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Every morning at 8:05am, we leave Cabra Hall at Loyola University to catch the 8:10 streetcar at St. Charles and Broadway towards S. Carrollton. Observation number 1: the 8:10 streetcar is a myth—a white elephant of sorts. After about a week, we learn that sometime between 8:05 and 8:20, a streetcar will probably roll through, rocking back and forth and buzzing at us to hop off the tracks. We board the archaic streetcar, park ourselves next to a window—for chino-style pants and the New Orleans heat do not mix—and pray that we don’t hit so many red lights that we miss our next bus.

Let me tell you about the streetcar. It’s slow, hot, rocks precariously from side to side, and has been around for almost a century. But it serves its purpose, and I can’t help but feel a little bit like Blanche DuBois every time I step on. Yet at the same time, they’re a bit of an obstacle. New Orleans’s swampy terrain causes the sidewalks to upturn, making them impossible to run or bike on. So instead, people run or walk their dogs on the tracks where it’s flat, dodging the occasional streetcar. My supervisor also says that she’s seen the streetcar hit plenty of cars that cut in front of it to turn left during her commute. The streetcar just can’t stop fast enough. The streetcar crawls down the median of St. Charles Ave, literally clashing with emblems of an increasingly fast-paced and modernized society we live in. It’s an apt illustration of a conflict between past and future—an imperfect coexistence between old and new New Orleans.

Ten to fifteen minutes later, the streetcar screeches to a stop and we switch to the 39 bus. I think it’s safe to say that I have learned more about the people and dynamic of New Orleans from public transportation than anywhere else thus far. I’ve seen a woman get on the bus without enough change and explain to the driver that she’s starving and doesn’t have enough, only to be turned away. I’ve seen a kid try to sneak by with an expired bus pass. Another time, a woman got on the bus and struck up a conversation with an elderly woman, encouraging her to “just keep praying” for good health and good fortune. We’ve chatted with a sixty year-old man (not conjecture, he told me) standing around drinking malt liquor at the bus stop at 4:30 pm about partying and his love for antiques. We’ve seen a mix of optimism and suffering.

I get on the bus and I’m acutely aware of the race/wealth disparities in New Orleans. It’s common for us to get on a crowded bus and be the only two white people there. I’m coming to a new understanding of my own race and inherent privilege, but as of yet am still unsure how to act accordingly. When we wait 40 minutes for a bus that’s AWOL in pouring rain that has soaked through all layers of clothing, we can bail and call an Uber back to Loyola. That’s not the reality for the majority of the people we encounter on the bus, who empty their pockets into the ticket machine and are reliant on a royally unreliable system to get to work, home, or to appointments. One might argue that it’s in keeping with a southern culture of never being in a rush to get anywhere. But maybe, to a certain extent, this tendency is perpetuated by an imperfect transportation system that disproportionately plagues low-income individuals.