Monday, June 8, 2009

What’s the Best, Worst, or Strangest Thing You’ve Witnessed While Taking Public Transportation?

Ride with the dirty laundry on public transportation. Pay no attention to the people sharing a bus or subway with the dirty laundry. Obviously these people haven't heard a thing. Nor have they seen anything. Nor have they wondered why. These frightened people don't exist. The secret is safe with them.

—Bill Cosby

The Cos’ suggestion that black folks’ conduct while taking public transportation is an indicator of the health of the black public sphere is interesting. In the realm of public transportation, general norms of public behavior often press up against more specific black norms of respectability. Step on a bus or train in a city with a lot of black folks. You will see altruism, selfishness, conviviality, ignorance, vulgarity, and humor all on display.

You will see people assist mothers with strollers, cede seats to the elderly, and help riders lock their wheelchairs into place. You will hear “sirs” and “ma’ams” coming from kids’ mouths. You will see locals helping tourists with directions. Sometimes you will even see riders spotting the fares of complete strangers. You will see several people reading (mostly the Bible, trashy ghetto lit, and school textbooks).You will see that most people are quiet, friendly, and respectful.

You will also see people play (always terrible) rap and R & B loud enough for everyone to hear. You will hear people talking loudly--yelling really--about sex and violence. You will see people littering, leaving trash and food on the ground or seats, even though there are trash bins near. You will see people with no home training in norms of decent public behavior.

Because I am frequently disgusted by the conduct of public transportation riding ign’ants, individual instances of rude behavior, loudness, and vulgarity don’t stand out to me. What I remember vividly, though, are the moments of social policing in which black public transportation users are so fed up with ign’ant behavior, they confront the ign’ants. Two particular instances come to mind:

1.) I was riding a bus in the afternoon, right when school let out. A couple of bookish kids were being clowned by a group of their ign’ant schoolmates. An older brother stepped in and chided the ign’ants for teasing the couple. Predictably, the ign’ants started cursing the older brother, which prompted him to respond, “You never know, I may have a gun on me right now! Keep on talkin’, I might shoot up this whole damn bus!” The rest of the riders went from admiring this guy for saying something to realizing that he was an ign’ant too.

2.) A few weeks ago, I heard a man yelling as he got on the bus, “Hurry up before I knock yo teeth down yo mothafuckin throat. You stupid as fuck!” Then, a girl who as about 11 or 12 years old got on the bus and everyone realized that the man was yelling at this little girl, his daughter. The other riders just shook their heads and look exasperated as this man continued to curse and berate his daughter.

A few minutes later, a second man went to exit the bus and confronted the father, saying, “You think that was the right thing to do, huh? Man, you a punk! I’ll kick yo ass. Get off this bus on the next stop! You don’t yell at no little girl like that, you ol’ punk!”

The father was clearly scared and apologetic, telling his confronter, “You right. You right. That’s my daughter, but I shouldn’t have done that. I shoulda handled it better. You right.”

The confronter then exited the bus yelling, “Don’t never let me catch you on these streets. I’ll beat yo ass!” Once it was clear that his confronter was gone, the father tried to save face by saying loud enough for everyone to hear, “I’ll be done killed somebody in here. I woulda shot him, but I can’t go back to the penitentiary.”

Again, the elation the other riders felt upon seeing this father get punked disappeared immediately, as we were reminded that this loser was the little girl’s role model.

Respectable negroes, what is the best, worst, or strangest thing you’ve seen while riding public transportation?


Anonymous said...

Does Greyhounnd count? I overheard someone coughing up blood from San Diego to Los Angeles. I saw the evidence as I left the bus. I swore off riding such buses henceforth.

Max Reddick said...

When I am visiting D.C., I usually take the train to avoid traffic. Last year when in D.C., my kids and I caught the train over to Howard to look around. When we were leaving we boarded the train and then two young ladies ran on at the last minute. To make a long story short, these two young ladies had their giblets all out.

One had on the shortest shorts I have ever seen. They looked like blue jean bikini panties. The other had on a halter top that was obviously too small for her breasts; they hung out the side, the top, and the bottom, and each time she moved, we got a peek at them in all their glory.

For the whole of the ride, they stood directly in front of us. My adolescent son's eyes were big as saucers. My daughter's face was turned up in a look of disgust the whole trip.

The bad thing is these young ladies could have been no older than fifteen or sixteen years. I'm not sure how they got out the house dressed like this or what they were trying to prove.

A.Smith said...

I remember I was on the train (in DC) when 3 girls who were probably 14 - 15 yrs old got on. They must've been on their way to school.

They spent their entire time on the train trying to fit as many curse words into their sentences as possible and to do so as loudly as possible. It was so embarassing and unfortunate for them. Not to mention too early in the morning to have to listen to all that.

MK said...

*I live in L.A. and ride the bus everyday.

Best: A mother got on the bus with grocery bags, her little toddler, and was pregnant. Two men in the front vacated their seats (trust me this is rare) and helped her with her things. The toddler was fussy, assumingly tired (it was 9pm) so this older lady starts playing/singing to him and he calms down. That mother looked so thankful.

Worse: A young guy jumps on the bus real quick but he is acting strange. He heads all the way to the back of the bus (where I am) and scoots down low in the seat. I'm reading, not really paying any mind. All of the sudden the police are behind the bus ordering the driver to pull over. The guy jumps up and starts screaming to open the back door. It was too late though. The cops came rushing on the bus, pinned him down and arrested him. Apparently he robbed a store and caught the bus. smh

Brown Sugar said...

