mass transit

Amen, Good Sir!


Here is a thing of commuter trains that pass through affluent areas: there are besuited and groomed men who not only commit the sin of hogging the outside seat, they also slop the inside seat with their bag, their briefcase, their repellant backpack. They then insert headphones so that you must ask them to remove their headphones in order to then ask them if you might take that seat that their accessories are currently occupying. Men of less careful habit, who are suitless and of ordinary grooming, find themselves intimidated to ask this series of questions, and so they stuff themselves standing into the vestibules at the end of the carriage.

Men who hog seats are no men at all. They are babies who swapped their onesies for threesies, brats whose brattishness has no doubt benefitted them in business. They are jerks whose livelihood is making pushy yakkity-yak. Why do our businesses continue to pay for the bluster of assholes? When will us wussies claim our rightful seats?

Hear, hear! And I bid you GOOD DAY.


The Story of My Sexual Assault on Muni in San Francisco

Something happened to me yesterday that has happened to millions of women in cities all over the world. This is my story of sexual assault on public transportation, a bus in downtown San Francisco:

I was sitting in a seat by the window across from the rear doors with headphones on, listening to music, being careful to hide my loaner phone in my purse after I had my iPhone stolen out of my hand last week. A man sat down beside me in the empty seat.

I did what I usually do and quickly, discreetly sized up my seatmate. He was a disheveled middle-aged man with blonde hair that was either dusty or graying. He smelled strongly of alcohol on his breath, body and clothes. He didn't smell like piss and weeks upon weeks of not showering, like other unfortunate people who sometimes take the bus, but he looked like he was swiftly headed in that direction. This man was clearly intoxicated and behaving strangely. He swayed in his seat and repeatedly made the sign of the cross, which is highly disconcerting, let me assure you. When women would board and stand next to where he sat he would try to engage them. They would quickly move away. I should have followed them.

He tried to engage me as well. My defense was to aggressively ignore him on the very crowded bus by staring out the window and keeping my headphones on. I had just three stops to go. When he tried to talk to me (words I couldn't hear due to the music) I shook my head no and held my hand up, flattened, to signal that I wished to be left alone.

Muni Bus

The bus continued to lurch down busy Market Street. I pulled the cord to signal that I wanted off when the bus was due to stop again at 5th and Market.

I stood a few seconds before the bus came to a halt, a clear indiction that I was getting out and off the bus. When the bus stopped the man to my right swiveled his legs around rather than stand, so I took a wide step to get around him and as I did he grabbed me between my legs.

Without thinking I turned and swung my heavy purse containing a server's book, a hardback journal and loose, sharp pens at his head, but barely connected. I think the purse grazed his face. I screamed FUCK YOU, also without thinking, and fled off the bus.

I stepped down onto the concrete platform, my head swimming in a raucous tide. A young man beside me asked what happened. "He grabbed me between the legs," I told him. 

The young man shook his head. "And that man said, 'What?,' like he didn't do nothing."

My legs moved forward in spite of myself. I was floating down the sidewalk on Market Street trying to comprehend what had just happened. I was trying hard not to vomit. I felt ill; I was physically revolted. I shuddered and tears collected in the corners of my eyes. 

My lip quivered as I crossed the busy mall to the elevator that would take me to the restaurant where I work. Everything was foggy. My feelings were foggy and my vision was foggy and my mind was foggy. I couldn't believe what had just happened, and I couldn't believe how awful it made me feel. 

As I hit the button in the elevator for the 4th floor I realized for the first time I'd been sexually assaulted. I'd considered whether or not this was a big deal, checked the facts against my feelings and decided that yeah, it kind of was.

I walked into the restaurant in a daze. I walked over to put my bag away when my friend Leo put up his hand to give me a high five. I blurted out, "I was just sexually assaulted on the bus."

I told Leo and Marc more specifically what happened and the embarrassment rose in my face and the revulsion in my gut. I sat down at Table 100, put my forehead on my forearm, burying my face, and cried really hard.

