondering what two pretty girls like you were doing going into South Dallas! You better get off at the next stop and head back downtown. This part’s not safe.”
I hopped up anxiously and stood by the door. My keychain rape alarm wasn’t going to get me very far in this neighborhood and we needed to get out of there as soon as possible. As the train pulled up to the MLK Station, I looked at the schedule for the northbound trains and saw we had 13 minutes.
I started to mindlessly chatter at Tandi, to keep us both calm and appear occupied. There were a fair amount of men milling around the station – more than I would have expected at 11 PM. We were the only women… and once again there were no security guards in sight.
I may have looked relaxed on the outside, but my mind was sharply focused on watching my surroundings. In fact, I was so focused on watching that at first I didn’t register the noises… popping sounds, coming from the parking lot.
“What’s that?” asked Tandi.
“Oh, probably just fireworks,” I answered without thinking. Then I noticed grown men diving under benches, covering their heads.
“Correction! Not fireworks!” I pulled Tandi behind a concrete pillar. We held our breath and listened to the pops continue, along with yelling. It was unnerving not to be able to see what was going on, but I didn’t dare peek my head out.
“What the HELL are you girls doing in this neighborhood??” I turned my head to see an elderly black man in a beret and checkered coat.
“We took the wrong train,” moaned Tandi.
“Well it’s gonna be ok, we’ll get you out of here. It shouldn’t be long before the train gets here.” He kindly introduced himself and tried to calm us down. “They’re gone now, you can come on out from behind there.”
I ignored the request, reluctant to leave the shelter of the pillar. I watched as a black cat apathetically strutted down the middle of the tracks, apparently undisturbed by the commotion of the shooting.
An ambulance pulled up, sirens screaming. Several other bystanders approached us to talk about the event, and repeated that “girls like us” shouldn’t be in South Dallas. Tandi was reluctant to converse with strangers, but I figured the more friends we could make, the safer we’d be. I told them about how I taught at a gang-ridden high school in Pleasant Grove for three years and listened to their stories. The nice man in the beret told us about how he’d been in jail 6 times, but learned his lesson and now he was an upstanding citizen. He stood with us until the train came, then escorted us on board and sat close by until we disembarked at Victory Park. Tandi was a little nervous about him, but I knew his presence probably prevented other sketchy men from approaching.
Normally I would walk home from the Victory Park station, but I was so unnerved by the shooting that I called Ethan to pick us up. It turned out to be a good decision, because in the 100 meters between the train and the car, an angry crazy guy yelled obscenities and chased us.
What a night! I have never experienced such an ugly side of Dallas. My prayers go out to the victims of this shooting and their families, and to all those that have to deal with violence on a regular basis. I am thankful to be safe and sound and truly hope that these events will encourage the DART system to station more security guards. It probably cost a lot of money to build that train – so they may as well spend a little bit more to ensure that people can ride it safely.
*Featured image drawn by me