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Do Not Feed the Unbalanced

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What could go wrong on a beautiful June morning?

At seven in the morning, the weather was cool and clear. My bus ran down Route 2, rounding a corner off of Main Street, by a Franklin University sign that advised that the temperature was sixty-nine degrees. Despite the calls for scattered thunderstorms, I observed that we who carried umbrellas were a small minority.

When the bus reached High Street, a large flurry of activity followed: the first stop that Route 2 makes on High Street is where riders will transfer among many routes that visit that stop. Among the passengers boarding the bus was relatively young woman who asked if there was anyone aboard who would give her the transfer necessary to ride the bus. As she looked over the crowd of morning commuters, she spoke intermittently to herself and to everyone. She was clearly already having a bad day and looked like she might be well on her way to what's known informally as a “meltdown.”

Apparently taking pity, a man of perhaps three decades reached into his pocket and retrieved the day pass/transfer ticket she needed. Expressing gratitude, she took a seat at the back of the bus near him.

“Not to be funny, but do you have a wife?”

He nodded and returned his attention to the book in his hands. Undeterred, she continued chattering. (“Afros are coming back in style.”) I never managed to work out whether she was speaking to no one or everyone. (“My hair is falling out.”) It didn't much matter; she failed to elicit a response with any of her proclamations. (“I'm stressed so bad I lose my hair!”) So she continued. (“I'm only twenty-eight.”)

She looked all around her to see if anyone was evening listening. (“I need to get back to work and make some more money.”) As she continued, she grew more frantic. (“I give lectures about my disease. I pulled an IV out of my arm!”) She decided to change techniques but no one seemed to want the packet of two saltine crackers that she was offering. Not to be deterred, she made yet another change in tactic. Holding up a group of pictures, she narrated for random strangers around her. (“Here's me...this is my's my brother, er, cousin.”)

When the pictures failed to engage, she produced a plastic bottle that looked like it might be shampoo. (“Cost $40 a bottle! This is the good stuff! I got it from the hospital for free! Haha!”) Having reached the bottom of her purse, she put everything back in place and moved forward, to talk at the strangers sitting toward the front of the bus.

After a few moments, it became clear that the people at the front were easier to engage and after getting a few reactions, she seemed much happier, having found one man in particular who was willing to hold a conversation with her. A few moments later, the look on his face suggested that he realized his mistake. Reaching for the cord to request a stop (and to find salvation), he tried to disengage by announcing his imminent departure to her. The bus stopped and he exited—with her two steps behind.

As the bus pulled forward and left the stop behind, I looked out the window at the woman chasing after the man who spoke to her. I felt bad for her and I felt bad for him; the poor guy was just trying to show a little courtesy and was now paying for doing so without conforming to the mass-transit code of behavior.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2007-04-30 05:57 AM
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