Monday, October 06, 2003

WULAD vs. The Old People
For reasons I will never begin to fathom, the cosmos has recently chosen to throw in my general direction some of the Bay Area’s most ornery, belligerent senior citizens (and “citizen” is an extremely charitable designation). I present, for your incredulous perusal, three examples of these Silver Shriekers, in the hope that you might gain some appreciation of the creeping menace our Cherished Elders represent...

Route: 1 California, outbound
Time: Monday, 6:30 p.m.
The California bus during rush hour resembles a roller-coaster, except that riders are usually standing, tightly yet awkwardly packed, and not buckled in; therefore flying limbs, briefcases, or small children are not an uncommon sight. It climbs and descends some of San Fran’s steepest hills—somehow the intrepid MUNI drivers manage to slam on the brakes even while driving up them—so at any given moment a passenger may be thrown forward, backward, or sideways, often with extremely comedic results, except when they land on you. This particular day I’m standing, sardine-fashion, near the front of the bus, when a guy in his early 20s steps on the bus with a briefcase and a soda can. I hear a piercing voice coming from the seniors/disabled seats, in front of and below me.

Shrill Old Lady: Hey! You can’t have an open soda on the bus!

Soda Guy: It’s almost empty, don’t worry.

SOL: What?! You can’t have soda on the bus! Put it away! Put it away!
[SG shakes his head and turns to face away from SOL.]

SOL: This stupid guy won’t put his can away! You can’t have a soda on the bus! Hey, stupid! [At this point something in me clicks. I know it’s pointless and I’ll end up regretting it, but I take the plunge anyway.]

Me (softly but deliberately): Hey, chill out, lady, OK?
[I know, not a very characteristic thing for me to say, but I’m new to this “champion of the defenseless” gig.]

SOL: Excuse me?!

Me: Chill… Out. It’s not a big deal.

SOL: Not a big deal?! This jerk won’t put away his soda!

Me: He’s not a jerk, he’s just a guy with a soda!

SOL: He’s going to spill it on all of us!

Me: He just told you it’s almost empty! Why don’t you wait until after he spills it, and then you can yell at him.

SOL: After he spills it?! That’s too late! [To other riders:] After he spills it!

Me: Because he’s not going to spill it, is what I mean!

Guy Towards Back of Bus: It’s against the rules! Stop harassing the lady!

Me (getting increasingly freaked-out): Who’s harassing who?!
We pull up to my stop, and I realize soda guy has been off the bus for some time. As I step to the curb, I hear SOL screeching at Guy Towards the Back, “After he spills it! You shoulda knocked that guy’s block off!”

Route: 3 Sutter, outbound
Time: Wednesday, 5:35 p.m.
As I often find that even the relatively narrow profile I present when carrying my trumpet case on my back still manages to become a huge obstacle to certain high-maintenance bus-riders, I decide to duck into the exit stairwell at the middle of the bus and thus stay out of the aisle. While standing there (seemingly) unobtrusively and staring blankly out the window at the posh hotels, automotive repair shops, and back-alley massage parlors of Post Street (where I once overheard a hotel guest asking a concierge, “Yeah, but where do I find the whores?”) I start to feel pressure on my back; when it fails to abate after a few seconds, I turn around to see a wiry and frazzled-looking elderly guy pushing into my coat. I look questioningly into his fierce eyes.
Frazzled Elderly Guy: Are you getting off at the next stop?

Me: No.

FEG: Then why are you standing there?

Me: I’m trying to stay out of the aisle.

FEG: How’re people gonna get off? People have to get off, you know.

Me: I’ll let you by when you need to get off.

FEG: I’m getting off now!

Me (getting frazzled myself): You’re getting off while the bus is moving?

FEG (confusedly): Well, no…
[I see a seat and decide to give up the fight.]

FEG (to himself as he steps off the bus): Too many people on this bus...
Route: 27 Bryant, inbound
Time: Friday, 9:10 a.m.
I often nervously watch old people board the bus and slowly make their way to a seat, often still lowering themselves as the bus slams into gear and tears away from the curb, thanks to our expert drivers. On more than one occasion I’ve had to catch an unfortunate senior who loses his or her balance and starts careening down the aisle. This particular day a wizened woman in her who looked to be in her eighties decides to walk to the back exit from her seat at the front of the bus while the bus itself is making a speedy turn around a corner; all the passengers along her route hold their hands out as she passes, lurching back and forth with every step. As she tilts past, flailing for the occasional support bar, I say, “careful…”

“I’m too old,” she snaps, “is that what you’re saying? Too old to ride the bus, eh?!”

If I somehow live to my golden years, you better believe I’m going to milk the crotchety old guy thing and make the youngsters pay for all this abuse.