public transit

Stunning by Beth Winegarner


On Monday afternoon, I was sitting near the back of a bus headed through the south Mission. There were four or five teenage girls in the very back, being loud, obnoxious and classically teenagery. I was annoyed by the volume, but otherwise didn't have an issue with them.

But the older woman sitting across from me did. After a while, she stood up and started yelling at them: "You should show more self-respect!" "You need to show me some respect!"

The girls started yelling back: "We weren't bothering you!" "I have self-respect, what are you talking about?!" and so on. The noise level grew. And the older woman's granddaughter, who I'm guessing was about 10, started to cry, begging her grandmother to stop yelling -- and to get off the bus.

"You need to listen to your granddaughter!" one of the girls yelled.

I needed to get off at 30th and Mission. As I pushed the button to request a stop, I heard a zzzzzap! But I didn't see anything; I thought maybe I had imagined it. 

Somewhere in all the yelling, the older woman started saying she was going to shock the teen girls. And, as I got off the bus, she was in the open doorway with her granddaughter when I heard the zzazzap! again. I realized she had some sort of small stun gun. The granddaughter was on the sidewalk, sobbing, still begging her grandmother to get off the bus. 

I wanted to hug that little girl so hard, but I was too scared. 

Two moments on public transit by Beth Winegarner

Morning. I'm sitting on the bus, in one of this disabled seats, because my balance is poor, my knees are in bad shape, and most of the other seats are full. 

A man, holding a cane and getting ready to exit the bus, turns to me and says, "You should be ashamed!"

"Why?" I ask. 

"Because I'm 67 and disabled and here you are, sitting in one of these seats!" He's in the doorway now. 

"I'm disabled too, thank you!" I yell as he exits. 

(Why did I say, "Thank you?")

Afternoon. I'm on the subway, sitting in a window seat with my bag in the aisle seat next to me. A man on a cell phone is standing in the aisle, hovering. I gesture to my stuff, ask if he wants to sit, and he nods. I clear the space and he sits. 

I put my headphones on, start playing Heart's Greatest Hits on my iPod, partly because some kids are playing loud music and dancing for spare change. A few minutes later, my seatmate taps me and asks, "Where are you getting off the train?"

I hate when men I don't know ask me that. 

"Why do you ask?" I say, wary. 

"Oh! Because I wanted to take a little nap, but I want to be able to let you out, and I'm wondering how much time I have," he says, chuckling. 

I laugh, relieved. "Berkeley. You've got a little time."

I let him sleep, listening to "Magic Man," "Crazy On You," "Dreamboat Annie" and "Barracuda," and wake him gently when the train reaches my stop.