My young, innocent, eyes had the occasion to witness horror on the blue line in DC. This was before IPod and texting. I had a big a$$ 5lb cell phone. I had worked the day at Pentagon City’s Victoria Secret. Off from work, I took my seat and was reading the City Paper. I noticed out my peripheral, that people kept moving to the back so I looked up wondering what was going? I started scanning the environment around me and that’s when I saw him. Our eyes locked. He was sitting in front of me in those seats behind the partition. Those are the seats were people do very bad things... Never sit in those seats! Ever! This guy had his “junk” out... Out out and was- you know- workin’ it. I was aghast! Dazed and confused! It took me a moment to take in what I was seeing and to realize yeah he’s doing what you think he’s doing. It was truly traumatizing.
I got up and moved to the other end. I looked at the other passengers around me who saw what I saw but didn’t warn me…. We all had that same sickening look on our faces. I felt icky. When I got home, I took a long shower.

Months later, I had the misfortune to experience this again. Not the same guy… I guess I just had bad timing that summer.

Unknown said...

I once saw four teenage mothers with babies on their hips get into a fist fight on a bus. The bus driver stopped, told them to get off and as we sat at a red light we watched in fascination as the fight continued in the parking lot of a McDonalds. The worst was when one of the girls finally gave up on fighting and walked away, only to be pursued by another of the girls, baby still on her hip who attempted to bean her in the back of the head at a full running charge. She narrowly missed striking the other woman's baby in the skull.

Recently I watched an extremely drunk man in a wheel chair try to fight the bus driver.

Anonymous said...

Worst: on the A train in the early evening on the way to a friend's in Brooklyn. Everyone's on it at this point, elderly women, mothers & children, singles, an entire cross section of the city. Whatever. Into the car comes a barefooted crackhead woman that you can smell before you can see. And its one thing to be a crackhead in the early 90s when everyone was a crackhead. Now when most people have kicked the habit, being a crackhead is not only an anachronism, but its just plain raggedy. She clearly has issues and is in need of mental help as much as as a bath. She's wearing a long oversized t-shirt. And nothing else. And proceeds to lift the shirt up just to confirm that there's nothing else under there. To that spectacle, I only shuddered and asked myself why the MTA feels the need to charge more than $2.00 for such a ride that's often more traumatizing than the unsuspecting rider would like.

Best: saw a bunch of 10-12 y old kids during an hour when school was obviously in session doing the usual selling of candy "to stay out of trouble and keep a little money in the pocket" routine that's par for the course on the NYC subways. Loud and brash as usual, they ran thru the D train car and when we got somewhere between 145th and 125th, a middle aged black man asked them what they were doing, why weren't they in school and if they couldn't have a bit more pride about themselves since a black man was running for president? (this was during the height of election season last year) The kids responded in a typical fashion, with sucking of teeth, cursing and utter disregard for the elder's advice. He then said, "Im here with my son who's your same age, and I don't have any problems schooling you or beating your ass!" At that point, he then goes into an entire laymen's history lesson on why black folks struggled so that they wouldnt have to sell candy for change on the train (much to the delight of this history teacher). And they paid attention, & I think they actually took away some much needed life lessons and probably a a bit of some much needed fathering at that moment. Though they did run their asses into the next car when we stopped at 125th to continue hawking their wares...

Felicia said...

Worst: Approximately four months ago, on the bus in Chicago... A young woman in a security guard uniform boarded the bus whilst talking loudly on her cell phone. Apparently, her 24 year old brother had impregnated a 16 year old girl whose parent was threatening to call the matter to the attention of the local cnstabulary. So, the concerned sister of this 24 year old knucklehead says "Let that bitch call the police... I'll stomp that fuckin' baby right out of her. She ain't had no bussiness gettin' pregnant no way. I'll kill both that bitch and her baby. Shit, Ray livin' with his other baby mama anyway..." And you KNOW that there were all kinds of white folks on the bus- even though I'm a bit weary of playing the WWWPT (what would white people think) game. Still, Barack and Michelle would've been so proud...

Best:Eavesdropping on six beautiful, articulate, smart black high school kids 3 boys and 3 girls) excitedly discussing their various scholarship offers and options while sitting at the front of the bus while their knucklehead compadres cussed and clowned on the back of the bus.

KnitFloozy said...

Worst: A well dressed prostitute collecting a john during commute hours...UGH! She was not wearing any underwear and everyone knew it and sitting on the chairs like that.....just nasty!

Best: When I made the men in seats feel guilty for letting a pregnant woman stand up by yelling I know that one of you men see this pregnant lady standing here. About six of them got up and gave all the women including me a seat on a hot day...

Nicola said...

What you've described -- I've seen it all (10+ years in NYC). I don't think you mentioned, though, the homeless folk (often black) who find the farthest corner in the subway train in which to hunker down -- they usually have several seats to themselves as folks who get on the train don't want to sit too close in fear of having their noses tickled.

But the worse I've seen (as far as I can remember right now): an elderly man who didn't look like he had too many resources bleeding profusely from a bandaged leg; a dude throwing up in a corner of the train; and a white girl getting jacked by a white guy and me being too dumbfounded to say anything (I'm sure when she got home and realized her stuff was gone, a black guy got the blame... maybe).

I'm just glad I haven't seen anyone having sex or getting their butt whipped (yet).

As for that guy who thought it was a good idea to publicly scold that little girl's father... I wouldn't be surprised if she took the beating for it later.