I have been thinking about the bus as a kind of plaza on wheels, the town square that requires an almost communal cooperation in order for it to work. In contrast to the smooth predictability of a subway ride, the bus trip, with its dips and turns, its brake jams and unexpected accelerations, forces you to acknowledge the stranger, either as someone you must work your way around in order to get to the exit, or literally anything else. It is much more intimate than a subway ride, in ways both agreeable and not. On a good day, though, and I swear this is true, it can start to feel like family.
Let me explain. The other day, I was on the La Brea bus, stopped at a light, when a serio-comic drama played out that we could all watch together from the comfort and safety of our seats. We saw an older driver at a gas station who had forgotten to replace the pump handle after she’d finished pumping her gas. The handle clanged loudly on the stained concrete tarmac as she the drove off, and remained there for only as long as it took the silver-haired man who was topping off his Mercedes to pick it up and place it back in its holder.
Only that’s not what happened. Rather, after a quick glance up from his I-phone, the man with the Mercedes went back to texting and topping off his tank.
We did not see what happened next, but apparently, disaster was avoided, and as the light turned green a spirited conversation arose. One person shook her head that certain people should not be allowed to drive. Another thought the man with the Mercedes was a dumb-ass because he would have been blown up too. Still someone else (me, in fact) thought that it was just the latest embarrassing confirmation of L.A.’s own particular suit of self-absorbed la-dee-dah.
The conversation continued thus, and as happens, my attention drifted to other things. Where else but on a city bus, I thought, could a person find such serendipity? If I had witnessed the event while by myself, it would have weighed on me, made me cynical about the city and all its inhabitants. But because I’d witnessed it together with my homies on the bus, it was no big deal, and I was grateful to them for being there, for responding, for talking about it, and not pretending like they didn’t see it or that it didn’t matter. They were there for me, and I was there for them, my bus family. It was one of those rare moments when I loved my fellow man!
But then a guy got on the bus who totally harshed my Kumbaya.
“Good morning!” the energetic, middle-aged guy shouted at anyone who would listen. I wasn’t one of them. Despite my effusions about a bus-ride being like family, there are unspoken rules of conduct and one does not get on a bus or train and start greeting everyone.
Anyway, not knowing what the dude wanted, I looked for the telltale candy bars and ear-buds that you see young men selling on the Blue Line to Compton. But no, this fast-talker wasn’t selling candy. He was selling Trump.
“I know you’re all for Bernie and Hillary,” he then set out. Guilty as charged, I thought, but still, why were my political leanings being questioned by a disruptive stranger on a bus? I tried to engage him with humor in order to defuse the situation. But that only served to provoke, and he launched into a menacing blitzkrieg of obscene political incorrectness that made my jaw drop. This had never happened to me before, and it was more than uncomfortable, it was frightening. Despite my growing sense of disbelief, I was nevertheless fully aware of the precedents – Hitler’s Brown Shirts, Mussolini’s Black Shirts, and the Brooks Bros.-clad Bushies shutting down the Florida chad count in 2000. Yes, I went there.
I wish I could say I was some kind of hero, but while I was shaken, I did not stir. I wanted to throw him off the bus, but didn’t, because a part of me refused to believe this was actually happening. Plus I’m a coward. Nevertheless, the man did get off the bus at the next stop. But for the rest of the day, I carried around a complex of uncomfortable feelings, from guilt that I had thought of violence, to shame that I had not been more clever, to anger at what the man had said and, equally, to embarrassment for being angry.
At the end of the day, I contacted one of my conservative friends, hoping to find some kind of reassurance that not everybody on the right thought this kind of behavior was okay.
“The first amendment is a wonderful thing,” my friend texted to my dismay.
But was this really just a case of a man exercising his first amendment right? Surely, there are limits to all rights. Wasn’t what he did akin to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater? What if the driver had been bothered or provoked when the guy leaned over and murmured Trump catechisms into his ear? Yes, it could have been quite dangerous.
I went to bed that night thinking that maybe a bus isn’t really a public square after all. It’s too hard to get away from someone who chooses to provoke you by yelling Trumpisms in your face. Thank God for the unspoken rules of public transit, I thought to myself, getting into bed. And as I drifted off to sleep, I thought once more of my family, the one on the bus, and hoped that they were all doing fine. Kumbaya.
— submitted by Cityslikr