A couple years back, while riding a downtown 1 train, I came pretty close to seeing a romance begin on public transit. Not a romance like this couple who couldn't keep it in their pants on the Toronto subway. A typical clumsy attempt to join worlds. He, a rather shy young man who most of the time kept his eyes on the floor. She, a polite-looking young lady with impressive posture and a nice smile that flashed whenever his eyes fell to the floor.
So they were standing, sharing a pole, laughing, smiling, connecting, over a series of four or five stations. Eventually he told her his stop was next and he began to look nervous. In my head I assumed he was considering in his head whether to just ask her out already or toss up a limp half-wave and hate himself for the rest of eternity.
He asked for her number, and I still remember the scene because I was in the process of giving him my most heartfelt mental fist-bump when suddenly the train stopped in the middle of the tunnel.
Where it remained for approximately 17,000 years.
I can't know what he was thinking as he stood there, still sharing the pole amid the Awkwardest Silence Ever, recognizing that he'd just put it all on the line yet trying his hardest to pretend nothing unusual had happened, perhaps wondering where that Mexican musical trio who peddles for change while playing distractingly loud was about right now. But I'm confident few humans have ever felt two minutes pass more slowly.
So romance and transit make a dangerous cocktail, but that's not to say they never mix. Apparently in Philadelphia, love regularly rides the transit line. So regularly that the city's transit agency, SEPTA, has created a website where couples who met on one of the system's buses, subways, or trolleys can submit their love story - just in time for Valentine's Day.
From now through February 6 site visitors can vote for their favorite rider romance. The winning couples will have the chance to ride a "specially decorated Market-Frankford Line six-car train" for a tour of the "Love Letter Project" from the Municipal Arts Program - a series of rooftop murals that "collectively express a love letter." They may or may not also win the right to name their first-born child either Market or Frankford.
One of last year's winning couples sat across from each other on the same Norristown Line train every morning, and after about three weeks he built up the courage to talk to her. Two years later, while waiting on the platform one day, he told her to take a copy of the Metro newspaper on which he had photoshopped a picture of the couple with the headline: "Young man plans to marry sweetheart."
When she looked up he was on a knee.
That one might be hard to top, but here are a few leading contenders for this year's prize:
- One couple rode the same 38 bus for years but never spoke. She liked that the older ladies who rode the same line always gave him kisses. When they finally began to talk, a couple years later, they realized they knew a lot about each other: like that she wore "signature green gloves," or that he had a black coat with gold trim. They got married in August.
- Another couple, who caught the same 31 bus every morning, would always say hello to one another, but never took it farther then that. Then one day he disappeared. When he finally reemerged, a little while later, they "smiled at each other like where have you been?" They got engaged last Christmas.
- This couple met while part of a "rowdy group of reverse commuters" who rode the R-5 Lansdale line back in the early '90s. One day one of the women asked the other about music, and it turned out she'd made a 90-minute mix tape of the same U2 song over and over again. The first woman — with apologies to Bono — had found what she was looking for.