A Community of Commuters

This weekend the Dallas Morning News printed a fun article about a social network of women commuters on DART. Their membership is up to 50 women, and in addition to visiting during their daily commutes, they meet for a business networking lunch once a month.

I know here at home, Express route riders often get to know one another and form a small community of sorts. That’s a trend I think will spread to MetroRail, too, once it’s going. I’m pretty sure we could come up with a snazzier club name than DART’s “Blue Line Ladies Lunch Bunch.” The MetroRailers? The Red Line Red Hots? Red Line Rogues? The 5 o’clock Sidecars?

Check out the full article from the Dallas Morning News, behind the cut.

Dallas Morning News – January 25, 2009
Women extend DART commute into a network

Judy Appelman and Darlene Bennett have learned to make connections while making connections.

They’ve turned the daily trek from Garland to downtown into a business network for female DART warriors. Membership in the dues-free legion, the Blue Line Ladies Lunch Bunch, currently stands at nearly 50 women ages 32 to 65.

In addition to communing while commuting, the group meets each month at a lunch spot downtown to socialize with purpose. Someone needs to sell her house. Another needs to find one. Several, including Appelman, are looking for jobs.

More than half of the members are legal assistants and paralegals.

“The only way we’re going to survive in this world of new economic realities is by networking with each other,” says Appelman, whose hours as director of marketing for an architecture firm were recently pared to part time. “There are 48 people who now know I’m looking for a job.”

Sometimes commuters form social groups, but as far as DART knows, this is the first time a business network has coalesced.

“This group has taken on a whole different dynamic,” says DART spokesman Morgan Lyons. “This is really cool.”

It started last April when Bennett, an executive assistant for an oil and gas chief executive, asked Appelman how she could get to know other women on the train. Bennett, who moved here from California to take care of a seriously ill sister, was “starving for friendship,” she says.

Appelman and Bennett set a lunch date for the next week. Becki Woodward, who works in the purchase and sales department of Southwest Securities, overheard their plans and invited herself along. Over Mexican cuisine at Iron Cactus, the idea for a monthly group lunch of Blue DARTers blossomed.

“We started by gathering e-mails on the train,” Appelman says. “It was truly that simple. We’re not selective at all.”

Women only

Guys can’t join, Bennett says in hushed tones, as if that were illegal.

“If somebody loses a job, maybe somebody else knows of a job,” Woodward says. “I wish the whole world were like this. We’re all helpmates.”

Last Thursday, nearly two dozen train trekkers gathered at Enchilada’s on Elm Street, where the conversation centered on how to expand the club’s just-launched Web site. More detailed contact information on everyone would be helpful. Perhaps they should start a reading club. A list of goings-on downtown and where to park cheapest at night would come in handy.

Most get an hour for lunch – but not necessarily the same hour. Forewarned, Enchilada’s manager Toni Lopez was happy to accommodate the come-and-go crowd.

They came in small batches beginning at 11:30 a.m. (coinciding with train arrivals at Akard a block away), ordered as they sat down and left when they had to. The last woman caught the Blue Line’s 1:23 p.m. northbound.

The group is thinking about doing an after-work happy hour at Mockingbird Station because some can’t get away at lunchtime.

There are other benefits. “If someone has car trouble when she gets back to the station, she knows who she’s ridden in with that afternoon and can call for help,” Appelman says. A half-dozen or so with children at Texas A&M University formed an Aggie Mom subgroup.

“Instead of reading, people feel free to strike up conversations,” Bennett says. “I’ve met some of the nicest ladies on the train and have been blessed in getting to know them.”

A rainbow

It’s become an endeavor of the heart for Bennett and Appelman, who would like to help start Red Line and Green Line groups.

The folks at DART think that would be just great.

“It shows how transit can create community, a sense of ownership that you can’t get while riding alone in your car,” Lyons says.

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