There was a period in my very early 20s when I didn’t drive, for about four years or so, during a transitional phase after my first car died, but before I was in a position to get another vehicle. In the interim, I got around primarily by bus. The Twin Cities has a decent enough metro transit system — scheduling is generally pretty reliable, even during harsh winter conditions, because Minnesotans know how to handle themselves in snow — but there are pros and cons to public transportation.
For example, leaving the driving to the professionals, you won’t have to deal with the frustrations of rush hour traffic. But the biggest drawback is, there’s not a lot of travel between stops on the outer rings of the metro area — most every route has to take you through the central hubs in either city, returning to internal ports like the spokes of a wheel, before transferring to a track that will go back out to the rim. So, whereas the shortest distance between two points would be a straight line, a typical route might end up looking on the map more like an open angle bracket, involving at least two, and more often three different buses, with a layover between each, making total commute time pretty lengthy — you can usually expect to spend bare minimum 60-90 minutes per trip one way, if not two hours or possibly even more.
Add to that the trip back, and that’s a lot of time to devote to getting from here to there on a daily basis. If you’re working the typical 40 hours per week plus a one hour lunch, you’d best count on never seeing the sun between December and March, as the moon will be your guide for both sides of your routine journey back and forth. Sure, the time suck alone — chipping away drip by drip at whatever chance you might have otherwise had of maintaining any semblance of a life — could be enough to drive you mad, but let’s not also forget about the boredom, the weather, the cramped quarters, the strangers... it’s often a challenge to cope without letting it all get under your skin.
These days, most people just pop in a set of earbuds and tune everything else out, but this was the pre-smartphone, post boombox era. Folks had all kinds of different methods for managing the monotony back then. Me, I created an alter ego.
Her name was Mickie Lee Macoy. She was on an educational visa from Ireland, working on her BA at the U. She hadn’t learned to drive the foreign cars of the states yet, as she’d never gotten used to the wheel and traffic being on the wrong side from her perspective, so she preferred to stick to the comfort of the bus.
It was an entertaining creative outlet for me, to throw on the accent and wear the external persona like a shield against the ennui of reality — not just for the fun of it, but partially as a defense mechanism. Being a single woman out on my own in the big wide world for long periods of time left me vulnerable to creeps and predators and all sorts of unsavory types, though I was just as readily receptive to meeting people and making new friends, but even then, it’s still wise to exercise caution. I learned to expect the unexpected, and always keep my guard up, but be prepared with a clever way of handling myself whenever I was approached — being Mickie Macoy gave me the adaptability to stretch my imagination, flex my improv skills, and respond in a variety of ways — whatever the situation called for.
Many times, I could get through an entire day, sometimes several in a row, without ever being bothered or hassled, or even invited into a conversation, and I was okay with that. I’m naturally fairly independent, and always have been — I’m pretty good at people watching, and great at zoning out, or just keeping my own company in my head. But, sometimes, too, I might even be the instigator of an exchange, sparking up with someone who captured my attention for one reason or another. Mickie was a great resource that way — not that I’ve ever been shy — but she gave me an excuse to reach for a level of pluck I might not have otherwise sought out, if left to my own devices.
It may have been that very manufactured nerve which once gave me the courage and the strength to speak up when no one else would.
It was a late Saturday morning in December, and I was on an express ride from my uptown boarding house studio out to one of the better suburban malls, I imagine for an afternoon of Christmas shopping. There was snow on the ground, and though it wasn’t too cold, the sky was enveloped with a blanket of bright, heavy-laden cloud cover. Minnesotans know these are the best days for getting out and about, because the accumulation holds the heat generated by urban life down over the cities like a warming dome keeps a turkey ready to serve from the oven to the table, whereas days with no protection from the bitter wind chills that can turn your nose hairs to icicles inside of a couple seconds flat leave you in danger of frostbite, and generally come with a broadcast warning everyone to stay inside.
