Planes, trains and automobiles. No matter how you get there, all of us have a commute to work. Even if it’s 20 steps to a video tele-conference from home (lucky bastard), it’s a commute from your bed. I split my commute. Sometimes I drive out to client sites in New Jersey, occasionally I’m one of the lucky bastards who gets to work from home, and other times I get to take the good old express bus into Manhattan. Whenever commuting requires me to leave the house, it’s inconvenient. However, express bus delays in the morning are always welcome. The extra half hour of sleep and built-in excuse can make your day on a rainy commute. Regardless of your method of transportation, coming home, all commuters hope for the same thing: quick and painless.
The social norms of an express bus are fascinating. Setup with two seats on either side of the aisle, you better make sure you take the last empty two seat set, yes the one with the gum on it, before sitting next to another person. You DO NOT talk on the phone. You do not talk to the stranger sitting next to you. If you know the person sitting next to you, you talk in a quiet whisper. Basically, keep to yourself, keep quiet, and don’t annoy everybody else.
The norms are simple enough to follow, so when they get broken, it’s annoying. I get on the bus far enough uptown that I get to pick my seat location – 4th or 5th row, left side, full window. (If you’re an express bus regular, you understand.) Ready to chill out and nod off a bit before getting home, my hopes were quickly squashed. A loud commotion flew back from the front two rows breaking up my serenity. A large boisterous woman began yelling from the second row, “I pay $5.50. I will not move.”
Immediately, my mind drew back Rosa Parks, but it was 2008 and there really is no reason for a person to move on the bus. Curiously, I poked my head just barely over the seat in front.
The large loud woman begins violently shoving the seat in front of her. While the calm collected well dressed businessman sitting in the front row inches forward to avoid the shoving of his seat back, turns around, and responds in a smooth soothing tone, “Ma’am the seat is broken and in a permanent reclined position, I can’t put it up.”
“I PAY $5.50. I SIT HERE. AND YOU NEED TO PUT YOUR SEAT BACK UP.” The violent shoving of the man’s seat continues.
“Ma’am, I paid $5.50 as well, and while I would gladly put up the seat if it were possible, I also have a right to leave it in the recline position.” His first mistake was probably trying to appeal to reason.
“Why don’t we switch seats, that way you won’t have any potential for a seat to be reclined in front of you.”
“I WILL NOT MOVE, I PICKED THIS SEAT. I do not want your seat.”
“That’s fine ma’am, but you cannot shove someone’s seat,” he states as he turns around now clearly looking for reinforcement from me.
“Can I push his seat?”
I had tried so hard to remain unnoticed. I have no place in this argument, but I timidly and reluctantly responded, “Umm, no ma’am.”
“Oh, that’s how it is.”
The man, a bit more sternly now, “I offered you my seat, now sit here or stop shoving my seat.”
“No. I pay $5.50 to sit in the second row, and I don’t want my seat back reclined, and I want your seat back up.” It was like watching a small child trapped in a large middle age woman’s body throw the best temper tantrum of their life. The shoving starts again.
The bus stops – not at a bus stop. Still with only three passengers, the bus driver stands up, and tells the lady the seat is broken, and the shoving needs to stop. She starts her $5.50 rant, to which the bus driver, as politely as possible, tells her to change her seat or get off the bus. She tells him, she only sits in the 2nd row, and will be leaving the bus. She picks up her 7 bags and walks off at the next stop.
This was on Monday. I managed to avoid both the businessman and the large loud seat “shover” for the next couple of days. Thursday, I get on the bus, and sitting upright in her seat is my loud adversary. I avoided eye contact, but hear her say, “Going to try and ignore me.” I didn’t know she was talking to me until I started hearing a skewed recount of the Monday’s events. She was retelling her version of the story to the current bus driver and anyone in the front who would listen. She pointed me out several times. People looked at me. It felt like the bus came to a screeching halt and was now crawling its way back to Staten Island. My fellow bus riders hearing the biased recount of events continued to ever so slowly try and slyly catch a glimpse of me. An eyebrow curled up from the guy in the third row, a stare from the man sitting across from me. I knew I was being judged. I felt that unavoidable sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Knowing I hadn’t done anything wrong, I still had the gut wrenching almost, “What the hell happened last night? Why me?” sensation running through my veins. Fellow bus riders were trying to catch a glimpse of the bitch who thought it was okay for the $500 suit to recline his seat. Finally, the man sitting next to me, who had been working up the courage to talk to the stranger next to him asked, “Is that true?” What choice did I have. I was frozen – I had no response. I didn’t want to be berated again. I just wanted to get off the bus and get rid of this upended feeling in my stomach. I simply rolled my eyes, and shook my head no. I walked off the bus with all eyes on me. For the simple fact that I agreed with a man who said she shouldn’t shove his seat. I had pissed off the wrong person.
I take the x12 bus maybe a total of five weeks out of the year. This happened over a year ago, and I still sometimes see the businessman and large middle age woman who stares and continues to point me out to fellow bus riders as the smug bitch who thinks it’s okay to recline a seat.