Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fight On The Bus

Somedays the bus just doesn't want you.

Yesterday was one of those days. I could taste it in the air. Chaos was brewing on Muni and I was destined to feel the wrath.

All that needs to be said about my destination is that it was in Potrero Hill (south of Market St., east of the Mission), I had never been there before, and I needed to be there on time. I knew it would be tough, so I gave myself a lot of leeway. My first plan of attack was to take the new T line along the Bay, because it runs out of the other main stations under Market St. and its above-ground stops are probably easier to spot. I spent fifteen minutes watching the screen in the station that tells you which lines are coming, and the T never showed up at all, so I figured it must not have been running at that time (2 p.m.). On to Plan B.

I looked at a Muni map and it appeared that the 19 bus would get me pretty close to where I wanted to be. I stood out on Market St. and only had to wait two or three minutes before the 19 came. I sat down near the back and congratulated myself on my quick resourcefulness. After a couple of strange turns, I suddenly found myself smack in the middle of the Tenderloin. "When's this line going to turn around?" I began thinking. Eventually it sank in that I was on the right line but headed in the wrong direction. I knew this would happen; that's why I'd wanted to just take the rail line and not have to worry about ending up in the Tenderloin by accident. Well what now? The bus lurched forward at an agonizing crawl, finally making its way up to Polk. I saw another bus coming in the opposite direction. Maybe it was the 19, I figured. I quickly got off and tried to dash across the street. Sure enough, it was the 19. Salvation! The green light was unusually long, however. The light finally turned yellow, but the bus rode right on through. "Well, I'm close and surely it'll stop and I'll be able to run up to the door," I surmised. Oh no. The bus didn't stop. Apparently not one person was waiting at the stop to get on, and not one person was waiting on the bus to get off. The bus went bye-bye.

As I stood around waiting for the next 19, a sketchy guy kept fidgeting with a little box on top of a nearby trash can. After about 12 minutes, the next 19 began riding up. The sketchy guy finally walked over and displayed the box to me, which contained two watches, and made a noise which communicated that an offer was being made. I mumbled something incoherent and barely managed to squeeze into the front of the bus, which was packed. I took my bag off and put it on the floor, per Muni etiquette, and an old lady said, "That's my knee." Apparently I hit her knee with my bag. I grumbled "Sorry" and tried to move further back, which of course is tricky when the bus is moving, but I have become a master at such maneuvers and I did my best. Finally! I was on the right bus, and I was actually moving in the right direction. I had to pinch myself to believe it.

After a couple of blocks, a cluster of people got off and I was able to sit down near the back, which happened to be populated by a boisterous group of African-American high school kids. I had my headphones on so I didn't really hear what they were talking about, but it seemed lively. A few blocks later, a sleazy middle-aged white guy sat down right next to me - and I mean he sat down right next to me. I could feel him leaning into my body. He wasn't looking at me, and he didn't say anything to me, so I just stared straight ahead and pretended I was too braindead to notice. "Just a few more minutes and I'll hopefully be there and this nightmare will all be over," I kept telling myself optimistically.

The man suddenly began talking to the high school kids. Did they know each other? He had a curiously thick Eastern European accent. The kids and the man began laughing. Apparently he was flirting with a particularly chubby black girl. "I jerk off to you," he said. Then he spat on the floor. Every stoplight seemed an eternity. As the girl got up to leave, the sleazy guy reached across me and tried to shake her hand. "What is your number?" "I don't have a number," she said, amused. He turned and put his hand on my shoulder for a few seconds. Did he understand that I was a stranger? Did he think it was normal to lean against strangers on a bus? Hard to say. Whatever, just a few more blocks and I could ditch this sordid scene once and for all.

Suddenly another sleazy white guy, let's call him Sleazy Guy #2, got on the bus, and sat right across from me and Sleazy Guy #1. "Hey what's your problem man?" Sleazy Guy #2 said, apparently to Sleazy Guy #1. "What is your problem buddy?" Sleazy Guy #1 replied. "Hey I'd appreciate it if you stopped staring at my crotch." Upon hearing these words, I realized that my effort to stay on the bus until I reached the appropriate stop would be in vain.

Now, if I had been faced with this exact situation when I first began living in the city, I probably would have stuck it out for a little while longer and waited to see how the situation panned out. But being more experienced in the ways of Muni, I knew that such blunt, unprompted hostility was my cue to make a hasty exit. I got up and headed for the front of the bus. Only a few seconds later, the brawl was on. My judgement was expert. The black high school kids began hollering, but I think even they were slightly taken aback by the suddenness of the violence. The bus driver shouted, "What the hell is going on?" As she stopped the bus, I made my way out the door and began walking down the street. Other people began getting off. After two minutes, I turned around and the bus was still there at the same spot. Staying on the bus wouldn't have even saved me time.

I imagine the police were called, but I didn't stick around to find out. Who knows? Maybe the sleazy white guys worked out their differences.

My ride back was uneventful.


k'd cowan said...

Ahhh, now *this* is why I read blogs. Great story!

Little Earl said...

Glad to be of service.