I've been riding on the 16Y for more than four years now. Unlike most of the buses which feed into the Metrorail system, the 16Y runs to and from the District along Columbia Pike during the morning and evening rush. Everyone more or less knows each other, if only by nodding acquaintance. Not quite like family, but relatively so.
Sometimes I've had to stand, which was never a problem, until this year.
Over the winter, I'm not sure how, but when I threw my back out, I started having problems with my knees. After the back problem subsided, the pain in the left knee remained. Whenever I walk a long distance, or stand in one place for very long, there is a pain. Occasionally that pain is very sharp and I can't stand up. So I'm careful. When I serve Mass I wear a disposable heat bandage on it. And when I take the bus and it's standing room only, I wait for the next one. Occasionally I have to ask for a seat, mentioning the problem that I have. This has rarely been necessary, and never a problem.
Until last Tuesday.
I could have waited for another bus that morning, but I was already running late. The seats in front are reserved by Federal law for the elderly and disabled. The driver is supposed to ask people to get up when necessary, but some of the drivers are a bit challenged in the area of interpersonal skills. The young black woman with a toddler tried to ignore me, probably thinking I'd want to recreate the Rosa Parks incident. She would have been very mistaken. In the other seat were two people, one of them an Ethiopian woman, probably hoping I would think she couldn't speak English. Then there was the white guy -- let's call him “Mister Gavone” -- who did the best job of ignoring me. Fortunately another young guy in another seat offered me his.
But it wasn't over between me and Mister Gavone. An unspoken language hatched an animus between us, one that lingered in silence.
I always apologize once I sit down. I really hate doing this. I'd rather be the one to stand, really. But if the bus jerks a lot like a jackrabbit -- you'd think some of the drivers aren't that bright -- I know I'm going to hit the floor in pain Someone would have caught me on this day had that happened, because it was really, really crowded. Finally we got to the District. I had to step through several people on my way to the door, and upon brushing up against Mister Gavone's leg quite by accident ...
He kicked me.
"Hey, what was that?" I told him. "What's your problem?" he said, already well rehearsed in ignoring the obvious. "You kicked me, you fool!" was my answer. He took it to the next level.
Well, that did it. Half the people on the bus started on him. It was the perfect time to exit stage front. I reached the driver, who knew by now that this morning was off to a bad start. "That jerk just kicked me as I was getting out. He does that again, I'm having him arrested." Then I got off.
Boy, was I steamed! Maybe was how a young boy had to survive on the mean streets of Spring Lake, New Jersey. But it wasn't going to cut any ice in the Nation's capital. He probably thought he could make quick work of me if it came down to that. We may never know.
There have been many conversations of late about the loss of civility in American life, much of it from Democrats who lost most of theirs in exchange for winning the election. To be fair, I doubt that many people would have seen this man kicking me, as it was so crowded. In fact, one driver told me something about needing some kind of a card to verify my infirmity, but I've never seen anything about that. Maybe it's in the fine print on a website. Maybe a cane or a wheelchair is a suitable calling card. Maybe if I'm carried out on a stretcher they'll be convinced. Then again, maybe I'm going to have to see the doctor sooner, rather than later, about the early onset of arthritis, or whatever it is that's going on. It runs in the family, I tell myself, and we were never much for visiting doctors.
Whatever comes of this, I felt pretty foolish, and I still do, for each rare occasion that I must prevail upon someone for the time being. But until then, my sole consolation is the knowledge, that Mister Gavone had to continue facing that crowd of people for the rest of his trip.
I sure hope he's okay.