Have you ever found an old journal that you'd forgotten about? Here's all the surviving text from one I kept briefly in 2000, when I had only lived in New York for a few months. This was a more innocent time -- back before 9/11. Back before Katrina. Back then, I decided to keep a journal about my adventures on the subways and buses of New York.
May 31, 2000 - Routes
I don't drive. I drove a moving van to Brooklyn when Lisa and I moved here three years ago (from Cincinnati), and since then I've never driven any kind of car or truck. Nor do I wish to. Though I never caused a serious accident, I always felt one was looming on the horizon. Once time, while driving at night, I lost myself in thought and meandered to the wrong side of the road. I had to swerve to avoid an oncoming diesel, and I wound up in a ditch.
And shortly before leaving Ohio, I was driving along a long winding road when I went through a deep puddle, which somehow stopped my breaks from working. I couldn't stop, and the road tilted downhill, so I helplessly watched as the speedometer climbed and climbed. The only other lane contained on-coming, fast moving traffic, and on my side of the road loomed a tall stone wall. Sooner or later, I knew I would come to an intersection and smash into another car. But then the road began to level out and even sloped uphill slightly, so I managed to slow down and pull into a parking lot.
I was unhurt, but from that day forward I no longer wanted to be a driver. So I sold my car, Lisa sold hers, we moved to New York, and we became PASSENGERS. Which means we traded control (or was it an illusion of control?) for fate, a.k.a. public transport.
Every weekday, I take the number two or number three train (the red line) from Brooklyn into Manhattan. If I'm worried about the time, I switch to the four or the five train (the green line), which get me to work faster. They run up Manhattan's east side, and I work on the upper east side. If I eventually switch from the four or five to the six (the local green-line train), I can get off at Lexington and 77th Street -- just a ten minute walk from work!
But so many people take the east-side trains that I try to avoid them. I like to occasionally sit down, and I'm not fond of the pushing and shoving and crunching of bodies that accompany this morning ride.
So I usually stick to the west-side two or three, which adds an extra fifteen minutes to my commute, but on which I very occasionally get a seat. Lisa also takes these trains, so we get to travel partway together.
I take the two or the three to 72nd Street, and then switch to the local one or nine for just one stop, to 79th Street. Then I have to catch the crosstown bus, which transverses central park and lets me off at 79th and First--just a few blocks from work.
Lately, I've experimented with a third route. While still in Brooklyn, I switch from the two or three to the B train (the orange line) which travels up the center of Manhattan. I get off at 84th Street--right by the Museum of Natural History--and catch the same crosstown bus, a little east of where I usually catch it.
By one of these routes, I travel every weekday. And I repeat them, in reverse, to get home. Depending on the route, it takes me an hour to an hour-and-a-half each way, which means that I spend two to three hours a day on the train or bus.
I spend a lot of time talking about trains, thinking about them, complaining about them, laughing at them and trying to ignore them. And sometimes I feel daunted at the wasted hours which I don't have the heart to add up. So I decided to keep a journal of my adventures on the Manhattan public transport system. I hope that I can transform this time into fodder for some sort of enlightenment -- or at least entertainment.
And as it unfolds, I expect to write about seats and straps, panhandlers and missionaries. Every day, I come face to face with the good, the bad, and the ugly -- the melting pot of New York City.
June 1, 2000 - Loser
I missed a train, then I missed a bus. In both cases, I arrived just as the vehicle was leaving, but too late to get aboard. And I had a slight feeling, as the door shut in my face, that all the people around me were looking at me and thinking "Loser!"
Not so much with the train. you can't see the entire train when you're standing right next to it -- only the cars closest to you, so there's no sense of a driver. The train seems like an impersonal, robotic contraption, programmed to depart at regular times.
On the other hand, you can see the bus driver clearly, so when he drives off leaving you huffing and puffing at the curb, it feels personal. Added to which, all the passengers watching you from the window seem to be thinking, "Ha! Ha!" rather than "There but for the grace of God go I."
Had I arrived at the bus-stop ten seconds earlier, I would have boarded with no trouble. I sinned by getting to the right place at the wrong time: pure chance.
Can chance make you a loser or do you have to work at it? I pondered this question as I caught the next bus, sat down, and opened the book I'm reading, "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond, a terrific exploration of the winners and losers of human history.
Diamond writes about Eurasian culture and how it came to dominate (and often decimate) most other world cultures, notably native American cultures, aboriginal Australian cultures and South African cultures.
