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Monday, April 04, 2005

Get Off The Bus

Most people who know me well would probably say I'm usually a pretty level-headed guy; not prone to overt displays of emotion, and certainly not the sort of person you'd expect to be confrontational in uncomfortable situations.

Today was different.

I'm riding the #2 route to downtown, headed for work a few minutes after 8:00 a.m. this morning. The bus starts to pull out from a stop, and as it begins to accelerate, there's a loud "bang!" right behind where I'm sitting. I turn to look out the window, and I can see this guy running along side, furiously slapping the side of the bus as it moves down the street. After about four slaps, he's left behind, but I can just barely make him out in my peripheral vision running down the sidewalk in pursuit.

At the next stop, the guy, huffing & puffing hops in through the back door (we're not in the Ride-Free Zone yet), THEN starts in with a burst of invective at the bus driver for not stopping to pick him up, concluding his tirade with a racial epithet that I won't dignify by repeating here.

And that's when I went off on the guy.

"Do NOT insult the driver!" I said, loud enough to make sure he (and those immediately surrounding us) heard me.

"He didn't wait for me! He heard me banging on the bus!"

"You didn't start banging until after we were already moving. I was sitting right here and saw you. Don't blame the driver if you can't get to the stop in time."

Naturally, he started in with the usual "It's a free country, I can say what I want" schpeil, to which I replied, "Then I can say whatever I want about you, right?" That sort of caught him off guard for a second or two before he resorted to the inevitable Plan B, "Oh yeah, you wanna get off at the next stop and make something of it?"

"No, because obviously you're not worth making anything over."

Several more words were exchanged; his intended to provoke and mine intended to tell him in no uncertain terms that I for one wasn't going to tolerate his rudeness and bigotry. At the end of it we locked eyes: the stare-fight showdown to see who was going to flinch first. I did, but only holding his gaze long enough to make the silent point that I wasn't in the least afraid of him, but didn't think he was worth any more of my time or energy.

This all happened in less than a minute of real time, after which he got off at the very next stop, having traveled exactly three blocks.

By then, I was barely able to contain the adrenalin induced twitching -- that stuff can be pretty strong when neither flight nor fight are realistic options. I remember thinking at one point during our roughly 30 second exchange that, "Well, he could be carrying a knife or gun or who-knows-what, and I'm probably not putting myself in the best position by turning my back on him." But, frankly I was furious. I ride this bus every day -- and almost always it's the same driver, who goes out of his way to let kids cross the street on their way to school, who personally helps little old ladies (and occasionally little old men) onto the bus when they're either too proud or just barely able to climb the steps on their own without using the wheelchair lift, who smiles, and says "good morning", and announces all the stops, and basically seems like a really nice guy and a good driver to boot. He didn't deserve this jerk's insults, and for some reason it was important to me at the time to Let. The. Jerk. Know.

After he got off, and we'd started up again, the woman across the aisle made eye contact, "Thank you." she whispered, the words barely audible, but enunciating so that I could tell what she was saying just by how her lips moved. That helped a bit, although I certainly wasn't doing it for anyone else's benefit, or at least I don't think consciously I was.

My stop. I get off the bus in the heart of downtown, and take up a brisk pace to try to burn off some of the extra energy. About a half block up, coming my way is -- guess who? I don't think he saw me, or if he did he didn't give any overt indication. I crossed the street; he crossed on the other side. I continued walking down Pike toward the Market. Taking a quick glance over my shoulder I saw him following, but not too close, and again not staring in my direction. By the time I got down to First, he was gone, having either turned into the alley or into one of the little ramshackle storefronts that line the street. In any case, he wasn't following me (if he ever was in the first place), and I felt some of my tension dissipate: at least I wasn't going to get into a fight first thing on a Monday morning.

Posted byCOMTE on 2:20 PM

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