So, us heartier folks take full advantage of opportunities to move about in winter whenever we get them — especially during the busy holiday season. I know these are tough times for some — with over commercialization, greater expectations, tighter deadlines, social pressures, and family obligations, all happening in the darkest days of the year — but I’ve always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the holidays. True, people can be at their most centrally focused, self-absorbed and stressed — even depressed, but many are at their kindest, most lighthearted and carefree. It could be a case of glass half-full vs. half-empty, but I prefer to give my attention to and keep the company of the latter group.
One time, though, when I encountered a curmudgeonly old scrooge, I found myself incapable of remaining silent — or rather, in that moment, Mickie Macoy wasn’t able to keep her mouth shut.
Express rides are usually faster because they have fewer stops, the bulk of the trip being on the freeway, but there are always a few scheduled pickups between their starting point and where they take the exit to higher speed limit zones. There’s a 50 cent upcharge from standard fare for freeway travel, and for this reason, express passengers pay when they exit the bus, so that if you’re just going from point A to B within the city, it’s the regular rate, and full price at the end of the line. But we hadn’t gotten onto the freeway yet, and we may have been a little off schedule, which happens sometimes.
I say might have, because while buses in the Twin Cities usually run like clockwork, even clockwork isn’t perfect, though, similarly, when they get off, most of the time it’s merely by minor degrees. Buses run westbound on Lake Street every 10 minutes, so if you miss one, you shouldn’t have to wait too long before another comes by. Sometimes, when it’s very busy, and the buses are running fairly full, a driver might skip a scheduled stop because there’s no room onboard, knowing there will be one right behind it in a matter of minutes to pick up the people still waiting there.
That could have been what happened to the old guy I ran into that day. Maybe his own delays caused him to miss the one he wanted, but even if on top of that the next one skipped him, and the third was running behind, he still likely wouldn’t have ended up later to wherever he was going by more than 20 minutes or so. I don’t know the man’s story... I only know he was outwardly grumpy, and doing his damnedest to make sure everyone else knew about it, and felt his pain just as acutely.
Have you ever seen those cartoons where a scowling character is walking around with a black cloud raining down on only him, and clearly fed up about it? It was kinda like that, except, this guy was the image of whatever would be considered the opposite of a ray of sunshine — spreading his petulance outward around him like a rippling infection. It wasn’t just the over the top crotchety body language that spoke volumes — no, there was loud harrumphing, and heavy sighs, and muttering not quite under his breath... just enough to make certain no one nearby — indeed, no one on that bus, even — could escape his overwhelming sense of exasperation.
I checked out the faces onboard, and took in the scene. Everyone else had given him a wide berth — he pretty much had the entire section reserved for the elderly, pregnant, or handicapped to himself. Minnesotans are generally too polite to invade someone else’s personal space, so most everyone was conspicuously “trying not to” show any outward expression of their discomfort with this situation, but, for one thing, Minnesotan culture is by nature passive aggressive, and passive aggressive people intentionally never hide their feelings well, and, for another... well, me — I’m not from Minnesota — nor, for that matter, is Mickie Lee Macoy.
I was polite for a while. Once or twice I threw him a look that let him know I wasn’t taking any of his crap, and I could see from his reaction he was intimidated. Too scared to address me directly, from that point on he avoided looking at me, but even so, there came a moment where I drew the line at enough is enough.
Public buses are equipped to carry wheelchair bound passengers, but there’s some external maneuvering involved in making it work. When a passenger in a wheelchair is waiting at a stop, the bus driver moves back to one of two spots where the wheelchair will be anchored to put up the seat normally in that space into a locked position out of the way, then lowers the boarding stairs into a platform the wheelchair can roll onto, elevates the platform to aisle level, and once the wheelchair is in place, anchors it down with a built-in mechanical connection. This process is incredibly efficient, but can take 2-5 minutes, depending on the driver and the passenger, and naturally adds some unscheduled delay to the timetable.
The moment we stopped to pick up a gal in a wheelchair, Mr. Sourpuss about lost his mind. The Grinch amped his excessively overt display of displeasure to 11 — no, 14. I could see the natives were getting restless.