Poor Leo and Marc stood there mostly silent. "This fucking city," was certainly uttered, as were several I'm sorries. They were both very comforting in their presence, but they seemed at a loss for words. And who can blame them?

"Do you want a glass of wine?," Leo offered. I looked down at my hands and they were shaking.

"YES," was my emphatic reply.

He went and poured a hefty glass of gruner veltliner, my favorite, and handed it to me. "Here. Slam this."

And I did. It helped immensely. My nerves were completely frayed and I was a mascara-y mess and I had a new two-top at Table 49. I freshened my make-up in the bathroom and by the time I took the couple's drink order the wine was kicking in and my nervous system began to unclench slightly. 

I made iced tea for the lady at 49 and waited for the bartender to pour a Trumer when I felt the first bubbles of boiling anger begin to rise within me. I was moving through the stages of grief very quickly. Suddenly I was fucking pissed.

I wanted to punch someone--specifically the asshole who grabbed me between my legs. Just typing that sends puke rising into my throat. I can recall with precise accuracy the sensation of his hand between my legs and I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. It felt like wrongness and violation and horror and evil. 

Marc, the sous chef, sensed my anger. He stood watching me fume.

"Is it too soon to make a joke?," he asked, knife in hand.

"It's been 15 minutes," I said. "I think it's probably overdue."

He grinned. "I'm going to say I was sexually assaulted, too, because I could really use a glass of wine right now."

I laughed and laughed and was grateful for the levity. And the wine.

As my shift continued I thought more about what had happened. "I was just wearing my work uniform," I thought. "It wasn't even anything..." I stopped myself before I could think it all the way. I was about to consider what I'd been wearing in trying to process what had happened to me. 

After urging from others I decided to go to the police precinct and report the crime today. I was reminded that there are cameras on Muni buses and that there might be viable video of him touching me. Even if not, these crimes are grossly underreported and even one more record of this kind of assault might mean more police presence in the future.

So, after my short lunch shift this afternoon I took a cab to 6th and Bryant to the Southern station to file a report. I took a cab because the next bus was reportedly 47 minutes away and I felt unsafe walking. That happens when you've had your crotch grabbed on public transit and the police precinct is in a sketchy-ish part of town. 

I entered and told the security guard I was there to report a crime. He told me to walk to a counter where officers were protected behind thick plastic or glass. I had to use a phone to talk to the policeman on the other side.

"I'm here to report a crime. I was groped on the bus."

"What happened?"

"I was groped on the bus. He grabbed me between my legs as I was exiting."

"Where did he grab you? Sorry, but you have to be more specific."

"He grabbed my vulva." I tried to tamp down my embarrassment.

"Okay. What do you want to do? File a report?" His tone made his words sound more like, "Are you serious? You came all the way down here for this?"

"Yes," I told him. Yes, I wanted to file a report.

He asked for more information. I gave it to him. He told me to wait. Then he came out and spoke with me face to face.

"We have two options here. We have a Muni task force. We can give them this info and they can be on the lookout for this guy. Or you can file a full report, but it won't do anything."

He made sure to tell me this guy wouldn't be caught even if I filed a report. For a moment I hedged. For a split second I considered not filing a report. He nearly convinced me. Then I remembered what I came there to do.

"I realize this guy probably won't be caught, but this crime is underreported and I want to do my due diligence and make sure this one is. And if it means more police presence later, then even better." He did not agree with me; he said nothing. The amount of sympathy he managed could fit into a thimble.

I waited more. While waiting with no where to sit for many minutes. I considered the infirm or pregnant or elderly women who would be very physically uncomfortable waiting to file a similar report. With nothing to be said of the emotional discomfort.

Finally I was given a slip of paper with my case number on it. I was told that usually sexual battery requires "skin on skin contact," but that that was how my case would be labeled. He told me I could follow the case online.

