Just before reading this article I had the following exchange:
Him: "Why was he doing that to you?"
Me: "Because I am a woman who speaks out online."
That's all that has to happen in order to be targeted.
Just before reading this article I had the following exchange:
Him: "Why was he doing that to you?"
Me: "Because I am a woman who speaks out online."
That's all that has to happen in order to be targeted.
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.
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."
"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.
Mission Mission linked to my phone jacking post. This is awesome for two reasons.
1. That blog gets crazy amounts of traffic. My stats haven't seen a spike like that since I quit my media job to wait tables.
As a server in a busy restaurant, I interact with all kinds of kids and their parents. And in doing so I experience a wide gamut of familial exchanges. I am privvy to everything from unbelievable exercices in parental patience to harsh reprimands for perceived slights, but it wasn't until Wednesday that I witnessed something that made me want to call Child Protective Services.
A family of four sat at my table--a father, a mother, big sister and little sister. I approached to greet them and was shocked at what I found.
The youngest daughter, 11 years old at most (and I'm being generous here), was wearing a pale pink lacy tank top with spaghetti straps. Underneath was a hot pink push-up bra with candy hearts printed on it. I know the details of her bra because the tank top was worn low, just below the upper edge of the bra cups, to intentionally showcase the lingerie beneath. [Like this.]
I was horrified. I suggested beer for Dad and steered Mom toward a particular pasta, of course, but mostly I stared at that poor little girl.
"Could she be 13, maybe?," I asked myself. But there was no mistaking--this was an 11 or 10 year old child wearing a hot pink bra meant to be seen peeking out from her pale pink lacy tank top.
When she broke open the 4-pack of Crayolas that we hand out with kids menus and began drawing big, fluffy clouds over a house with a big green tree in front, I spun around looking for someone else to confirm that, "Yes! This is wildly disconcerting!"
I wanted to grab her up and take her with me out of there, far, far away. Buy her a proper scoop neck t-shirt and a teddy bear. Assure her that she's beautiful and valuable, even without showing the world her underwear. Perhaps even suggest she wait to wear a bra until she has breasts.
Instead I just silently hoped she'd be okay.
I wrote this one year ago today, when I lived in a far off magical kingdom known as New York City:
I woke up late. I wake up late a lot, but when I woke up today I was already late for work by two minutes.
I scared the shit out of my cats by tornadoing around my apartment throwing on clothes and chucking food into their bowl and beating it out the door.
At 9 am cabs in NYC are scarce. I got to the corner and stuck my hand out and watched two people dressed better than me get cabs even though they’d gotten to the corner minutes after me. When it was about to happen again, with two girls in their early twenties, I spoke up: “Excuse me, but I was here first.”
Turns out, though, that someone was already in the back of the cab. When one of the young women saw me turn back around toward the corner she let out this bitchy, exaggerated laugh.
I didn’t even think, I just spoke. “Is that funny?”
She turned away from me and stared at her shoes. Her friend looked at me and said, “What?”
“I asked your friend there if she thinks it’s funny.”
She grabbed her bitchy friend’s hand and they ran across the crosswalk.
I finally got into a cab and told him 30th and Park and, of course, there was crazy construction traffic the whole way. Once at my destination, only 24 minutes after waking in a frenzy, I was mere feet from work.
Then his machine broke.
“You have cash?” No, I told him. I have a card.
He started cussing and randomly hitting buttons and they would beep but not show a total. I looked at my phone. I opened the car door.
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING?” I told him I was going to work, that I was already late, and that this issue sounded like his problem.
“I HAVE TO GET MY MONEY,” he screamed.
“ME, TOO,” I yelled back. “That’s why I took a fucking cab to work. I’m already late.”
“You need to relax,” he told me.
He finally got the machine to work and I swiped my card and overtipped, as usual, and walked in to work and got settled.
Minutes later I hightailed it over to Bread & Butter for a quick bagel and coffee so I could fuel up and start my day. I got in line behind a couple and their teenaged daughters.
When the guy behind the counter said “next,” the father of the quartet began to speak in an adorable British accent: “Can you recommend a traditional American breakfast? I dunno, maybe bacon. Maybe pancakes.”
NYC delis are not known for their recommendations. You tell them what you want and they make it. The guy behind the counter looked at them with an “are you serious” face.
“Bacon and eggs?,” he offered, when I am sure he wanted to say, “I’m from Venezuela, I don’t know shit about traditional American breakfasts.”
There were more questions about the validity of the maple syrup. The girls wanted only two pancakes each, even though the menu item came with three. Patience oozed out my ear.
I wanted to spin them around and say, “You know what Americans do for breakfast? They order fast, and they get the fuck out.”
But I didn’t say that, in part, because it’s not even true. That is what New Yorkers do.
