Sunday, March 07, 2010

BUS STORY # 174 (Seats On The Bus)

“Hey! Hey! Hey! Step back, folks. Let the children on first.”

The little 400 is already three-quarters full, and there’s a bunch of people waiting at the stop. They surge forward when the front door opens, and that’s when the driver tells them to let the kids on first.

The first message doesn’t take. The driver is out of his seat and blocks the first boarder from getting to the fare box.

“I said step back, folks. Let the children on first. They need to get a seat with their mother.”

This time, the group gets it. The woman who was first through the door backs out and steps to one side. The group parts, and Mom shepherds two little girls to the front door and into the bus. They’re something like eight and six, pig tails and dresses, and look a bit shy. Mom has a folded-up stroller which the youngest looks well beyond.

She makes a point of thanking the driver for his consideration while taking care of the fares. She then sits down next to me on the perimeter bench seating. When she directs the older girl to the seat above on the platform, I quickly realize the situation and move over one. Mom thanks me.

I find myself sharing my seat with the purse of the woman in the next seat. She grabs it, and her body language suggests she’s irritated I’ve taken her purse’s seat.

I’m immediately reminded of a recent You Tube video of a fight between two women on a San Francisco bus. Turns out one of the women refused to move her purse from an empty seat and allow the other woman to sit down.

That fight also had a racial context. I look at the woman with the purse and think we’d have a racial, gender, and possibly a generational context to boot. Top that, SF!

Fortunately, Albuquerque is pretty laid back when it comes to race, and pretty much everything else, too. That includes seating on the bus – more specifically, the riders who’ve taken up two seats, one for them and one for their stuff. In fact, most standing riders will let empty seats go unoccupied if it means having to squeeze in between two other riders, or past the rider in the aisle seat. We’re a pretty live-and-let-live group, generally speaking.

That’s most of the time, not all of the time.

One regular recently told me about a rider who challenged another rider who didn’t want to give up the seat next to him. The regular recounts the conversation as going something like this: “Listen, I paid for a seat on the bus. Did you pay for two seats? Because if you did, I’ll stand. But I’m pretty sure you only have a ticket for one of these seats.”

He got his seat.

My experience is there’s a lot more thoughtfulness among the ridership than not. I’m thinking of the day before I began writing this. I was on my way home, standing in the aisle of a packed bus by a double seat occupied by a woman and her large shopping bag.

“Sir? Sir?”

It took me a minute to realize she was calling to me.

“Do you want to sit down?”

I thought about her shopping bag and my backpack and I told her I was fine.

She was a big lady, but she proceeded to move the shopping bag to her lap and empty the seat for me anyway. The effort was awkward, and she didn’t look comfortable when she was done. I really would rather have stayed standing. But I couldn’t ignore this act of consideration on her part, so I sat down next to her and piled my backpack in my lap.

“Thank you,” I said, and meant it.

And now I’m remembering one of the regulars who puts all her stuff in the window seat and sits in the aisle seat. She busies herself with a book or with scrolling through her mobile. But as we get closer to town and seats become less and less available, she gathers up her stuff and moves herself to the window seat, freeing up the easier-to-access aisle seat. Such awareness, such thoughtfulness, every morning, never fails to impress me.

And I remember one of the early “shorts” when I wrote about a kid who gave up his seat for me. And how there’s another story exactly like it in the queue, the only difference being some other old guy is the beneficiary of some young kid’s thoughtfulness.

Still more such stories have bubbled up as I write this. The point is that, for every time you see someone’s lack of civility, whether from thoughtlessness or a self-centered sense of prerogative, there’s a whole bunch more of people’s kindness and consideration for their co-riders.

A special salute to the driver of the 400 at the beginning of this story. I suspect looking out for the kids to the degree he did isn’t really in his job description. But it was the right thing to do. And it was a fine example for all of us.

Thank you, driver.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “Yes my bag needs its own seat” and is posted with the kind permission of Plaid Ninja. You can see this and all Plaid Ninja’s photos on Flickr at:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Old Boy, I suspect as the years move on, more and more people (including pregnant women) will be offering to give up their seat to you.
Good Story. BBBH

7:58 AM  
Anonymous martin said...

I spent a year in Tunisia and never got tired of seeing elderly ladies exert their social standing over school boys to get a seat. Seats were at quite a premium. Buses there would be crammed completely full.

One more thing about the social etiquette - Old ladies are expected to give up a seat for old men, but most men decline the offer.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

@ Anonymous: It's already happened (see Bus Story # 45 in August, 2007). Well, no pregnant women yet.

@ martin: I'd love to see how that social standing gets exerted. Those kinds of interactions are really are among the most fascinating bus stories.

I like and admire your blog. I also gather from your comment you and your family are no longer in Tunisia. Are you in the States?

3:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got one for ya:

6:56 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

I wish I'd known about the seathogs site when I posted this story! Thanks for sending this.

5:32 PM  

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