I initiated a hand shake. He finally, finally mustered that he was sorry this happened. He told me to be careful. It sounded a lot like, "don't let this happen to you again."

A less confident woman would not have filed this crime report for sexual assault. I know this, because I nearly didn't.

I have a lot more processing of emotions to do before I write more about what happened to me and how the situation was treated by SFPD. Plus, there is more to be revealed with how this case will be handled. But I wanted to write about this now for my own therapeutic reasons, but also to shine a light on a crime that happens regularly and that just might be downplayed by the people in charge of our safety. 

If this happens to you I urge you to report it to the police. Do not let them convince you to walk away without filing a report. Being groped against your will on the subway or bus or anywhere is sexual battery, and you deserve to stand up and have your assault counted.

More soon.

A Hard Story

9-San Bruno, inbound:

I find myself facing a wild-eyed man digging deeply into his mouth full of missing teeth. On his neck is "nadia," in cursive, and his arm is crudely tattooed with the word Mom, a heart and the abbrevation F. T. W. Under his right eye is an inked teardrop. His nose is a jutting, sharp-edged remanent of several smashings. He fishes so violently into his mouth that I fear he will pull something out of it, so I turn around and face the other direction.

At the next stop many people jostle off. I take an open seat at the front of the bus. The obese man beside me makes no attempt to close his legs closer or use less space. The fat from his thighs squishes into the fat of my thighs and I shudder at the melding of my flesh with his.

9 San Bruno

I get up to change seats. A man with a pink plastic bag makes a move for the same seat at the same time as me. His face registers annoyance when, because I am a woman, he defers to me.

"It must be my lucky day," my new seatmate says to me. I wish harder now that I hadn't left my headphones at home.

"How are you?"

"Fine. How are you?"

"I could be better," he tells me. "I just got here. How I got here is a hard story, harder than people realize, and they try to use it against you. But I'll make it."

"Well, I hope so."

"I don't suppose I have a choice, do I?" he asks me, even though some people do choose not to make it. 

"I could go back to Texas, but I don't want to do that."

"No." I agree.

I watch an old man with dark skin that looks thin as paper hold a very small dog in his lap. The dog is a pretty thing, the color of a burnt sienna Crayola and it has a pink nose, to boot.

The old man sees me smiling down at the dog and he leans over and kisses the dog tenderly on its face, four kisses to the snout. It is so clear how much the man loves his little dog that I wonder how old the dog is and which of them will die first.

Wine and Punishment

I'm not proud of this, but yesterday I had the mother of all hangovers. The sort of hangover that reminds you each second of your constant decaying and messy mortality. The kind of hangover where you can't even eat. The one where you wake up still slightly drunk, so you have no idea how unfathomably horrible the rest of your day will be, your trauma building and building as the minutes creep up and punch you in the temples.

The reason for this beast of a hangover is my own idiocy. I'm 34, not 21. And frankly, no one any age should mix the kinds of alcohol I did the other night. White wine and tequila? Champagne and whiskey? Yep, I was that stupid.

And, oh, did I pay. I woke up to the phone ringing. It took me a solid ten minutes to reach the foot of the bed for the phone still in my jacket from the night before, barely alive with 8% battery power. It was work. There was a fire in West Oakland and thus the BART system was unable to take commuters either to or from the East Bay. The opening server was stuck in Berkeley. My boss was calling to see if I could come in early.

I assessed the damage. I decided it wasn't too bad. In retrospect, I was still intoxicated, because I was worse than bad. I just didn't know it yet.

I called back and said I'd be there as soon as I could. Still, I sat in bed a solid fifteen minutes trying to move my limbs to the floor. I was finally able to clothe myself and walk the 6 or so blocks to pick up the 9-Bruno.

Staggering into the sunlight, I dragged my body the length of the five-minute walk with immense effort. Naturally, as soon as I boarded the bus and it began its bumpy route, a crashing wave of nausea rose inside me.

"Are you tired or something?," a man asked me.

