You people and your newspapers and your sense of entitlement…

the 33 ride home
Photo by Flickr user messtiza

I’m going to get a lot of hate mail for this one, especially since I’m also the person who hates disabled people with casts, as well as small, innocent children on field trips.

It’s really kind of funny. Twenty-somethin’ gal with her BlackBerry and her text messaging and her internets. Older gentleman with his morning newspaper. Odd-couple comedy in the making!

So this man gets on the bus and grabs a seat next to me in a disabled section crowded with fellow commuters. I check to make sure there aren’t other older or pregnant folks trying to nab a seat, then get back to my internets. The gent opens his newspaper (the San Francisco Examiner, which I used to write for) and extends one side of it and his arm far into my seat/space. I politely say, “Excuse me,” and, thinking the issue is over, am actually surprised when he, clearly affronted, wants to know what I was excusing-me for.

Hmm, OK. I note as politely and even-voicedly (though also kind of flustered and surprised) as I can that his newspaper is in my space, and that if he could just fold up a bit more, that would be great. As easy as it could be to tell him he needed to back the F up, I first incorrectly said (who knew I’d actually have to explain it) his paper was touching me. OK (calm vibes), I guess it’s not exactly touching me, but it’s hovering over my lap, and I’m personally folded up as much as I can be, you know? I happen to agree with the fine etiquette ladies at Muni Manners, who noted in a post about this very phenomenon that folding your newspaper to lessen your impact, but still get your news, is the safe and courteous thing to do for all.

He, in turn, notes that there are more important things to worry about (at least he didn’t dispute that his World section was in my lap) and laughs to himself about “the child and her text messaging and her cellphone” giving him shit. Hmm. I guess the worrying part is true.  So I quietly, half-amusedly “mm-hmm” as he continues chastising me to no one in particular. Seriously, think of all the bigger fish to fry: There’s the war in Iraq, the hole(s) in the ozone layer, our gaping budget deficit, and the loss of my local 26-Valencia come October, thanks to Muni budget cuts. Indeed, who the hell am I exactly, getting all upset about this tiny, tiny little fish?

Though he folds up a bit after that. Maybe he saw my point?

The many people standing around seem somewhat interested. But, as with this post, I’m sure there are some who think I reacted fairly, and others who think I completely blew things out of proportion.

Once I get to my stop, the woman on the other side of me (who took up a second seat with one bag on a crowded bus until I asked if I could have it) notes to my buddy that the kids these days are just the rudest thing, aren’t they? Go figure.

First things first: Save your pity, not that I was going to get any. I don’t want you to tell me how terrible that must have been, and how that guy really was a big stinkin’ jerk and that I really stuck it to him. Because he really wasn’t a jerk; he said his piece, I said mine, and I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. But I’m a big moral-of-the-story kind of gal, just so various wacky shit that happens to me (and to you) actually helps me think a little about my place in the world. So …

Morals of the Story

1)  OK, I must be some kind of ageist, right? I don’t know what he’s been through. The guy just wanted to read his newspaper, and I was impeding his ability to do that. Or was I? The bottom line is that if he was functional enough to be passive-aggressive, condescending and all-around rude, he was functional enough to fold up his newspaper a bit as a courtesy. For a child, I felt like I was the only one acting like an adult, considering a solution that would be fair for both people here, not just myself.

2) I’m staring down the barrel at 30, and I’m still one of the children? Hot damn! I guess that’s not really a moral, as much as it’s just kind of nice, especially if it holds up until I’m 70.

3) If everyone took care of their own little world space and their own attitude, all the bigger fish to fry wouldn’t be quite so big. Recycling your one water bottle isn’t a big deal. But it is a big deal if everyone in the world did the same thing that day.  One guy cramming himself into the back doors of the bus isn’t a big deal. But Muni has less money than it should (even if it’s just a relatively small amount) because too many people think they deserve to get on the bus for free. One guy and his unwieldy newspaper isn’t a big deal. But if everyone on the bus, young and old, spread out like they were in their living room, it would be.

