Topography & the T

Midday, random Thursday: I got on the T at Gateway station, just off of Stanwix street Downtown. I sat and started reading my library book club’s, book of the month, “Between The World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ve had to read it in small doses because the things he writes about tend to hit me pretty deep. He makes me think about my body and the ways I and others with brown skin move through this world, through this city, and its many unique neighborhoods. The ways I’m perceived, or not thought of at all. And all I must overcome before I even open my mouth.

I stopped reading long enough to notice a black man wearing sunglasses wheeling his mountain bike onto the train at the Wood St. Station. He wore blue jeans with an interesting limegreen embroidery pattern decorating the hem of the pants. More flashy than the clothing I see on many brothas in Pittsburgh. I couldn’t help but notice that the shades were kept on his face, despite the fact that we were in an underground station.

I went back to reading my book until we got to the 1st street station. It’s the first station that runs above ground as you’re heading out of downtown. Diagonal streaks of water started to form along the train windows indicating that it was windy and raining heavily. It was a classic Pittsburgh summer shower. Torrents of water came down as we rode from 1st Street, across the river to the Station Square T station. The sky and the river looked like one gray-blurry mass as we crossed.

It was raining even more heavily on the south side of the river. Water gushed from downspouts.

The man with the bike said aloud “Man, as soon as you cross a river the weather changes!”

Still wearing his sunglasses, he held up a sheathed umbrella and said to me, “I’m gonna have to bike with this open.”

“Just wait and see, the weather will probably be totally clear on the other side of the mountain.” I said, gesturing to the tunnel that connects the south side and downtown to the hilltop neighborhoods at South Hills Junction and beyond.

Sure enough, the sun was beginning to shine as we emerged from the tunnel. The ground was wet, it had clearly rained here too. But the droplets were fading. As the man wheeled his bike off the train, he stopped by my window, smiled and gestured to the clouds. I couldn’t make out what he said then because the train was pulling away. But as I got off at my stop and walked up the block to my house I started to feel for him on his bike. The drenching rain had been replaced by a searing hot sun, and as my mom used to say “air you could cut through with a knife.” Which means more rain is to come, and more unpredictable spots of precipitation divided by the mountains or the rivers.

It’s like Mother Nature sees Pittsburgh’s socially, economically, racially, and topographically divided neighborhoods, then contributes to the insularity with welcoming or foreboding weather.

But I’m in it, not of it. Right? Like the man on the mountain bike, all geared up with his sunglasses and his umbrella, I’m moving through the neighborhoods and the terrain, ready for whatever. Right?


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