"Sir, please don't talk to me right now," I pleaded, and he scooted backwards in his seat.

A vagrant who smelled distinctly of pee took the seat right under where I was standing. I choked back the urge to puke. He asked me if I wanted to buy any menthol singles.

"The very idea makes me want to vomit," I told him honestly, my voice ragged.

"Damn. Okay, then," he said back and left me to sway, my face turning ever greener.

A large man dressed like a woman mercifully got up from a corner seat, which I immediately snagged. I watched a young black man in well-tailored pants and a perfect-fitting sweater board the bus. As he did the driver accelerated and he stumbled, stepping on the foot of a dirty white guy listening to a Walkman and drinking Arizona tea from a tall, hot pink can.

"You stepped right on my toe!," the white guy yelled.

"That's why I said excuse me," replied the black man.

Then the white guy began to shout, but the black man quickly eclipsed him with his own shouting of, "Don't TRY ME. Don't TRY ME. Don't TRY ME," until the white guy was quiet.

When the driver stopped to give a passenger bus route information the white guy turned his annoyance toward her. "JUST DO YOUR FUCKING JOB, LADY, AND DRIVE THE BUS. YOUR JOB IS NOT TO ARGUE."

I put my head in my hands.

I then heard more arguing from the front: "Fuck you!" 

"No, fuck you!"

I looked up from trying to hold it together to see two senior women, each well above the age of 70, in a shouting match with one another.

"Is that...two old people yelling?," a teenaged girl asked her mother, who was wagging her head at the entire scene. "Yep," she replied. And then the teenaged girl mused about what the world is coming to.

Even more verbal fights erupted before I dismembarked and 5th and Market. With lead legs I lumbered through the crowd. The sous chef and another cook stood at the doors smoking cigarettes. They laughed as they saw me coming.

"One foot in front of the other, Brittney. You can do it," one of them cheered.

And I did do it. I waited tables, albeit few of them--BART being down really cut into our lunch business--then went home and napped, trying to rally for an art show I promised I'd attend. And I did go, but had to bail after just half an hour. 

The moral of this story is: Don't be a complete moron like me. And that even if a hangover commute makes for a good story, your liver asks that you consider the consequences. Which? So very not worth it.

The Screaming Baby

There was nothing I could do. The baby was screaming, and there was nothing I could do.

The plane was full. That is because flights into Newark had been canceled for days due to a record breaking blizzard in the northeast. It was my third attempt to fly home. I had been stranded in Nashville for four days longer then anticipated.

I was ready to get home.

I settled into my seat, pulled out the inflatable neck pillow and fired up a digital version of my friend Betsy's book, City of Ghosts. That is when the screaming began.

= Many infants cry on airplanes, and it is always a bother. They start to whine and you steel yourself for noise, because you are, after all, in a tin can with no way of escape.

But this was not crying. This was screaming. Raw, unbridled, diaphragmatic screaming that only babies can accomplish. Piercing, incessant, teeth-hurting screaming. And there was nothing I could do.

It wasn't my baby. It was someone else's baby, and it was being set on fire. At least, he thought. Unhappy is too gentle a word. This child thought he was dying.

It went on for an hour. Sixty minutes. A long fucking time.

Just when I thought the baby had worn himself into sure slumber the screams would begin again. I started to understand why parents might consider drugging an infant.

At first I was empathetic to the poor mother who was sushing her child as quietly as possible, but eventually I got up and went to the lavatory solely for the purpose of shooting this kid's mom a dirty look. Not my proudest moment but I had no headphones and so was literally sticking my fingers in my ears.

The screaming was all I could focus on. I tried meditating, being present and deep breathing to calm myself. It didn't work due to the screaming.

Finally, blessedly, before I jumped out the emergency door and ended it all, he stopped. He slept. The baby had stopped screaming.

And after a long sigh the next thing I heard was an overly earnest Nashville man who discussed the finer points of the Baptist Church the entire remainder of the flight.

