Monday, October 27, 2014

New York is Breaking Me

Scott says that nobody wants to read a Whaaa-mbulance, so if that's you then stop reading.  Because this is definitely a poor me story.

I boarded the bus home from Target in the Bronx with Tatum and the folded stroller in my left arm, my metro card, 1 Trader Joe's reusable shopping bag, and 1 giant (and both heavy) shopping bag in the other arm. 

The bus was crowded.  All seats were taken, and there were plenty of people standing.  I pleaded with Tatum to stay by me, "Hold onto my leg!" while I maneuvered the folded stroller and all my things into the isle.  The bus jerked forward and we both lost our balance, stumbling a bit but maintaining composure.  It was then that a 20-something black man offered me his seat, the single "Priority Seat" behind the fold down priority bench also marked as "Priority Seating."  The man sitting there was in a wheelchair with a pop-out foot rest, wearing a face mask and gloves.  He was extending through all 3 seats.  

Twenty seconds into the ride he turns around, almost-shouting, "That seat is PRIORITY seating.  You not allowed to sit there."  I look up, semi-alarmed, and see the faces of several others around who are saying with their expressions, "Spare me, you need it more than anyone else on here, please sit."  After all, I was still standing, Tatum was the one in the seat.  And also, the seat wasn't originally empty, someone gave it up FOR me.

The statement associated with "Priority Seating" on the MTA website is that "If requested, you must give up your seat for elderly or persons with disabilities."  And I was never asked to give up my seat for an elderly or person with disabilities.  Just for a clarification."

A few more seconds pass and he turns again, "If you don't gonna listen to me, then read the SIGNS!  Just read the signs. Read up there!"  Pointing wildly.

My strategy in these situations is to be silent.  Nothing I say will better my situation, and could likely be used against me.  So I was quiet as graveyard on Halloween.

Another thirty seconds pass, and he turns again "You must not be able to read!  HUH?!  Yeah, you can't read, that why you sittin' there."

He's really lucky that I didn't feel like vomiting.  Because I probably would have stopped restraining myself by this point. ;)

The comments kept coming for about seven more stops:
"You just gonna sit there like nothin' wrong... you just gonna sit there."
"This wouldn't fly downtown ya know.  This would NOT fly downtown."
...30 more seconds pass...
"This wouldn't fly downtown.  You gonna get a ticket ya know that?!"
<Tatum begins chanting "TICKET! TICKET!"  -- you're not helping our cause, child.>
"You just can't read.  Cuz you not allowed to sit there."
"You have no respect.  No respect for us."

The consistent jabs stressed me out.  I put up with at least something every day as a mom in New York, but this was extreme.  I try to let things roll off me and realize that I'm not the crazy one in this town, but such bold, persistent affronts really got to me.  I still spoke nothing.

As he stood up and walked off the bus, he turned around and right in my face (Bad breath to the max, remember I have a super sniffer these days...) "You think you can just sit there because YOU WHITE!  You just do whatever you want.  No rules.  No regard.  You just do whatever you want because you WHITE.  And that baby of yours?!  She gonna grow up just like you.  Breakin' da rules and doing whatever she want just because she white."

Another middle aged black man audibly laughed when the man gave the jibe about me being white.  He made eye contact which spoke "That is NOT true.  He is crazy."  It felt nice to have an ally and know that I was not alone, even as the only caucasian on the bus.  But still, this whole discrimination thing goes both ways, and it is for real.

Once off the bus, the man stood feet away from his wheelchair holding his camera phone up to the window, taking a picture of me-- I'm sure with the intent to turn me in and get me ticketed.

The people around me began blocking his view of me and commenting on how crazy he was. One guy even said "Man, Halloween's not 'til Friday, what a creep!"

After arriving home to see that Scott had done the dishes before leaving for school, I just cried in gratitude and emotion.  After calling to thank him and relay the story, Scott brought home a Levain cookie to show me that New York does after all, have good to offer.  What a gem.


Chelsea said...

What a horribly memorable story that turned out great with a happy family and a cookie! :) I enjoy your NYC adventures.

Heather said...

What a creep is right. So sorry you had to deal with that.

Julie T said...

Okay, I so wish I had read that before we talked yesterday but I had just come in from being out all day and hadn't looked at my email. You need to start submitting some of your work as articles because your writing is so vivid and accurate! We've all been there (well, most of us...) and I could just picture you in that aisle trying to keep your balance, trying to keep your stomach contents from sloshing around too much and trying to keep the steam from coming out of your ears! All I can think is that the man was either "on something" or he was mentally deranged. I laughed aloud when Tatum started chanting "Ticket! Ticket!"; and I cheered when your fellow passengers were sharp enough to determine what the guy was likely going to do with his photo of you and immediately stepped forward to shield you from injustice and blatant bullying and discrimination!
I think you should ask Scott to carve you a large chip of wood (weightless) to stick in the pocket of your bag or stroller for the next time someone who has a large chip on their shoulder attacks- and you can say "Here- you need this more than I do. Put it where it will do the most good!"

NatalieD said...

You showed great restraint! I'm proud of you. You can have my bus seat any day.

Heather said...

Mom is right. You are a great writer! Love being able to picture myself in your stories because of your vivid description and dialogue.

Marianne & Eddie said...

ahhhhhh!!! i was dying reading that story!! my blood was boiling so that probably means I would have spoken up and argued with him, which wouldn't have gotten me anywhere :) you're so awesome for keeping your cool. and loved the part of tatum chanting- so funny!

i'm with everyone else- you sure can tell a good story!

Tara said...

oh gosh, you are awesome for staying quiet! I hope for all that's good in the world that the guy was just mentally off, because that's just cray cray. Pretty sure that priority seating is MADE for pregnant ladies with toddlers.