He debunks the notion that non-Eurasians "lost" due to any sort of innate inferiority, and instead paints a picture of history in which hunter/gatherer societies vied with agricultural societies, with the farmers always winning.
Farming cultures win because, unlike hunter/gatherer cultures, they produce surplus food. And surplus food means that some people can choose non-farming careers -- soldiers, politicians, craftsmen, inventors, scribes, etc. and live off the surplus the farmers produce. Whereas in hunter/gatherer societies, EVERYONE must hunt or gather full time to survive. This difference allows farming cultures to develop the tools needed to dominate: guns, steel, writing, etc.
So why do some cultures choose to remain hunter/gatherers? They don't! To farm successfully, you must obtain suitable wild plants and animals to domesticate. As it turns out, by luck of the draw, Eurasia is the ONLY area in which enough suitable flora and fauna existed. This gave Eurasians a huge head start. The rest of the world had to wait for Eurasian crops and animals to reach them -- which usually occurred when Eurasians wiped them out.
Luck chose the winners and the losers of history just as luck made me miss my train and bus. Does that make me feel any better? Sure.
Don't call me a stupid idiot. Call me an unlucky loser
June 2, 2000 - Public Address
Everyone jokes about the P.A. system on the subway, because the announcements usually sound like "Wah Wah Wah Wah" Charlie-Brown teachers. But yesterday, as Lisa and I were traveling home on the #2, the conductor clearly chastised a woman over the loudspeakers.
"Honestly, lady!" he said, "I don't know whether you're getting on or off, but you need to either get in the train or stay out of it. It's too hot to mess around."
I couldn't see the lady or the conductor, and the lady probably couldn't see the conductor. The conductor could see the lady, obviously, but probably only from a great distance --maybe several cars down from where he was stationed, otherwise he could have spoken to her quietly instead of berating her in front of hundreds of passengers. Or maybe he was standing right next to her. Maybe he could have whispered into her ear, but instead he picked up his microphone and made the broadcast -- let public humiliation punish her for holding up the train!
"Stand clear of the closing doors please!" says one of the rare non-Wah Wah announcements (recorded, not live). New Yorkers know this by heart and laugh at it or ignore it or hear it in their sleep. But about a week ago, I heard a live version. The conductor said in a loud clear voice, "Folks, I just want to point out that I see a lot of bags and backpacks blocking the doors. If you do that, I can't close the doors, and if I can't close the doors, the train can't leave the station. So please try to keep the doors free and move all the way into the cars. Unless you are just about to get off the train, you shouldn't be standing by the door." He said this as if he was expressing new ideas, as if in a Eureka! moment he had figured out a brilliant plan to ease all our transport problems. If people would just move their bags...
We couldn't explain to the conductor that we'd all heard this propaganda a million times, and that those of us who cared always stayed clear of the doors. Those didn't care, probably never would care. Of course, you can never talk back to the conductor on the subway.
But on the bus, the proximity of the driver makes dialogue possible. About a month ago, the President came to town, and his entourage blocked many of the major streets. I was riding the crosstown bus, and the driver announced that she was going to stray from her usual route in order to avoid a serious traffic jam.
At least I think she said that. But I couldn't hear her very well, because the bus was packed with noisy commuters, and she yelled her announcement instead of using the P.A. I couldn’t hear well, and I was sitting close to her. The people in the back of the bus didn't even know she had made an announcement.
But they quickly became aware that the bus was straying far from its usual route, and many of them decided that they wanted to get off the bus rather then head into unknown territory. They pulled the "stop cord," but the driver kept going. They started yelling for her to stop and let them off, but she seemed oblivious.
Finally, a man with a booming voice yelled, "would you please open the back door and let us off!" The driver heard him but still kept going, yelling back, "I told you that I was going to make a detour. The time to get off would have been THEN. Our next stop will be Central Park West!" (Miles away from where many of the passengers wanted to go.)
"We didn't hear your announcement back here, so would you please let us off!"
"As I said, our next stop will be Central Park West. If you wanted to get off, you should have done so when I gave you the chance."
"Are you a person or a ROBOT?"
"I made an announcement."
"WE DIDN'T HEAR YOUR ANNOUNCEMENT!"
"Don't tell me you didn't hear me! My voice carries. I know my voice carries, so you MUST have heard me."
