Sunday, August 16, 2015

BUS STORY # 458 (Judging A Book By Its Cover)

Photo by Busboy

It’s not that I haven’t learned this lesson before.

I’m watching a young couple with two children board the bus. He looks like a gang-banger -- big clothes, oversized flat-billed baseball cap, and a lot of tough-looking tattoos.

She has a tattoo herself, something that looks like an elaborate roseate cathedral window filling the space between the open scoopneck of her blouse and her throat.

The older kid is maybe five, with a military haircut -- shaved sides, close-cropped on top -- but with a small shock of long hair at the back of his neck.

The other kid is an infant, brought on board in a large baby buggy.

Mom and the older kid take the forward-facing seat behind the driver. Dad is looking for a lever that will raise up the bench seat on the passenger side. He’s clearly planning to park the buggy in the spot used by wheelchair riders.

But he can’t figure out the seat, so he asks the bus driver for help.

The driver turns to look at him, at the seat, and you can see from his expression that he doesn’t want to be dealing with this. “This” being what we both anticipate will be Dad’s reaction when he explains to Dad that raising the seat is for wheelchair riders, and ABQ RIDE policy is that all strollers must be vacated and folded up during the ride. A policy which is sometimes cited, and sometimes not, the latter possibly because the driver isn’t interested in a fight or in being the heavy by making the difficult situation of traveling with children even more so.

That anticipated reaction doesn’t come. Instead, Dad turns back to the buggy and lifts the infant out of it, holds it in front of him -- I think it’s a boy -- and smiles, gives him a big kiss, then hands him to mom. It’s a gentle exchange.

Then he tries to collapse the stroller. Tries and tries and tries. He doesn’t lose his temper, or even show any outward sign of irritation. But he has no luck.

His wife asks him to take the infant and she’ll try to make the stroller collapse. I’m thinking she is essentially offering to succeed where he has failed, in front of him and the rest of us. I am thinking this is a machismo minefield, and that either she’s not thinking or else she knows her man well.

I can see the red button on the handle that she presses over and over and over while pushing down on the frame. She has no more success than her husband. She sits back down.

I expect them to give up, but dad hands the infant back to his wife, then goes after the stroller again. I’m thinking they’re gonna reach their stop before they get the thing collapsed.

He moves his hand down one of the wheel supports and just like that, the stroller folds up. He stacks it in front of the window seat on the passenger side, and takes the aisle seat.

The older boy wants his mom’s attention, and he gets it. I can see her bend down to his level, face to face, both of them smiling and talking. Dad suggests he hold the infant, and she hands it off, then resumes her interactions with her son.

Dad holds the infant high in the air, brings him down and kisses him with a loud “mwumph.” He does this several times. The infant’s face looks happy.

A little later, I see Mom and Dad talking across the aisle to one another. They are quiet, respectful of one another.

They’re still on board when I get to my stop. I head down the cross street for where my transfer will be pulling up. When I sit down on the bench, I think about what I saw, about how surprised I was, and why.

What I saw was a considerate, well-behaved, attentive family. I was surprised because I saw the gang-banger clothes and tattoos.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get past this business of “judging a book by its cover.” That’s what my grandmother called jumping to conclusions about a person based on his or her appearance.

On the other hand, she also used to say “Birds of a feather flock together.” If I’ve bought into the stereotype of thuggish menace modeled in hip hop video and cop show television, so have millions of not-inner-city and not-black youngsters who’ve adopted “gangsta style.” Couple that with a steady news stream of gang violence and it is difficult not to make the association between the style and the behaviors -- at least as a first impression.

But my experience is these behaviors are the exception. Most of the time, I see the style in kids who are, at worst, thoughtless -- that is, normal teenagers. Half a century ago, someone my age might have looked at a kid with long hair and seen an anti-American bomb-throwing radical hippie Communist.

I don’t want to be that kind of old man.

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