When I lived in New York City, my roommate Brian Bernys and I were walking on 42nd Street in Times Square one night, when the outgoing friendliness that we were accustomed to in the small college town of Geneseo managed to put us in an awkward situation.
As we walked with the general flow of foot traffic, a cab decided to lay on the horn for a solid twelve seconds, trying to send some sort of message to the car that was blocking it’s way (blocking it’s way to a congested crosswalk that the cab would not have been able to pass through, of course). Bernys and I looked over at the car, just as another fellow was looking. We both turned back, and we were put in that weird situation where you feel the need to say something to the other person. At least that’s how we rolled in Upstate New York.
“Not gonna do much for ya, buddy” said Bernys, including the fellow pedestrian in his joke. Seemed like the right thing to do, in the sense of spatial relationships. I turned my attention to the shabbily dressed fellow, letting him know that he was now part of our temporary “group” (the group that had just witnessed the angry honker, and that was walking down 42nd Street). New York City is actually filled with lots of friendly people, and this fellow was not shy in joining in.
“Yeah, fucking terrorists. It’s always the terrorists driving cabs. I’d almost rather have it be the n***ers…etc”
Hmmm. It’s not that people in Upstate New York don’t say things like this, in fact racism is probably more common there. It’s just that when people say innocuous things, commenting on the surroundings in an attempt to be jovial and friendly, the response generally doesn’t include the N-Word, let alone the stereotyping of an entire ethnicity based on the actions of a small extremist group. And given the fact that Times Square is nicknamed the “Crossroads of the World” for good reason, this was the least comfortable place you could hear someone say something like this.
So Bernys and I did the turn-around, cutting off what I suspected was going to be a long-winded rant. We must have passed the store we were looking for. We quickly escaped our new found “group”. You know when you wait until you’re out of earshot until you start talking about what just happened? That’s what I figured would happen. But by the time we were far enough away, there was nothing really to say. We didn’t talk about it until a few hours later. All it really got was the shake of the head. The “man people here are messed up” shake of the head.
I couldn’t help but think of this encounter a few days ago when I myself was the explosive “ranter” in such a situation.
Walking back to the Metro from the Los Angeles Kings game Monday night, my housemate informed me that you have to pay an extra thirty cents to transfer from one line to another. I assured him he was mistaken, that transferring between subways is free. I was starting to get heated up because he was so sure of himself. What would make him think something so ridiculous? He started to show me what was written on the ticket, but before I could look I was distracted by the lady walking curiously close behind us.
Turning back to look, the woman was quick to acknowledge her proximity.
“Yep, I’m walking with you guys!”
She started laughing. But before you start picturing a stream of maniacal laughter pouring out of a disheveled bag-lady, this was instead a delightful chuckle coming from a very pleasant woman that was very well dressed. A big, warm smile on her face, it was clear that she was joining my housemate and I so that she would not be walking alone. It was, after all, 10pm at night on a dark alley road that could aptly be described as sketchy.
I was, of course, thrilled to be of help to this lady. I come from the land of Upstate New York, where people look out for each other. Of course she could walk with us!
Now that we were a “group,” I felt the need to include her in our current conversation.
“Do you know if you have to pay extra to transfer from the Blue Line to the Red Line?”
“Yes, you have to pay an extra thirty cents for the transfer” she informed me, with a bemused smile on her face, looking not at me, but straight ahead.
I wasn’t expecting such a succinct answer, and immediately burst into a rapid-reflex-reaction-rant that went something like this: “What kind of a Fascist system is that? They expect people to use the Metro instead of driving a car, and they’re going to nickel and dime them like that? That’s trash! Trash! It’s like you’re encouraging people to hate the Metro…”
The dot-dot-dot means there’s more to come. This is where I notice that the bemused smile is still on her face, still facing ahead.
“…I got a monthly TAP Card when I first moved here, and you know what they said to me? They said ‘keep the receipt so we know you didn’t steal it’ – didn’t steal it? What kind of a backwards system is that? The slogan for the card is “Smart. Simple. Secure”. Are you kidding me? Simple? Not so simple if I gotta hold onto not only the card but the receipt. Why give me the card in the first place? I mean am I some kind of a jerk?…”
Noticing that the bemused smile was still on her face, and she was still facing forward, I felt the need to back up for a second.
“I just moved from New York City, where you buy an unlimited card and it covers subways and buses, and you register it online so if you lose it you can cancel it. Transferring from train to train is just something you’re allowed to do; you can ride the subway all day if you’d like to.”
She finally responded, “Ah, New York City, they’re the best when it comes to public transportation, we have to hand it to them.”
I didn’t have anything to say to this, I just thought to myself, “yeah, that’s true”.
“Are you walking to the Metro right now?”
“Yeah, we just got out of the hockey game, we live in North Hollywood so we take the Blue to the Red.”
“Great. Well as an elected official, I want to say ‘thank you’ for riding the Metro.”
It gets better. She’s on the Metro San Gabriel Valley Governance Council. I’m talking to someone that is working to get more people to take the Metro! There was nothing for me to do in this situation but to laugh at the fact that I just ranted and raved like a lunatic about the Metro, seemingly out of nowhere, to someone that has been elected to make it better. I made no attempt to take back anything I said, and instead took the opportunity to suggest they start making the Subway to the Sea, extending the Purple Line down Wilshire all the way to the Pacific Ocean. She told me that in fact legislation had just passed and I said that that was great. Then we parted ways.
So the moral of this Midweek Rant? Real life ranting, while it may make people uncomfortable, does have the tiny chance of actually mattering.
Hey, people always say they want honesty. Well, Council Member Sharon Martinez got it.