So, I was doing a little grocery shopping at the corner store because, even though it's more expensive, it's two blocks away and open until 2 a.m. I eat the cost difference and consider it serious time saved. It's fine. Whatever.
In my little hand basket were high-protein dry cat food, I Luv My Cat cans of wet food, pepper jack cheese, TP, paper towels, cat litter, grapefruit juice and sparkling wine for Midnight Mimosas*. While I was unloading all this stuff onto the counter this a young woman with streaks of blue in her hair that looked like it had been cut with a butter knife entered the corner store.
"Hey man, you gotta meet new girlfriend. She's rad. She rad, you're going to love her." She was talking to the guy behind the counter who began ringing up my things. "I got a new honey."
"That's what life is all about," the clerk offered. She clapped loudly in approval.
"Got some Fresh Step there." She poked at the bag of litter. "I have a kitty, too. You should get her the natural stuff."
"I usually do, this is just for in-between. It's 2 a.m. on a Saturday night," I said, though I don't know why.
"It's not 2 a.m., it's 12:30, but it feels like 2 a.m. It's been a long week."
The clerk gathered up my purchases, and I pulled two handled bags off the counter.
"Oh, one more thing," the guy behind the counter wagged nearly-forgotten paper towels at me and began to put them in a third bag.
"No, I'm good," and stretched my hand out to take them and stuff them into the two bags he'd already handed me.
The girl with the blue hair poked at the paper towels.
"I see you got all natural paper towels." She spoke loudly not to me or to the cashier. "Yeah, she's got it." I never made eye contact with the girl with the blue hair.
"She doesn't want to waste any more plastic," she spoke for me.
*My new Saturday night tradition. I close every Saturday night and am too amped up to go too sleep until well after 3 or 4 a.m., so I ease into slumber with a couple of Midnight Mimosas. Then I write blog posts.
Eve Batey and Justin Beck were very nice to ask me to talk to them about why I decided to leave social media as a career and go back to waiting tables and writing. The conversation was recorded for their media podcast Punching Down.
Eve and Justin came all the way to me in the Mission, and Justin even brought beer. And not cheap Miller, neither.
It only took one Day Beer to get my big mouth moving.
You can listen to me talk Nashville is Talking, what happened after I flounced out of WKRN in a huff, how my work translated in San Francisco, how taking that job in New York was a mistake and why after a short stint in San Jose I said, "Fuck it. I'll just wait tables and write."
I got on my knees and used my hands to wrestle a giant hairy snake of digusting mass out of a bar drain, and I did it for no pay. Zero dollars an hour. That was when I was breaking my back working at Outback Steakhouse in Murfreesboro, TN.
Outback was the busiest restaurant in town with the highest ticket average per person. You couldn't make better money at any other place within 35 miles, and that included Chili's, Red Lobster and the white table cloth place out by the interstate.
I'd been promoted to bartender after years and years of waiting tables there. Getting bumped up to bartender was a big deal, and so were the tips. I soon learned that part of that promotion included getting up early on a Saturday morning with the other six to seven bartenders and detailing the bar--every nook, every crevice, every cranny--for about four solid hours.
We were paid nothing. We did not clock in. We were told specifically that this was part of being a bartender, and you could do it without complaint or not work behind the bar.
It was grueling work. I balanced on a teetering bar stool hoisting 20 gallons of hot water in a giant bucket overheard to clean the frozen drink machines. Had I slipped and cracked my face on the metal of the machine or worse, I would not have been on record as having worked and would not have been able to receive workers' compensation for medical bills incurred from my fall.
The place I work now is a corporate restaurant. The people who own it own others in the Bay Area, like One Market, Lark Creek Steakhouse and Fish Story in Napa. But it is not like Outback Steakhouse or The Cooker or large scale chains that I worked in before. Not even a little.
I am treated so much better where I work now. When I think back on how much physical labor some restaurant jobs in Tennessee demanded of employees making $2.13 an hour, I am baffled that it's legal.
Servers in San Francisco make minimum wage plus tips, not $2 an hour plus tips, as I was once paid. (Many, many servers in many, many states still make just above $2 an hour plus tips.) From my experience, when a corporation can get virtually free labor out of individuals at $2 an hour, it makes those in charge devalue not only the work being done, but the worker.
We were treated like shit. On multiple occassions a manager called us all into the kitchen to scream and curse at us until he was red in the face and beads of spit at ours. All because the people who worked there were so overtaxed that busy weekend shifts would often run on the verge of complete meltdown, every synapse on the verge of snapping.
I am extremely lucky to work in a restaurant that values its people. I am respected where I work. The place is filled with bright, funny people who are a pleasure to be around because they are heard and forgiven and treated with care.
This return to waiting tables is better so far. In part because I am older, wiser, whathaveyou, but also thanks to those above me and my teammates. Seriously awesome people; I want to squeeze them each and every one.