Look, it is damn challenging to wade through the generalized air of grievance that begins to pervade in a poorly driven and over-attended bus. You know, the teens are crammed in for school with the office professional set. The all-about towners are out on errands, duty, and leisure. Swaying in the aisles while noble driver is herkimer jerkimer on the brake pads. Citizens sliding and bashing into one another. And yet, most of us stay afloat, put buoy to our emotions and don’t say squat. No mumbles in our neighbor’s ear. No corner-of-the-mouthing off laced with a little tangy profanity to (not) shock but provoke if anything. We tolerate it to an extent and this is a semi-heroic; proof of the power of social contracts and public expectations.
But, we begin to think, after the nth tossabout and the third near miss of a pedestrian or vehicle, that silence kills. Grumbles turn into Bronx cheers and near a dozen riders are heckling the driver hidden up there beyond the craning necks and (laudably) laughing faces. Catch a glimpse of the not-young driver glancing in the in-bus rear-view and he looks genuinely scared; nervous-eyed, fast-glancing; dude wants to ESCAPE his ridership. We smell his fear and lay in with boos; we are booing on the bus and it’s a gas. We are enjoying how poor a driver we have. Delight in near-misses to the outside world in that gallows way that will disappear if something truly bad happens. Be the penitents who would absolve ourselves by asking “is he okay? Is that guy okay?”
We want to make this damn commute simple, digestible, even enjoyable doable. We try not to pass judgement on those who appear to be passing judgement. We are overly conscious of the image we put forth in this painfully polite and consistently kind city. It takes naught balls to pile on on the driver or to pile on those judging the pilers on. It becomes impossible to be neutral — even you iDEVICERS — when the bloodlust rises and we have reduced the ride down to “will we or won’t we injure someone.”
Someone, a man, near the front of the bus: “Enough!” He pushes through the teens. Many of us are watching him. This is it. The un-secretly hoped for catharsis-via-conflict. And perhaps a productive piece of justice. Much of the bus is hushed now as he faces the driver squinty-eying the road. “Are you …. alright? We worried. You don’t seem safe. Maybe you should pull over.” Dude is all gentleness, heroically fair. Driver: “Please sit down, Sir. Now!” Driver’s voice is quavering. We feel truly sad for him. He is possibly just unhappy today, ineffective. Guilt and worry in our glances now. Driver goes on the p.a. and makes an indecipherable announcement. Questions in our eyes we collectively quiet down and let the dude drive his bus. How many of us are on the horn to TriMet warning of a dangerous driver as he jerks northwesterly and across town? TriMet operator says “this is a training issue and will be addressed” and we are left to wonder how the reverse ride to the southwest source will go. If we called the police would they remove the driver from the bus? Would that appropriate or just vindictive? What must it be like to be unhappy or troubled and put lives on the line in your downwardness? Or is this the fear talking? And that, finally, feels like an answer. Fear is intolerable, so we must act to eradicate it.
Someone braver than us should have stood in front of the bus and refused to move.