Ringtone Riot

cell phone silent (マナー) mode #450

In Japan, the Kanto Railway enforces that cell phones be on silent mode. Photo by Flickr user Nemo’s Great Uncle

I was riding the F line several months ago during the morning rush hour toward downtown. A teenage girl boarded somewhere around 8th or 10th Street, and her cell phone began playing some sort of ring tone at a very high volume. The driver told her that she needed to silence the phone, to which she explained, “I’m getting a text message.” When the phone continued to play, the driver stopped the car at the next stop and told her that she needed to either silence the phone or get off and that he was not moving the car until she did one or the other.

She again explained, “I’m getting a text message.” The explanation, of course, made no sense to anyone on the car. Silencing the ringer doesn’t prevent a text message from being received, and by this point, the phone had been playing the same ringtone for nearly five minutes. So the car didn’t move, she didn’t get off, and the other passengers, now becoming late for work, grew restless. Shouts began to erupt from the back of the train to “Turn the phone off!” Soon, the whole car had joined in the shouting, and the girl, instead of turning the phone off, kept shouting back that they should shut up because she was getting a text message. A riot felt imminent.

After a good five minutes of this, one man got up, got in her face, and basically told her that she was a self-centered bitch. She attempted to goad him into hitting her. Shouts began to erupt: “Hit her!” The train, now very late for work, was enraged. And still the ringtone kept playing. The man did not hit her. Instead he got off the car and began the walk to work. One of the men who had been encouraging the violence then got up and this time physically dragged her toward the backdoor, eventually managing to throw himself, her, and her phone out. Two bystanders outside of the car, then grabbed this man and made a citizen’s arrest.

A third man then approached the girl, who at this time had reboarded the car, and began giving her a lecture on manners. She attempted to goad this man into striking her as well, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he kept asking her: “You think you’re so special, don’t you?” Still the ringtone played on and she kept insisting that she was getting a text message. By this point, the scene had been going on for 15 minutes. I, and several other passengers, then left to walk to work. As I was leaving, a police officer finally arrived. I never found out how they sorted it out. I was, however, very late for work.

Ever been tempted to make a citizen’s arrest on Muni? Tell us your tales of Muni rides gone bad (or good, for that matter).

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