Some five days after the Camden, New Jersey police force laid off half of its officers, commuters hurried from one train to another across the limbo known as the Walter Rand Transportation Center, the unfortunate hub connecting the Philadelphia-bound Patco train with Trenton-bound Riverline lightrail.
Known as "Drug Alley," as pointed out in this week's Philadelphia Weekly, the transportation terminal is a hotbed of narcotics trafficking, and the location of choice for junkies and homeless alcoholics to dry out and mingle. Commuters rush through the foyer to catch their trains to work, passing amidst and through the morning stirrings of those who congregate along the walls of the station, who for their part ignore the rush-hour traffic and carry about their own intimate affairs. If a commuter were to slow down to listen, he would become privy to the social underpinnings of the people assembled, as if walking through a stranger's house during a dinner party, hosted in the seventh circle of hell.
Camden, New Jersey lies across the Delaware from Philadelphia. The iconic Ben Franklin Bridge spans its breadth from bank to bank, serving as a pedestrian and vehicular conduit between the two states. From Independence Center and the Liberty Bell, the bridge arcs over the vast waterway and descends into the belly of Camden, Philadelphia's long-neglected and decidedly uglier sister.
Enveloped in tweed and wool, under hats and scarves, commuters try to get from Point A to Point B quickly, preferably without touching anything. Loud arguments, heavy eyelids, slurring, heavy tongues, gaunt cheeks and hollow eyesockets characterize the Center's denizens who often seem to know each other and who frequently complain of impending court summons that they discuss loudly on the trains.
Five days or so after Camden's police force laid off half of its officers, five police officers stand at the southbound lightrail platform. One of them idly kicks a pile of snow. Inside the station a 22-year-old girl slouches on a metal bench, eyes glazed atop deep, dark bags, under heavy closing lids, a graduate of Riverside High School, 15 miles up the line. Another ghost, held under the heady, drug-filled sea of this place, sucked into the potent vacuum of depair, recession, apathy and unemployment that the lightrail has become.