Thursday, September 9, 2010

People who've made a difference in my life

Rosa N. 

Many years ago, when we first moved to our neighborhood, one of its charming features was that one of the elevator operators in the train station decorated his elevator. At Christmas there were lights, at Halloween there were ghosts. There were homemade posters of snapshots of various people riding the elevator. And the man who did all this was a jazz connoisseur who played CDs on his boom box -- not at an obnoxious noise level -- during the minute-long ride up or down. 

It was a real neighborhoody thing.

Then the transportation authority got wind of it, and told their employee that he had to take everything down. The lights were a fire hazard, they said. The photos and music were an invasion of privacy. It wasn't standard. It wasn't right.

The neighborhood was dismayed. In fact, the neighborhood was angry. Someone name Rosa organized a protest, and one of Eldest's and Big Guys earliest memories is of marching around near the train station with signs, chanting slogans asking for the pictures and music to be reinstated.

There was press coverage, but it didn't make any difference. The transportation authority said no, and since the powers that be are appointed rather than elected there, there wasn't much pressure that could be brought to bear. We were sad.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I met Rosa again through a community group in which I'm active. I liked her commitment to making the neighborhood a better place; I daresay I probably imbibed a drop or two of zeal for community-building from her, though I had infusions from many other people.

Rosa's an artist, so her serve-the-public activities tend to be different from mine (I focus more on family events). We ran into each only occasionally until I somehow got Shanghaied into being on the steering committee of a local parks group of which she is a member. I found that I enjoyed working with Rosa; she's a peacemaker, yet has a spirit of determination that gets things done.

And then last year something happened that simply flattened me in awe. A series of posters showed up in our train elevators, posters of paintings by local artists. It turned out that for the past seven years Rosa has continued to meet with the muckety-mucks at the transportation authority, working to get some sort of community representation back in the elevators.

Seven years. I had to completely recalibrate my definition of perseverance.

Seven years of negotiations. Seven years of meetings with bureaucrats. I asked Rosa how on earth she did it. "I learned to smile a lot," she said, mildly.


So local artists get paid for allowing their work to be shown on the posters. Commuters get visual variety. The elevators look nicer. And one woman -- Rosa -- did what a hundred of us with only a week's worth of commitment could not: she got the transportation authority to change their rules. She did it with smiles, determination, and a lot of perseverance.

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