The driver seemed personally affronted by the notion that someone hadn't heard her. She took great pride in her powers of vocal projection. Anyone claiming not to have heard her must have been lying or deaf.
"Let me off, I'm pregnant!" the man yelled. Everyone is a comedian.
"I'll let you off at Central Park West," answered the driver.
"Do I have to pull the emergency cord to get off the bus?" asked the man. "I'll do it if I have to."
At that point, some of the other passengers started arguing with the man. "Please don't pull the cord, Mister! If you do that, we'll REALLY never get off the bus!" The man didn't argue back. Instead, he pushed his way to the front of the bus and stood by the driver. I couldn't hear their argument, but apparently the man won, because after a few minutes, the bus stopped, and the driver opened the doors.
A little boy sitting with his mother said, "can you believe that man? He was so rude. Who does he think he is?"
"He got her to open the doors, didn't he?" said his mother.
Ah, a life lesson!
June 5, 2000 - Contact
Some people don't care about personal space. Me? I like to keep my shields up. My invisible force field extends two feet from my body in all directions.
But some of my fellow passengers enjoy rubbing shoulders and thighs. Or maybe they don't enjoy it -- it just doesn't bother them the way it bothers me.
Often, when I'm smushed by a passengers on both sides, someone further down the bench gets up. At this point, one of my neighbors could scoot down, giving both of us more room. But usually they stay where they are. Eventually, three fourths of the bench empties out, but there at the end we stay (me in the middle). If we were sailing in a rowboat, we'd tip over.
At that point, I usually get up and move away from my neighbors to one of the vacated spaces. I move as far away as possible, as if in protest. They don't look up from their reading.
It happened tonight as Lisa and I rode home from the city. We'd stayed late in Manhattan, avoiding the rush hour, and few people were riding with us. We had a bench to ourselves. Then a young businessman type got on and plopped down next to Lisa, almost sitting in her lap. The rest of the empty bench yawned by his side, but he HAD to sit by us.
He never glanced in our direction for the whole trip, nor did he seem nervous or uncomfortable. He seemed oblivious. Not like he wanted to sit with us. More like he always subconsciously gravitated towards other people. Just as I subconsciously gravitate away. My desire only becomes conscious when it collides head on with someone else's conflicting desire. These people who insist on breathing down my neck make me painfully aware of my misanthropy.
As I was riding, I thought about an incident in London, years ago. I was sitting in an empty movie theatre, waiting for a Woody Allen movie to start. Then a woman entered -- the only person besides me who watched the movie. AND SHE SAT IN THE SEAT RIGHT NEXT TO ME. And she never looked at me or acknowledged my existence in any way. And she enjoyed the movie, laughing often. And I hated it -- not the movie but the uncomfortable experience, sitting there, totally aware of her strange, totally comfortable-with-herself presence. I wanted desperately to move, but I thought that if I did, I would somehow offend her.
I thought about how different other people are from me. And I thought about the greatest mystery in life: someone else.
June 7, 2000 - The Artful Dodger
Lisa got a seat this morning, but I had to stand and hold a strap. I spent a long time watching the guy sitting next to her. He kept fidgeting. I also have a hard time sitting still, but nothing like this guy. He would lean forward and stiffen his body like he was about to get up and then he would relax and slump back into his seat. He kept doing this, over and over, and I kept thinking he was going to vacate his seat, so I would get all excited about my chances of sitting next to Lisa, then he would dash my hopes.
People do this all the time, and Lisa and I call it the "fake out." Sometime when I can't get a seat, I see someone near me sitting and reading. Then the train starts pulling into the station and they look up, quickly stash their book in their briefcase or handbag, lean forward and...
…nothing! They just stay where they are, sitting. What the...? WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?
But the guy this morning behaved in other strange ways. In addition to the "fake out" move, he also kept twisting around in his seat, nodding and shaking his head, and mumbling stuff to himself. On this crowded train, he was pressed right up against Lisa, and I could tell he was irritating her.
Then I saw him start to check his pockets. And this guy had a LOT of pockets. At his feet, he had some kind of bag with compartments all over the place, some with zippers, some with snaps. Many of these pockets bulged, and I could see all sorts of papers and packages peeking out.
He was wearing a light-yellow jacket, which was also festooned with pockets, also bulging. And around his waist he had strapped one of those belt-bags, and this one had at least five zippered pockets. He seemed particularly interested in these, and he kept zipping and unzipping them and rummaging inside them. All this while still jerking up and down and turning side to side.
