Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bum and the Bus Driver Incident

The following is an e-mail I wrote to my co-worker in August 2009:

I am pretty sure I am going to move now. You are my witness. Remind me tomorrow to tell you about the crazy homeless guy on the bus and potentially equally crazy bus driver that I encountered this evening on my way to the co-op. I don't want to ride 127 blocks to the co-op anymore. I want to live with the hipsters in a nice, safe neighborhood.

One summer day shortly after I moved to Portland, I walked two blocks south to a bus stop I usually didn't stand at, to take a bus I usually didn't take. I vaguely remember some people who seemed kind of drunk wobbling over to the bus stop, and an older woman on a cell phone who talked at length about how she was riding to DeNicola's on Powell for All You Can Eat Pasta Night. She was really excited about the pasta. Unfortunately, no other details of that wait are clear and none appear in the e-mails (from which some of this story is drawn) I later wrote about this event.

The TriMet buses in Portland are the same as the buses that Rutgers used when I was a student there. So, when the bus arrived at my stop, I headed for a seat in the back where I knew there would be a "purse shelf." In the very back row, the two end seats are next to a non-seat area that is a good place to put a purse. Since it would be a long, 127-block bus ride, I planned to settle in with a magazine. I quickly learned, as I wrote that day, that the back of the bus is "where I now know the dregs of society sit and talk about their friends in jail, and I won't sit there anymore." A few seats away from me was a guy with scraggly hair and raggedy clothes, missing teeth and an unwashed look. He was rambling, talking to anyone who would listen. I have a face that says, "Crazy person, talk to me! I'm all ears!" so I buried that face out of sight in a magazine. Suddenly, the man broke off his ramble to stand up and yell to the bus river, "Hey, I want the next stop!"

The driver replied, "Okay."

The guy continued, yelling louder. "HEY MAN! I WANT THE NEXT STOP!"

"Yeah yeah, I heard you! I know!" was the response.

The bum started walking up the aisle of the bus, toward the exit door, and yelled, "Fucking idiot!"

An instant later, in such a short time that I question whether the bus driver was really sure that the bike lane was clear, the bus driver slammed on the brakes as he cut the wheel to the right. The bum and every other passenger on the bus lurched forward. My purse flew off of its shelf.

The bum tumbled forward up the aisle, landing temporarily on other passengers who let out a yelp of surprise, finally ending up, as the bus came to a stop, at the very front standing opposite the bus driver. The driver opened the door and said, "Get off the bus now."

The man began to talk back to him, but from where I was seated, I couldn't hear his words. This was mostly because they were drowned out by the jeers of some passengers saying, "Get off the bus!" "Hey man, get off the bus!" and "Hey asshole! Just get off the bus!"

The bus driver rose from his seat and stood in front of the bum, his stance threatening. They begin arguing, but their words were not clear to me over the sound of jeering passengers joined by my inner monologue screaming, "What is happening?"

It was perhaps at this point that the math did itself in my head, and I realized that I was riding a bus 127 blocks just to go to the grocery store.

Without warning, the bum spit extravagantly in the bus driver's face before turning and dashing out the door.

The bus driver ran out of the bus and chased after the bum.

The bum ran into the open door of a shop (I can't remembered what kind of shop it was, just that it said "Abierta 24 h" over the door). The bus driver turned and walked back onto the bus, but then I suppose he thought better of it, and turned around, walked back outside of the bus, and approached the shop. He started to bang on the shop door. The door (which was admittedly flimsy) started to bend inwards, like it was going to break.

Passengers on the bus started running to the right side windows like it was a show. Other passengers were glued to their seats with wide eyes. I heard one woman echo my own thoughts by saying loudly, "This is NOT happening."

A few men ran off of the bus as the door opened and the bum and bus driver faced each other. Some held onto the bus driver's arms. One man stood between the bus driver and the bum with his arms out and his hand on the bus driver's chest as though he was holding him back from attacking the bum.

Eventually, the bus driver and the passengers (except for the bum) all walked back toward the bus and reclaimed their seats. The driver shut the door and drove on as though nothing happened, stopping at the next stop, the one the bum had been so anxious to get to. It was less than a block away.

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