Fix the Knicks!

Last night I met some friends at Carnegie Hall for a taping of "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!" the NPR quiz show. The theatre was gorgeous, and the show was hilarious. Much funnier, I think, in person.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the guest. I don't want to give away a ton of spoilers since the show does not air until this weekend, but I think a tiny sneak preview might be okay.

Bloomberg was being interviewed about how he only makes $1 a year as mayor and how he takes the subway every day to work. When Peter Sagal asked him if anyone ever confronted him on the subway, he said, no, not really.

Except for one time.

When, as the doors were closing on the train, a guy got in his face and screamed at him, "Fix the Knicks!"

How to Take the Subway and a Cab When You Can't Find a Cab

On the NI woke up late. It happens.

Even the cotton candy sunrise could not entice me out of my air mattress on the floor, so I hit snooze five times and took in 30 minutes more sleep. I told myself a ten dollar cab ride to work was worth the extra slumber.

Once ready to go, there were no cabs. All full. It was rush hour after all.

After a good 7 minutes of failed hailing, I hoofed it on up to Times Square, keeping my eye out for an available taxi all the while. One guy stole one right out from under me, and I just missed another outside of the Port Authority. I texted my boss, and hit the underground.

God, is it hot down there. I scanned my MetroCard, hightailed it to the S train that goes to Grand Central with the plan to transfer to the 6, which takes me just 3 blocks from work.

Downtown or uptown? Shit. I really had no idea. I visualized a map in my head, decided on uptown and scooted on to a 6 train headed out of the station. There is a lighted stop map that showed my unlit exit was next. But it wasn't. I was going the wrong way. (Now I know: uptown means the street numbers go up.)

I hopped off at 54th, and tried to find a way to get to the other side to take the 6 downtown but decided fuck it. I climbed the stairs to Lexington Avenue to find a cab waiting as though it were put there just for me. The morning's first transit blessing.

I crawled in back and put down the window to dry my now sweat-drenched hair, and shoved my jacket in my bag. Once at 30th, I swiped my card (love that all NYC taxis take debit cards), then jumped out and headed on the wrong direction.

I was 25 minutes late.

And that, my friends, is how you take the subway and a cab when you can't find a cab.

Everything but the Girl

I didn't notice until the elderly woman who boarded had to take a giant step to avoid stepping on her.

Her legs were crossed in the aisle, her hands primly folded in her lap. Her head hung, but her chin did not rest on her chest. Instead her skull bounced around with each bump the bus took like an apple attached to the end of a pipe cleaner. Long strings of drool slipped from her parted mouth and onto her blouse.

"Is she okay?"

A young man in a worn Red Sox hat was asking the bus driver about the young woman. The driver waved his hand at the Sox fan. I couldn't hear if he responded.

The young man took his seat all the while shaking his head.

I watched more saliva fall from her face.

The half a dozen passengers on board all looked in her direction from time to time to see her head springing around on her neck.

She was far, far away. Her legs and hands were still crossed when I got off.

This Is The Way

The sound of rain beating down onto the panels of a tent anchored outdoors in an open field is what I awoke to. I set the sound on my phone before falling asleep, a preventative move to drown out the human noise all around me.

Smoothie in a pink-rimmed mug pierced by a hot pink straw. Breakfast in a glass and out the door.

Juggled wallet and umbrella and pink berry sludge in the rain while waiting for the right bus to take me away. I was last aboard due to the wrestling of items.

The up and down game of "Is He Old Enough to Give Up my Seat" was played. I lost.

A woman stood stoically in a going out silky, tight skirt. She wore going out makeup, three shades of shadow and slick lips and fake lashes.

A young man with blonde stubble in a NY ballcap in the colors blue and orange. I couldn't tell if he likes the Mets or the Yankees. Probably not both.

The driver screeched at the next stop for us all to move to the back! No one budged. She barked her orders to push back yet again, when riders responded, "No room!"

