Sunday, May 06, 2007

BUS STORY # 31 (Animal Control)

I try reading when I’m waiting for the Yale bus, but most of the time I’m distracted by the regulars or the street traffic. On this particular morning, I spotted a woman walking her dog south on Yale on our side of the street. Strong, magnificently-built Amazon of a woman in yellow nylon running shorts and a purple runner’s vest. Wraparound sunglasses, one of those plastic sunshades, and an ipod. And, of course, the dog on the leash.

I’m not good about dogs, but this one looked like it was in the Husky family, with golden fur. And I saw it lunge forward the same time I heard a cacophony of barking. To the right of the bus stop, a second dog, slightly smaller, more indeterminate breed, but also golden-haired, was also lunging and barking. Its keeper was lying on the ground, arms stretched out across the sidewalk, holding on to the leash with both hands. His T-shirt was faded, his pants torn. Tattoos wound up both arms. He was hatless and balding. Hard to believe I hadn’t seen him until this moment. In retrospect, I figure I’d filtered him out.

The woman pulled her dog up smartly. She called out commands, but her dog continued lunging at the other dog and barking. The guy just kept hanging on to the leash while his dog kept after her dog. The woman quickly figured out the guy wasn’t able or willing to pull in his dog, so she maneuvered her dog back, then out further in the street, and around him. She’d negotiated this maneuver successfully and was down the street some ten yards or so when the guy lying across the sidewalk yelled “Get your damn dog outa here! Get that damn dog offa the street! He don’t belong here!” She stopped, turned toward him with an expression that even with sunglasses you could see was gonna blowtorch him off the planet, paused. I think she must have realized he was descumpuesto and had the good sense to resume her walk down the street without responding. The crowd of us watched this whole scene play out in silence.

Shortly afterwards, the same voice yelled, “You gotta cut that ____ out, y’hear?” The bald guy was sitting up, legs scissored out, the dog standing between the blades wagging his tail. “You gotta cut that ____ out right now!” he yelled at the dog’s face. The dog looked delighted to be getting so much of his master’s attention.

When the bus came, a long line of us boarded. It was standing room only this morning. As the last person boarded, the bald guy jumped to his feet and moved through the open doors with his dog.

“You can’t bring that dog on the bus,” the driver told him. The bald guy argued. The bus driver was unrelenting. The bald guy pleaded. He said it was just for a few blocks. The other drivers always let him ride with his dog. The driver held fast. The bald guy was sweating. He stuck a dollar in the fare box. The driver told him he’d just lost a dollar because he couldn’t bring the dog on the bus and he couldn’t get the dollar back out of the fare box. More arguing, more pleading. The rest of us were riveted, but were also wondering what it was going to take to get this guy off the bus and get us moving. The driver must have been wondering the same thing. He finally relented.

The guy and his dog worked their way through the standing passengers to the back door area. Nobody said anything for a while. Then one of the guys up on the back platform said, “You’re lucky the driver wasn’t a hard-ass.” The guy next to me reached out and petted the dog. The dog wandered up the steps of the platform and started sniffing one of the passengers. He stood up and said to the bald guy, “Get that dog out of my face right now.” His voice was angry and it meant business. He was a late middle-aged black guy. Scenes of Birmingham and Selma flickered black and white through my mind, and I couldn’t help wondering if I were seeing a personal or cultural response to being at the business end of a white man’s dog. The dog must have sensed the situation because he returned to the bald guy on his own. True to his word, they got off a couple of stops later.

The bus conversation came alive after that. “I’m sure there’s a law that says you can’t bring a dog on the bus.” “Think of the liability if that dog had bitten somebody.” And so forth. I got to the office thinking I’d’ve been more relaxed listening to NPR and fighting the traffic this morning.


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