The other passengers had gone from pretending to try and ignore the grouch to being unable to hide their genuine concern rapidly growing into palpable terror. You see, from the perspective of most Minnesotans, who are taught to stuff their feelings — but can’t — anyone outwardly expressing actual emotion could be one dirty look or one bump in the road away from completely losing their *$#!%* and going off like a postal bottle rocket, taking out anyone in their general vicinity. They’ve learned this, because they’ve seen it — it’s the natural reaction to bottling yourself up... do it long enough, and eventually you’ll explode like Mentos in Coke. (In this respect, Fargo wasn’t too far off.)
I saw a lot of kissed crosses and clutched pearls, but, more importantly, I wasn’t about to let the poor gal in a wheelchair have to bear the burden of an insufferable ride that day just because she’d dared to have the audacity to go out in a wheelchair at the same time some colossal killjoy needed to be somewhere. I waited until we were back on the road, hoping getting back on track would settle him down — it didn’t.
So I let him have it. In my thickest, most righteously indignant accent, I unleashed an outraged Irish scolding, in the form of the following tongue lashing.
“Now, see here, Grandfather... I hope you don’t mind me calling you that, seeing as how I haven’t caughtchyer name, on accounta you hadn’t thrown it, but where I come from, I were taught to respect me elders. Though in your case I wouldn’t guess it would make much difference, as I can’t see from your actions that anyone’s bothered to teach you respect for others at all. From what I can tell, you’ve no sensibility for the feelings of anyone around you, grousing as you’ve been doing, like a spoilt child.
“I haven’t the foggiest idea whatever kind of appointment you could be off to what’s got you so all-fired perturbed about being put off that you’re going off so. I’ve no concept what kinda schedule an old feller like yerself might be keeping. But what I do know is, everyone here ’as got hiz own agenda. We’ve all got someplace to be.
“The way I see it, you got two choices: You can be on this bus, or you could be off this bus. It’ll get there when it gets there, and not before. No one’s gonna snap their fingers to magically make it get there any faster, and you can be sure’n yer timeline won’t be helped any by all yer bitchin’ and bellyachin.’
“So, if you’d like this driver to letchya off at the next roundabout, I don’t imagine any of us’d be any the worse if you caught the next one what’ll be along shortly. But if do you intend to stay, since you can’t do anything else about your situation anyway, out of consideration for all the rest here, I’d highly recommend, ya sit still, shut up, and enjoy the ride.”
I would say I don’t know what came over me, but that wouldn’t be true. His behavior was a form of passive aggressive harassment, and I don’t suffer bullies well, but I especially have zero tolerance for entitled jerks imposing their insensitivity on the disadvantaged. Sure, playing the character of Mickie afforded me the freedom to take on a brazenness I might not would otherwise have brought out in such a setting, but the wrath was all mine — Mickie’s accent would just help me get away with it, as Americans have an unhealthy obsession with coddling over such things.
What I hadn’t expected, was the reaction from the rest of the crowd. I’d been so focused on boring my harshest “pissed-off-Mama-says-you’ve-forgotten-y
The bus driver spoke up to the entire group, asking, as if shocked,
“Did I just hear the voice of reason?”
To which someone called out from the back,
I chuckled, possibly even blushing, and watched as Crankshaft looked like he was searching for the nearest biggest rock to crawl under. To his credit, he didn’t make a peep for the rest of the duration of the route... at least not while I was on the bus, anyway. But when I went to get off, the next unexpected turn of events was the biggest surprise yet.
Upon arrival at the mall, I gathered up my external wear, hoisted my bag to my shoulder, and pulled out my wallet as I moved toward the exit, preparing to have ready the two bills and two coins needed to pay my way for my passage there. Instead, the driver let the passengers in front of me make their payments, but as I reached him, he put his hand over the farebox, and shook his head.
“No ma’am,” he said. “This one’s on me.”
Then he printed out a 12-hour transfer, ensuring a free ride home, as well, and passed it over to me, telling me to have myself a nice day, with a cheery, “Merry Christmas, young lady.”
“And a very happy holiday to you as well, my good sire,” replied the very gracious Mickie Lee Macoy, with a mischievous wink and an Irish smile. And so we both went on our merry way, with a renewed sense of the goodness in humanity, and the possibility for simple moments that make a difference.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 15 - Topic: BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on…
*Busman's Holiday – Mr. Spaceman