At first, I supposed he had some sort of mental problem -- maybe Tourettes coupled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Then he changed my mind.
From his PANTS pocket, he pulled a wallet. He opened it, and pulled out all the cards, and started looking through them. Buried between two credit cards, he found a blank check folded in half. He unfolded it and stared at it for a long time.
Now I sometimes carry a blank check in my wallet, but I never take it out and stare at it. I don't stare at it, because I KNOW what's on it: my name, address, social security number, phone number, etc.
He returned the check to his pants pocket (which involved a lot of leaning over and twisting and jerking--which annoyed Lisa), and from his other pants pocket he produced ANOTHER wallet. He opened this up and looked at the cards in it, just as he'd done with the first wallet.
Who carries two wallets?
So he morphed in my mind from a mental case to a junkie thief (the drugs causing all the fidgeting, the thievery feeding his habit). As I was pondering this, we pulled to a stop and he got up and off the train.
And I knew that I could run after him and make a citizen's arrest. Or I could sit down next to Lisa and continue my journey.
Guess which option I chose.
June 9, 2000 - Public Library
People don't read in Indiana. Well, I read and my parents and friends read too, but I'm talking about PEOPLE -- not academics and their children. Besides, my mother was born in Massachusetts and grew up in New York City. My father was born in London and held a Ph.D. in English Literature. We're Jews. Of course we read!
But no one else read. Mostly, they talked about basketball. I remember one time I walked into a drugstore and the clerk asked me who won the North/South game. He was talking about the two High Schools in our town. That much I understood, because I went to South. But I didn't follow basketball. I didn't even know that “we” had played a game. I didn't even know the rules of basketball. I still don't.
I used to think this made me superior to "those jocks." Now I think it just makes me culturally ignorant and stunted. When I was studying theatre in grad school, my directing teacher remarked that watching Michael Jordan play reminded him of watching Barishnikov dancing. But my athilliteracy (to proudly coin a new word) inures me to any possible appreciation of Jordan's artistry.
Why do some of us talk about the glories of ballet, swing dancing and ancient Roman circuses with one side of our mouth while cursing modern sports with the other? This must mean we're snobs. Or maybe it means we're nerds who got beat up in gym class.
But when I told the drugstore clerk that I didn't know anything about the game, he said "Yeah, right!" I had insulted him without meaning to. He assumed that I just didn't feel like talking to him about it. As a Hoosier, I couldn't possibly NOT KNOW about a game which involved my own high school!
But they got their revenge, those jocks and jock admirers. They wouldn't let me read! Every time I tried to find a quiet place where I could prop open a book, someone would interrupt me.
This curse followed me into my young adulthood, most of which I spent teaching daycare and kindergarten. Anyone who has tried to shepherd a room full of six-year-olds can tell you that such work wears you out over the course of a day. Sure, chasing the kids around takes its toll on your body -- but your mind gets the real workout too, as every corner of it is crammed with the screams and giggles. You long to escape to somewhere private.
For one hour each day, during my lunch break, I had the opportunity. I snuck into the teacher's lounge, sought out a shadowed corner, made myself as small as possible, opened a book and tried to lose myself in Macondo, West Egg or Middle Earth.
"You see the game last night?" some teacher would say, barging into the lounge in search of his or her own escape, good conversation.
"Mmmm," I would answer.
"It was really something. Did you see that shot Williams made? Wow!"
"Mmmm," I would answer.
"I always knew he was good, but dang! I hear they might trade him to the Lakers. I hope the hell not..."
"Mmmmm," I would answer.
It didn't matter how often I said "Mmmm." It made no difference that they could SEE that I was reading. I just COULDN'T opt out. To me, if you see someone reading, you don't disturb him unless the building's burning down. But they didn't think this way.
Now I live in New York, which is a city of readers. And I ride the subway every day, and EVERYONE reads on the subway. Of course, we use our books and newspapers as shields to protect us from the other passengers, but we're still reading.
As a kid, I would read a wonderful book and I always felt I was the only person who knew about it -- even when I read a best seller. Sure, I would notice it on the New York Times Bestseller list, but I never saw anyone else reading what I was reading.
But last year, when I carried the Harry Potter books onto the subway every day, I noticed many other passengers carrying the same books. And they noticed me (I saw their furtive glances). And this morning the woman across from me was reading "Memoirs of a Geisha." She had almost finished the novel, and I wanted to tell her that I understood the bittersweet emotions that were flowing through her veins.
