Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Of buses, elevators, and people

If you venture out into the outside world every day, in any capacity, you inevitably come into contact with people. These people, depending on their mood, or the time of day, or where they are, or even what the idiosyncracies of the city itself are, will interact with each other in various ways. Since I mostly find myself out in the world during morning and afternoon rush hours, most of the people I encounter are in a hurry, or thinking about work. In other words, not in the best of moods.

I've gotten used to the fact that people in the US cities I have lived in keep to themselves more than in PR. For example, in PR people always greet each other and say goodbye when entering and leaving an elevator. No big deal, but they acknowledge each other's existence, which I always took for granted until my first day at my college dorm in NY, when I exited an elevator and startled the guy next to me by telling him to have a nice day.

A few weeks ago, on my first day back at work after a vacation to PR, I found myself bombarded with all the different kinds of thoughtless acts that you'd normally encounter during the span of at least a few days. On just one bus ride, there was the girl who cut in front of me in order to get on the bus and beat me to the last seat, the woman who carried a purse and two duffle bags and spread them all out into the seat next to her so that no one else could sit down, the guy who yelled inanities into his cell phone, and the woman who could see that I was getting off at the same stop as her and yet mowed me down anyway while trying to get to the door without even saying "excuse me" (and what is it with Portland anyway? People here never say "excuse me"). On top of that, she didn't even think to hold the door behind her for half a second, causing it to smack me as it jerked to a close and almost spilled my coffee.  And as the piece de résistance, the man in my office building's elevator who watched me sprint towards it and didn't think to press the Door Open button so that I could hop on. 

I've become not so much used to this behavior, but more like expectant of it. I don't expect people to hold open a door, or say "thank you" when I do it for them. I expect that most people will go about their day without giving others much of a thought. And I won't say I am completely blameless, because I'm sure that I, myself, the paragon of civic politeness, have had my head stuck up my ass at some point and participated in this kind of behavior. However, I actively try not to do that. 

Which is why today was such a pleasant anomaly. Today, for the first time ever in my years here, someone bid me a good day upon exiting the elevator. And he wasn't even Puerto Rican! That alone was enough to put a smile on my face. But wait, if you call now, you'll get two smile-inducing experiences for the price of one!

I hopped on a bus tonight, late enough that I'd missed rush hour. I told the bus driver that I just needed to get my bus pass from my purse. My bus pass is just a sticker affixed to my employee ID badge, and I rummaged through my purse trying to find it. I've already lost this thing once, and replacing it more than once a year is cost-prohibitive. I was starting to panic because, a) I do not want to lose this thing again and have to spend the next ten months without a bus pass, and b) I was afraid the bus driver would kick me out and I'd have to walk the rest of the way. I, of course, do not carry cash, which could have saved me from getting kicked off.

As I began to resign myself to my fate, I heard a voice behind me saying, "Miss, you dropped this." I turned around and a young man, the only other person on the bus,  is handing me a piece of paper. I looked at it and saw that it was a bus transfer -- basically proof that you paid your fare. I knew it wasn't mine because I only use my bus pass. I was confused for a second until I realized it was a current, unexpired bus transfer. This guy had noticed my situation and given me his ticket. Not only that, but he thought enough to play it cool so the driver would not notice. And, best of all, he called me Miss and not Ma'am. I've been getting Ma'am a lot more lately.

I tried to thank him as I walked to my seat, but he must have been shy because he just looked down and didn't make eye contact. 

Today I'm reminded that just because not many people acknowledge each other in an elevator, it doesn't mean I can't bring a little of my PR upbringing and start doing it here -- even if people think it's odd. I'm also reminded that it would be a good idea if I turned off my iPod now and then when I'm on the bus and paid attention more, because I just might find an opportunity to make someone's day less crappy.

Also, that I need to start carrying a couple of bucks in my wallet, to save me from strict bus drivers.


Zoo said...

That's so sweet! I hope you found your work badge. I totally know that panic of getting on the bus, weighed down with work bag and coffee and whatever else, scrambling to find my bus pass. I remember once on the bus I had a cold and one of those terrible, dry-throat coughing spasms and my water wasn't helping. A nice woman offered me a cough drop. I was so miserable and grateful to her I almost starting crying.
That guy was a quick thinker!

Jen said...

I did find it, thank God!