4) Find your mental Zen place, then camp out there as long as you can. If you don’t, it’ll kill your sanity first, then maybe the rest of you. Possibly someone else if you’re lucky.

5) Shared public space is exactly that: shared, public space. Children (like, actual ones) deserve their educational field trips as much as commuters deserve to get to work on time. A chick on the bus deserves to tap away at her phone just as much as a guy deserves to read his newspaper in peace. To me, the issue (and the disagreement) hinges on the best way to share this limited urban space.

6) Disabled people, elderly people, and pregnant women? They actually do deserve (and are legally entitled to) seats and space more than I do. But it certainly doesn’t give them the right to be rude about their space once they have it.

If you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my internets and my text messaging.

8 comments

  • John S. in SF

    Great point: On any public transportation system:

    4) Find your mental Zen place, then camp out there as long as you can. If you don’t, it’ll kill your sanity first, then maybe the rest of you. Possibly someone else if you’re lucky.

    Its not that you are wrong, its just that no one gives a shit. Suck it up or walk.

    • I think a lot of people see it this way, sure. For better or worse, though, I think it’s still problematic to go about living anywhere, especially somewhere crowded and dense, with the “fuck the world, me first” kind of attitude.

  • How right you are, Tara. We Manner Ladies couldn’t agree more with the crew at MD about newspapers and preferred seating. And, we politely add that etiquette often comes down to an issue of personal space. Like Tara’s experience with the over-extended newspaper, we’ve often been subjected to dangerously close knitting needles, and the like. If everyone took a moment to check how their space and belongings affected those around them, we could get back to focusing on those bigger, fry-able fish. Like the guy sitting next to us on the 24 with his smelly bag from Popeye’s. Sigh.

  • i’ve never lived anywhere in which so many people act as entitled to … well, everything, as they are here here in San Francisco. no matter what, it’s like people are either from here or move here, and magically, they’re special. they’re better than everyone else, unless that everyone else is a member of the marginalized group they’re trying their damnedest to save. i don’t get it. there’s this outer veneer of selflessness and respect for your fellow human beings. but day after day after day, at all hours, you run into really ridiculous shit like people spreading their newspapers a) way wider than they need to, b) into your shit, and c) when asked politely to refrain from said behavior, they become indignant. talk about people who deserve it. you entitled San Franciscans out there should really CTFD and take a step back. like Tara says, shared, public space is just that. you’re not the only person in the world.

  • suckerpunch

    To me, this is one of those cases where both parties ended up be “right”. The young lady asks the man to “back off”. He tells her to not worry about it. She doesn’t, and finally he backs off.

    No big deal. Like 99% of life.

    • and like about 80 percent of life in San Francisco, he goes on a self-righteous tirade about how terrible she is for asking him to, well, behave courteously. fuck that guy.

  • I used to live in Fremont and ride the BART every day into the city for work, and then back home in the evenings. Anyone that drones for a living, knows mostly people fall into a pattern of catching the same BART, sitting in the same car, and seeing the same people. I found an odd comfort is seeing the same people – well, most of them. One of them was Dude with Black Backpack. He did the same thing every day, which was go down the aisle and randomly (and supposedly accidentally) smack riders with his hunchback. Finally one day, I simply had enough. Not only did he smack me on the shoulder with his pack, he got my head and skewed my glasses. Then he stopped, and stood there in front of me. I was on an end seat. I pulled my foot up and kicked him in the backpack. Hard. I’m surprised I didn’t knock him down, but he had a lot of bulk keeping him upright. Then this really weird thing happened. (okay, weirder) Two people on either side of the car applauded. Backpack Dude acted like nothing happened. I don’t know if he was so insulated he didn’t know a donkey kicked him or what, but he went to the next car. I never saw him again. If he was riding that train, he opted to get in a different car. Call me grumpy.

    We also had one of the most amazing newspaper readers on that train I have ever seen. He looked like he was doing origami to keep the paper within his personal space.

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