But of course I stopped myself. She was reading after all, and I didn't want to disturb her.
On the subway, we're all members of a vast book club. It should be called the Misanthropes Book Club, because we DON'T want to discuss what we're reading. We don't want to talk to each other at all. We just want to bask in the knowledge that we're all readers, sitting together, all aware of the rules.
June 15, 2000 - Excuse Me
So Lisa and I are riding the Q train, crossing the Manhattan Bridge into the city this morning. We don't get seats, so we're standing, holding onto a pole. Then the train pulls into a station, and before it comes to a stop, this woman gets up from her seat and heads towards the doors. But my arm is in her way.
She stops, and stares at me. Then she starts saying, "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, EXCUSE ME!"
I'm about to tell her that she'll have to wait for the train to stop. I'd rather not fall over just because she wants to get to the doors quickly. But before I can speak, the train stops. I feel safe on my feet, so I let go of the pole. The woman shoots me a look and exits.
Which leads Lisa and me into a ten-minute discussion about rude people on the subway. People always try to get to the doors quickly, and they get pissed off if you're in their way. They expect you to let go of your pole or strap, even while the train is still moving. Why do they think you're holding onto it? For fun? You don't want to fall over!
"One time this guy tried the 'excuse me' routine on me," Lisa told me, "and I said, 'Listen, MISTER, you're just going to have to hold your horses until the train stops!" Then she paused for a moment. "You know what the great thing about the subway is?" she asked me.
"It's the only place you can call people MISTER or LADY. Like, 'Lady, would you mind moving your bag so I can sit down?' or 'Mister, your umbrella is poking in me the ribs.'"
June 21, 2000 - Is Chivalry Dead?
"Okay folks, It's time for a lesson in courtesy," the conductor said over the P.A. Lisa and I were riding home on the Q train, and we stopped talking, because we knew we were about to hear something out-of-the-ordinary.
"If you see a lady standing and you have a seat, you should get up and give her your seat. That's called Being a Gentleman. I know it's the 21st Century, but we can still be gentlemen. And gentlemen always give their seats to ladies -- especially if the ladies are traveling with small children. So be a gentleman and give up your seat.
"And there's another good reason to do this: it makes a very good impression! You see what I'm saying?
"Yes. It's true. You CAN find love on the Q train."
June 23, 2000 - Get Over It
This woman sitting next to me committed the two cardinal sins.
Of course, everyone complains about other people on the subway -- like those guys who sit with their legs spread wide open like they're auditioning for a porno film. I've seen two of these guys render an empty seat between them useless. A couple of days ago, I saw a guy plop his briefcase down on the seat next to him. Everyone else on his bench was scrunched, but he never thought to hold his stuff or put it on the floor. And why do people ALWAYS want to stand by the door? Even if they're wedged together like sardines, they'd rather stay by the door than move into the center of the car. Which makes it incredibly hard to get on or off the train.
Oh! Oh! I don't want to forget the people who lean against the poles! The train is packed, and you have to stand, and you need something to hold onto. So the MTA provides these poles, which run from floor to ceiling. And five or six people can hold onto one pole -- unless some ASSHOLE decides to LEAN against it. These people infuriate my friend Jenn, who is too short to comfortably reach the straps. She told me that when someone leans against a pole, she jabs her hand between pole and person's back and sticks her thumb out, poking the offender as hard as she can. And she prides herself on her long, sharp fingernails.
But the woman next to me didn't commit any of these crimes. She was quietly sitting next to me, reading a newspaper. She looked like most of the women on the train: portly, black, middle-aged, unassuming. These women, most of whom work as receptionists in upper Manhattan, commute daily to and from their Brooklyn homes, clutching their purses to their chests, minding their own business.
But she was doing "the elbow thing." Let me explain: she was reading, and when people read, they tend to splay their elbows out, like chicken wings. I never read this way. I hold my book in front of me, making sure my elbows are resting on my stomach -- because I DON'T want to poke them into the sides of the people sitting next to me.
I don't want to give you the impression that this woman was stabbing me. Her elbows were lightly brushing against my waist. AND IT DROVE ME CRAZY! This always drives me crazy. Why? I don't know. I can only tell you that when I first feel an elbow, I get a little uncomfortable. Imagine someone tapping you lightly on the head, over and over, and you'll get a good idea how I feel. It doesn't hurt -- it's just annoying. I try to ignore it, but I can't. It irritates me more and more. Then it DOES start to hurt! How can it hurt? She's not pressing hard enough to hurt me. My mind must be playing tricks on me. But it DOES hurt.
