On Saturday the weather was nice, so I decided to make it a low-key errand running day, leave the bike at home, wear a skirt, and walk a lot.
After picking up cat food at Parkview and tailoring in Andersonville, I headed to Sheridan to try Tweet, which I'd been meaning to try for awhile.
The menu was extremely vegetarian/vegan friendly, and I had the biscuits and veggie breakfast patties with white gravy. This decadently rich dish was delicious, but should come with a side of angioplasty. The proprietress, Michelle, liked my summer color combination, and recommended I check out an installation at the Cultural Center, because my colors were similar to that used by the artist. I've never had someone suggest an exhibit based on my clothing, and I was intrigued.
I walked to Broadway and decided to take the bus to Edgewater for my final purchase: a new broom, at the hardware store near my old apartment. The bus I got on was fairly empty; one woman sat in front of me and a few people sat behind.
We pulled to one stop where several people waited, among them an older black woman with an oxygen tank.
"YOU GET ON THE BUS BEFORE ME. I WANT TO GET ON AFTER EVERYONE!" She yelled. I marveled that someone who needed an oxygen tank could project so well.
"Here we go," I thought.
See, the Broadway bus is The People's Bus. A great deal of its route goes by senior assisted-living facilities and low-income apartments for the elderly, and as a consequence, these people use the bus a lot. Many of them have physical challenges. Many is the time I've spent wrestling with myself as the bus stopped yet again to lower itself or extend a ramp in a painfully laborious process so that passengers with walkers, canes, wheelchairs, or just plain stiff legs could get on. It's like a tour bus at Lourdes.
There is one passenger I see from time to time; I call him the Tuba Man because he has, among other detritus bungee'd to the back of his wheelchair, a dented tuba. I have never heard him play, and I'm not sure that I'm unhappy about that.
So on one hand I watch this and am pleased that we as a society make accommodaton for physical impairments, and I muse that I might need the same mercy one day.
On the other hand, after the third walker/wheelchair in as many stops, my inner voice screams, "OH MY GOD I JUST WANT TO GET HOME!" and I know I'm going to hell.
So I wasn't surprised to see an old person with an oxygen tank waiting. As she requested, everyone else got on first. On Chicago buses, you can use one kind of pass, which requires you to insert it into the box right in front of the driver, or you can use a touch card, the reader for which is just to your left, on a pole at the beginning of the aisle. An older black gentleman was trying to use this reader, and was having no luck.
"CAN'T YOU MOVE IN YOU'RE BLOCKING THE WAY" bellowed Oxygen Woman.
The man quietly ignored her and kept trying to get his card to read.
"YOU ARE BLOCKING THE WAY! THERE ARE PLENTY OF SEATS AND PEOPLE CAN'T GET TO THEM BECAUSE YOU ARE BLOCKING THE WAY!" She was the only one behind him.
I heard murmurs of disapproval behind me. The kind of church-sounding murmurs you associate with black folks.
The man finally gave up and used the reader by the driver (these aren't interchangeable, and I suspect he was simply using the wrong reader in the first place).
The man proceeded quietly down the aisle to the back of the bus, and Oxygen Woman sat at the front, facing sideways.
"THERE IS NO NEED TO TAKE UP AN ENTIRE BUS AND MAKE PEOPLE WAIT!" she roared.
From behind me came the voice of another black woman: "You're sick because you're evil."
I sucked in a breath. The woman had said it neither loud nor soft; she spoke almost as if speaking to herself.
"You got an oxygen tank because you're evil."
I settled back for the show. I was facing forward, looking at Oxygen Woman's profile. One row of forward-facing seats separated us, and an older white woman in a wild-colored top and straw hat sat in front of me.
"ARE YOU TALKING TO ME?" yelled Oxygen Woman, staring ahead out the window.
I was sure she was addressing the woman who'd commented, but then the older white woman leaned forward and said, "I said I like your fingernail polish; it's very pretty."
I thought this was sweet, and wondered what effect it would have.
"IF YOU WANT SOMEONE TO TALK TO, BUY YOURSELF A DOG," blared Oxygen Woman, still staring ahead out the side window. The other passengers gasped, and I had two simultaneous thoughts: one, this was breathtakingly rude; two, this woman had the comeback of an improv pro.
"You don't have all that much time left," the voice behind me said, "and you shouldn't waste it being so full of bitterness."
We'd come to a stop, and the owner of the voice was getting off with a couple of other people. She was a black woman about 35-40.
(I mention race here because I have noticed that black folks will take each other to task in ways that white folks won't, and frankly, I thoroughly enjoy it.)
"IT SAYS MOVE TO THE BACK OF THE BUS. HE WAS BLOCKING THE BUS AND NOBODY COULD GET ON. THERE IS NO NEED TO BLOCK PEOPLE LIKE THAT!"
"You TOLD everyone to get on the bus before you. You SAID you wanted to get on last. So I GOT you."
The woman and a few others got off. An older black woman with perfect hair and the kind of attention to her appearance that reminded me of my grandmother remained directly behind me. The white woman came and sat next to me and spoke to us both.
"Did you hear what she said to me?!?!" she asked.
"Yes," I said, "and that was too bad, because you were being so nice." I sensed that this woman was a little off herself; she seemed childlike and sweet, though. I complimented her on her ring, a huge, zinnia-looking bauble done in some kind of enamel. it was actually pretty groovy.
"She's just full of malice and bitterness. That's what a life of being bitter will do to you," said the older black woman.
"Well," I said, "I think she's not right on the head." I was appalled by the woman's behavior, but she was clearly off her rocker, so I didn't want to be too harsh.
A black man sitting across the aisle from us smiled a mouth full of gums. "She got a demon; that's what she got."
We chatted about the elderly, about growing old, about what it can do to you, hoping we didn't turn out that way. Oxygen Woman got off at her stop with a declaration that she was GOING TO FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS AND GET OFF AT THE BACK LIKE EVERYONE SHOULD. I wondered whether anyone in her life was close to her, and hoped someone was.
Shortly after, I got off and bought my broom from the nice Korean couple at Kim's Hardware.
It was a People's Day. A good day. Bitterness and demons notwithstanding.