What was a young mother with a toddler doing at 1:00 a.m. at a bus stop on Brighton Avenue? That was what I asked myself early Wednesday morning as I headed home from work.
I worked late preparing Morning Edition for WBUR and was driving home, when I spotted a woman sitting in a bus shelter holding a sleeping child across her lap. I put my car into reverse, backed up, and lowered my passenger side window. I shouted to her: "Are you heading toward Oak Square? Because I'm going that way, and the buses are really slow because of the snow." She said she was, and I offered her a ride.
I didn't have a child’s car seat, but certainly this was safer than leaving her sitting on that bench with temperatures in the teens. She piled into the back seat with her sleeping daughter, who was dressed in snow boots and a pink parka. Over the engine, I could hear the girl softly snoring. I cranked up the heat, and we took off toward Brighton.
As we drove, the young mom told me that she had taken several buses that day. She said she works in food services at MIT, had bused to her mother's Dorchester home after work to pick up her daughter, and had been on buses for two more hours. She said she was waiting for the number 57 bus for the final leg home.
Just before Oak Square, she had me turn right off the bus route and we headed uphill on a very narrow street with cars parked on both sides. I asked her if that turn is where the 57 bus drops her off and whether she normally walks the rest of the way. She said yes. It was a very steep and snowy hill, and I commented that she must have very strong arms to carry her sleeping daughter up that hill. She told me that sometimes she just can't carry her, especially with all the snow. She said she has to wake up her little girl and make her walk up the hill. "She doesn't like that," the woman said.
"How old is she?" I asked.
We traveled about a quarter mile, all up hill. Toward the top, my front wheel drive car could barely move; the wheels were spinning in the snow. At the peak of the hill on the left, the young woman pointed out where she lives: a large brick building that looks like a former school. She told me that it's a shelter.
White collar bosses like mine tend to understand if a skilled employee is late ... Not so for low-income heads of households, those who have no choice but to depend on a broken transit system, and who live in fear of being easily replaced.
With all the snow lately, we've rightly heard from commuters about the hassles of getting to and from work, but many of us have options that this mother can only dream of. Last week, I took a taxi to WBUR when the snow was too much, and WBUR put the staff up in a nearby hotel for two nights so that we could cover the blizzard. Now that I've dug out my dependable car, which I can afford to have, I can drive myself to and from work. White collar bosses like mine tend to understand if a skilled employee is late because of public transit breakdowns. Not so for low-income heads of households, those who have no choice but to depend on a broken transit system, and who live in fear of being easily replaced.
This young mother, trying to do right by her child, is a reminder that the day-to-day mechanics of being a member of the working poor is a ton of work. Even before clocking in to her job, she faces obstacles most of us never have to think about, and after clocking out, she and her little girl spend hours on buses only to face one last uphill climb. And then they do it all again the next day.