Then she starts humming "negro spirituals." I'm sorry -- that sounds really racist, but I'm not sure what else to call it. These older black women love to hum to themselves, and they always hum what sound to me like simple "negro spirituals" from some old movie starring Hattie McDaniel.
If these women belted out a song, many people would complain. But I would PREFER this to their barely audible humming. I should explain that I have a very finicky relationship to sound. When Lisa turns on the TV, I'm constantly asking her to turn the volume up or down. Down she can understand, because most people hate loud noises, but she can't understand why I demand she turn the volume UP when I'm not even watching the show.
I can't explain it, but I HATE mumbling and whispering. There's a narrow threshold of volume that sounds "right" to me, and anything above it or below it drives me nuts -- especially anything below it. If Lisa sets the volume right, I can ignore the television, but if it's too low, I can't concentrate on anything else. Most people would prefer the sound turned down if they're not watching, I know, but not me. Sometimes I play music, and Lisa wants to talk to me, so she turns the stereo down. Suddenly, I can't hear what she's saying -- the mumbly sound distracts me -- so I just turn it off altogether.
So this woman next to me was committing the horrible crimes of reading and humming. I couldn't stop the humming, but I have a trick that I use to combat the elbow problem. Basically, I wait for the perpetrator to turn the page of her book or newspaper. To turn the page, she has to move her elbow for a second. As soon as she does, I quickly place my arm at my side, like I'm holding onto an invisible armrest. Then, when her elbow comes back down, it can't stick into my side, because my arm is in the way.
At this point, the perpetrator pauses. She senses something is wrong. She was enjoying a perfectly comfortable read -- now suddenly there's no place for her to rest her elbow. She realizes that it's because the asshole next to her has moved his arm into her way. She tenses up to confront him. But she realizes that she has no case. What can she say? You arm is where I want to put my elbow? So she stops herself. She suffers in silence. She knows she has no right to complain -- the guy next to her isn't breaking any laws -- BUT IT FEELS SO UNFAIR!
Meanwhile, I have won a tiny victory, but I have lost the war against my own eccentricity. I mean, ELBOWS and HUMMING????? Rapists and child molesters roam the streets, and I'm worried about elbows and humming. I imagine a big sign hanging over my head, saying "GET OVER IT!"
How DOES one get over it, anyway?
July 20, 2000 - Move!
Riding on the M79 crosstown bus, I looked up from my book and noticed we hadn't moved for a long time. And the driver was saying something.
"Everybody move to the other side," he said. "I need all of yous to move to the other side."
We paused and looked at each other, wondering what he was talking about. Then this woman at the front of the bus -- a passenger like us -- in great exasperation, shrieked, "MOVE TO THE OTHER SIDE!" and she accompanied her shrieking with hand gestures, quick slaps in the air from right to left, which made her command a little clearer than the driver's.
Apparently, the driver wanted all those who were standing to stand towards the left of the bus, not the right. Finally getting it, they began moving to the left, shifting all of two inches, because they didn't really have much room to move in the aisle between the two rows of seats.
I stayed in my seat and watched as the driver and the woman kept yelling. The driver said "I can't start the bus until you move!" and the woman just kept yelling, "Move, move, MOVE!" and I noticed that the whole bus tilted slightly to the right. Did the diver think that the passengers caused our list by standing two far to the right? Would it really help if people shifted to the left? Could a bus tip over?
Then the woman addressed the passengers SEATED on the left side of the bus. "Get up," she commanded. "Get up. Get up! GET UP! Get up and move! GET UP AND MOVE!"
Once again we looked at each other? Did she seriously want us to give up our seats? If we followed orders, where should we go? Should we scrunch into the aisle with the standers? Should we sit on the laps of the passengers on the other side?
Slowly, we started to rise. Then the bus driver looked in his rearview mirror and noticed what we were doing. "Naw," he chuckled, "Yous don't have to stand."
We sat back down again. The woman frowned. Then the driver told us to rock. He demonstrated by leaning to the left. We all rocked to the left. He was laughing. Was he joking? We didn't know, but the bus started moving.
And that's all we cared about anyway.