"I can see room," she said.

"For how many people?," someone shouted back. Not wanting to quibble semantics, she drives onward.

Two women could not get bus window open. They grunted and pushed and pulled, and nothing.

The cupcake place was dark.

A man carried reused manilla envelopes with little strings tied around little discs, a closing tactic I like very much.

Puma, Jack Spade, Timbuk2, Jansport in my face. Bags are big business in San Francisco. They carry your everything.

Relief at 3rd and Market as the suited people climbed off in waves. I sat in wet for the last two block.

The Bike Riders Haven't Pissed Me Off. Yet.

I've discovered, after five months, a dozen bizarre conversations and a stinky kiss on the face by a homeless stranger, that walking around San Francisco with earbuds in or headphones on is necessary to successfully avoid the crazy. Or, in my case, being asked for directions. (I haven't been here long enough to tell anyone anything about how to get anywhere, it's best they don't waste their time asking me.) I used to think it was because every one couldn't get by without music in their ears, and that may be true, but I'm willing to bet most of these headphone listening pedestrians and public transit riders are also trying to prevent conversations like the one I had late one night with a spectacularly inebriated man on BART that mostly consisted of grunts and giggles.

And I've also discovered, just as was predicted, that my crush on BART has moved beyond the flirty stage and into that stage where you start to get annoyed by stuff that never bothered you before. When I first moved here I was always very cautious to know the etiquette, but I had to be making some new girl mistakes. So, I was always patient with others. Somehow, that patience wore right the fuck out. Because I was pressing down pretty hard on that clueless lass who was talking on her cell phone, dragging two suitcases and putting her ticket in the wrong way. Then I cut her off at the escalator.

Now when someone doesn't Stand Right, Walk Left I get all pissy and antsy. I've actually now gotten the courage to say "Excuse Me," to indicate that myself and about 20 other people are trying to come through. They typically figure it out, move right, and then I make it to work 45 seconds sooner than I would have.

More BART pet peeves:

  • Beeping video games. I kid you not, this woman played a noisy game of digital Sudoku on her Blackberry so loud that she got hairy eyeballs from at least five people that I counted. She played from the Embarcadero station all the way to Downtown Berkeley with loudass bloops and bleeps every five seconds. It easily penetrated the music coming out of my iPod. I wanted to beat her with the thing by the time she got off.

  • Pole huggers. I'm not that short, but I'm not that tall either. If I have to stand on BART, I can't exactly hold on to the overhead bars for balance without getting up on my tiptoes, which is not the optimal way to ride for 35 minutes. So, I try very hard when standing to get a handled seat to hold on to or one of the vertical rails. At least three people can hold on to a vertical rail, maybe more. And yet, dumb motherfuckers hug the poll like it's the only friend they have got in the world. When they do that no one else gets to hold onto the poll that can be easily reached by those 5'4" and under. This drives me crazy, especially when the pole hugger can handily reach the overhead bars. Don't be a pole hugger.

  • Hearing your shitty music. Not only are you damaging your ears, I can promise you that you are the only person loving Anal Thunder at 8 a.m., brother. There is no need to have it so loud. I sometimes wonder if the people who play their music so loudly that the existence of headphones is mere pretense do so because they are feeling that shit so hard that they can't help but share it with the train. All I know is, people who play music loud enough for other people to hear it play some crappy ass music.

  • Staring. This is rude just about anywhere you go. No excuses, people, your mama taught you better.

  • Not getting up to let people in or out. If you can't be arsed to slide to the inside of an empty seat for two, at least get up when a commuter goes to sit down. Swinging your legs to the outside doesn't cut it. Don't make me climb all over you, lady. I will do it, and I will win.

  • That one sunflower seed eating lady. Every time. She eats them every time. Get a new snack!

  • Children making out. I don't want to see your tongue meet someone else's on BART. And get your hand out of her skirt. This goes double if you still go to something called "homeroom."