--Ashley's reaction to my commuting story from the weekend
Last Friday night I admitted: "I can kvetch like there's no tomorrow. Larry David's my idol." It's true: More often than not I can't keep my opinions to myself. With company I'll mention my two cents to the group -- my mom and I usually can't go a bus ride or a few subway stops without going back and forth about the people around us -- but when alone the pressure to call people out is greater than the social mores that demand I keep my mouth in check. This outspokenness has gotten me into trouble in the past, and I even wrote about one incident that deeply offended me as a Noo Yawker.
This morning I told Ashley -- we also complain about people on the train -- a story about yesterday morning's bus ride from Trader Joe's because she had tweeted: "The subways were empty of annoying teens because of the holiday!"¹ Here it is:
You know the tiered buses? So I'm sitting in the first seat above the step, and there's a woman sitting in the last seat before the step, right below me. She's got a huge bag and a huge umbrella, both in the way of anyone who wants to sit in the back. These three kids come on the bus, and one has a rolly bag with him. Two of them scoot to the very back row, but the one with the bag is struggling to get around this woman. I say something like: "Too bad she can't give you some room," and the kid says: "Mind your business and shut your mouth, white girl."And Ashley replied with the above quote in bold, reminding me of a high-school incident about which I wrote an essay for creative writing. Here it is, and you'll note that on both of these occasions I wasn't the one who brought up race; skin color doesn't matter to me, stupidity does:
I start yelling at him: "The woman's being inconsiderate. Why are you starting an argument with me when I'm on your side?" "Just turn around, white girl," -- he had reached the back row by now and was Hispanic -- repeating, "Mind your business, and shut your mouth." Can you believe that?
Usually, my morning subway ride to Briarwood guarantees nothing: no delays, no breakdowns, just an hour to people-watch. I sit on the train, this day an E with gray seats, waiting for something to happen. Little did I know that this event would include me. At Roosevelt Avenue, a man walks onto the train. He carries a bag, a newspaper, and a cup of coffee. He looks slightly disheveled, but no more so than someone who just rushed through the turnstile and down the stairs to catch a train.¹ Ashley and I, both native Noo Yawkers, are of the same mind when it comes to commuting. Bitchcakes and I too agree on many points but differ when it comes to the proposed split of the B61 route. She is in favor because splitting the route may prevent delays in the line -- I'll believe it when I see it -- and I am opposed to the split, which will require a transfer and add time to my current one-seat half-hour bus ride from Trader Joe's on weekend mornings.
He slings his bag under the bench, puts the newspaper where he wants to sit, and places his coffee near me, in that private, courteous space between people sitting next to one another. This coffee cup, I add, is open and full; perhaps he had a sip from the Greek-themed vessel earlier. He does not sit down. He fixes himself, specifically his trench coat, making his clothes unbunched. He does this for longer the period of time that it takes for regular straphangers. Eventually, he sits.
The whole time my eyes glance from him straightening himself out to the open cup of coffee. The black bitter liquid undulates in tandem with the train car. Anxious of spills and stains, I move to the seat opposite me instead of suggesting he move the cup to the floor or re-positioning it it myself.
"Somebody hates the black man!" he yells. I notice his scarred face for the first time. He speaks with difficulty, but I do not know the cause of the disability.
"It's foolish to put an open cup of coffee on the seat. It might spill," I respond.
"Foolish, huh? Now the black man's stupid?"
"Well, yes. In this case he is." Perhaps I had acted slightly out of line, but I am furious at his reaction and accusation, that a seventeen-year-old student has anything to do with the centuries-old, incorrect belief that skin color makes one group of people superior or inferior to another.
He attempts to gain support from others on the car. "Y'all racist. Y'all hate the black man. What did I do to you?" He keeps talking, but no one on the train pays attention.
By the time the train arrives at Union Turnpike, the argument has ended. Another scene of flash-in-the-pan commuting craziness.