Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Public transit story #4: The magic seat

When my wife and I were in tenth grade, we had this chemistry teacher who was, um, a bit odd. I had him first period; my wife had him second period. He liked to play with the bunsen burners. His favorite one was right next to my seat. One day he wanted to show us how different chemicals made different colored flames. So he lit some newspaper on fire. Next to my head. Little bits of burning newspaper flew about the room. I wrote him a note that said I did not appreciate him burning things next to my head and would he please allow me to go to the other side of the room when he wanted to light something on fire. He agreed, but he mocked me severely every time.

This man told racist jokes, made sexist remarks, and was generally an ass for 50 minutes at a stretch. He was also the coach of the girls' tennis team. The girls' tennis team was very good. His chemistry lessons--not so much.

He taught us about electron valences using what he called the Bus Seat Rule. The Bus Seat Rule goes like this: When most people get on a bus alone, they head for a pair of empty seats. Most people will not sit next to someone they don't know unless there is no remaining pair of empty seats. In that case, they will stay as far away from their seatmates as possible. And when an empty pair opens up, most people will abandon their seatmates to go sit alone. He demonstrated this by telling my lab partner to get out of her seat. She did. He sat down next to me and began invading my personal space. I scooted my chair away.

This, he said, is what electrons do.

Either I was an easy target, or he just didn't like me.

Today I was riding the bus. I got on at the beginning of the line. Here is an approximate diagram of the bus at the start of its journey:

The 88, circa 6:45pm PDT

Note how many empty seats there are. Note also that I was not sitting in a seat that must be yielded to seniors or people with disabilities. I make a point not to sit in those seats unless all the rest are occupied. I'd sooner sit next to a person I don't know than sit in one of those seats. I don't like people with mobility issues having to wait for me to vacate the seats reserved for them.

When the bus made its first stop, about eight people got on. The first of these was an old woman with a paper grocery bag. I was peacefully reading my book (Donald Barthelme's Forty Stories, a favorite of mine from, well, tenth grade) and all of a sudden I hear "MOVE IT! MOVE! EXCUSE ME! EXCUSE ME!" from this old woman with her paper grocery bag.

I wasn't going to argue with this woman about how I was there first. Nor about how federal law says nothing about who gets dibs on this seat. Nor about how this particular seat actually had less legroom than most of the other forward-facing seats. Nor about how the rows across from and behind the seat were both open. Nor about how the bus was practically empty. I'd already had a traumatic enough day. If this seat was really that important to her, then by G-d, she should have it.

I moved across the aisle. She maneuvered herself into the seat, put her grocery bag on her lap, and sat there scowling at least until I got off the bus.

She would've made one hell of an electron.

2 comments:

Mrs. Gerbil said...

I was on a more crowded bus today and sat down next to a young lady about our age. She said, "Careful, that seat's wet," as I was about to sit down. I thanked her and sat on the edge of the seat so as not to wet my butt.

Then we passed the BART station and all of a sudden my seatmate opened the window and yelled, "HEY! YOU! DON'T PICK UP SHIT AND THROW IT ON THE GROUND! THAT'S LITTERING! YOU ASSHOLE!!!" An old guy turned around and she gave him the finger, slamming her hand against the window a few times. "YEAH YOU! DON'T LITTER YOU ASSHOLE!!" So the guy makes a jerk-off motion and the girl yells "I BET YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE ONE, GRANDPA! DON'T LITTER!!!"

I could never in a million years make this stuff up.

Kara said...

Thanks Gillian! You just made me have a good start to my mid-morning. Ooh I need to get in the shower now because I left the heat running.