Back in February, I, along with several family members, took advantage of an opportunity to travel to New York City for a long weekend. While I have visited other large cities here in the U.S in the past, this was my first trip to the Big Apple. I’ll have to say that it was exciting to actually visit those places that I had heard about, and I could see the “ball” at Times Square out of our hotel window. But to me big towns are like aquariums. I like to stand outside and look in at all the weird fish, but I have no desire to be inside swimming with them. And visiting New York reminded me of all the great things that I take for granted right here in Davidson County, N.C.
One of those blessings is the ease of just getting around. Our plane landed at LaGuardia airport on Friday afternoon, and soon enough we found ourselves standing helplessly outside the terminal holding our bags. Taxis were plentiful, (which is good because we needed two), but they sure are proud of their taxi rides in New York. We piled in, and a very pleasant fellow who I could barely understand drove us toward Manhattan. He realized right away that we were from some place very far off (as was he) and he gave us a little tour as we went. Eventually he had driven south as far as he could and he had to turn right and travel west. He explained that “cross town” traffic was very bad that Friday. No kidding. I wouldn’t drive a car in New York in that traffic if you gave it to me.
If I need to go somewhere here in good old Lexington, all I have to do is just crank up my truck and head out. The ability to travel freely, at a reasonable cost, whenever I want, without delays and at a decent rate of speed is truly a privilege. A majority of folks in large cities don’t even own a car. Granted, they have trains and buses and other means of transportation, but it usually involves a lot of walking (in the weather) to get to a stop or station. Around here we get ill if we have to park more than 5 spaces from the door at Walmart. I really appreciate the freedom that comes with being able to go when and how I want.
But I haven’t always been so fortunate. I was raised on the south end of Lexington. My Dad was a long-haul truck driver and was away from home a lot, and Mom never drove, so transportation was always a challenge. I must have put a million miles on several bicycles. I rode to school, to baseball, to scouts, to get a haircut and basically anywhere I needed to go. But, when I was younger, I wasn’t allowed to ride uptown, and sometimes the weather was just too rough, so I had to find another option.
Thankfully, city leaders back then recognized the need for public transportation. At age five (believe it or not) I began riding the Lexington city bus alone. Kindergarten was almost unheard of in those days, but Mom’s cousin operated one near the old Erlanger YMCA. So, in order to get there, I rode the city bus. It stopped in front of our house and also very near the kindergarten. I had a special seat right behind the driver, and he told Mom he would keep an eye on me, and he did. Later I took the bus to Holt Elementary School. The fare was 20 cents, so I could ride all week for a dollar. The route, however, was one way to the school, so in the afternoon I had to walk home. That bus was a very important means of getting around for my whole family, and I learned a lot by riding on it.
I never understood why black folks had to ride in the back. I remember that when desegregation came they seemed happy to move up front, and I thought it was fun to ride on the bench seat in the back. I saw people get on the bus who just got off work and seemed too tired to even get up the steps. I learned that it didn’t hurt me to stand and let some of those folks sit down.
Now our county leaders have reinstituted public transportation in Lexington, and also Thomasville. Lots of folks without the means or physical ability to get around depend on those buses to make appointments of all descriptions. But I have seen people with physical disabilities standing in all kinds of weather while waiting for the next bus to arrive. I realize that public benches and bus stops have to be built to certain specifications and are expensive. However, I believe that churches, civic groups and even businesses would be willing to sponsor some bus stops if the government could provide the engineering. We need to give some of those folks a place to sit while they wait on the good ole bus.
Lee Comer is a lifelong resident of Davidson County, and he is thankful it is so easy to get around our area.