I’ve always been fascinated by public transportation. Coming from Sacramento, I always thought of it as some sort of a novelty, given the city’s sporadic and underdeveloped transit lines. Weekend trips to San Francisco excited me more for its underground BART system than anything else. Naturally, when I learned that Baltimore has a subway as well, I made it my mission to ride this. Sure, it only has one line, but this is one more than what Sacramento has.

On a humid Saturday in August, I ventured from the Project SERVE house to the nearest Baltimore Metro station, hoping to reach Mondawmin Mall by public transit. Yes, to those who have lived in big cities like New York and Chicago, my idea of adventure might seem tame, but for a California suburbanite like me, going anywhere exclusively by public transit is a big accomplishment. After I paid for my round-trip ticket and marveled at the dollar coin I got back in change, I passed through the turnstiles and waited on the platform. It was oddly empty, especially for a subway platform in the city center. I suppose it being Saturday may have explained the emptiness, but it still seemed strange that an urban subway had no more than a handful of people on the platform in the middle of the afternoon. In any case, when the train arrived, I took a seat and was impressed with how clean and modern the train car was, especially for a system over 30 years old. In this respect, Baltimore’s Metro is on par with Chicago’s “L” and San Francisco’s BART. When I got to my stop, I naively expected to walk right into the mall. However, Mondawmin had different plans for me.

While not a horribly arduous walk, the subway escalator emerged a good distance away from the mall entrance. I felt as if I had scaled half the perimeter of the parking lot before finally reaching my destination. This would have been much more manageable had it not been Baltimore in August, which I discovered has a fair share of humidity. I did my shopping and emerged with 8 plastic bags-worth of goods, admittedly too much for someone attempting to live simply. Never again was I going to forget the larger and more eco-friendly reusable bags the Project SERVE house has. Somehow, I managed to grip all 8 bags with 2 hands. Sure, I wished I had driven, but I also wanted to finish what I started. After all, many of those whom my housemates and I serve lack the luxury of a car to drive to run errands. Miraculously, I found my ticket, boarded the train, and returned back home to the Westside of downtown Baltimore. I trudged up the street with my heaps of bags, drenched in sweat from the humid air. Somehow, I made it back home to the comfort of air conditioning and reflected upon my experience.

My journey to the mall via the Baltimore Subway set the stage for my time with Project SERVE. After passing through the turnstiles with 8 bags balanced in both my hands, I realized that public transportation does not just exist to please tourists but is rather a necessary means of life for those who do not or cannot drive cars. To do this daily seems unfathomable to me in a spread-out city like Baltimore, yet many of those whom we serve do just that. Since then, I have been much more conscious about automobile usage, often opting to walk or to take public transit when I go somewhere in Baltimore. Additionally, I quickly realized that in general, Project SERVE is not a tourist experience for me but rather a year-long education in reality. If I can truly claim to be a servant, then I must live in solidarity with our clients, not just at work but also in my personal life. I cannot claim to have experienced nearly as many struggles of Catholic Charities’ most vulnerable clients, and I am blessed for this. However, because I am part of the universal human family, it is my duty to be aware of the challenges faced by the most marginalized in society. Consciousness builds empathy, and empathy fosters healthy human interaction.