One day when I told my friend J about an experience on the bus she said, “Oh so you one of those crazy people yelling on the bus you tell me about?” I had to really think on that one. The answer is yes, but my rants are not random or non-sequiturs and this makes it all legitimate.
A few weeks ago I was on the 90 headed northwest from southeast. The 90 is a fascinating bus because I get on at the place where I go searching for mental health a couple times a week and a lot of other people from this place ride the bus with me. Many of the consumers of mental health quests are also homeless and psychotic. However, the 90 changes at some point and a lot of riders that get on are young to middle age White professionals heading towards the 14th & U Street area and Adams Morgan.
On this particular late afternoon I was sitting in the back of the bus, which is a new phenomenon for me as I used to say (prior to prison), “My people fought really hard to ride in the front and I sure as hell am not sitting in the back.” However, I notice that a lot of White folk sit in the back and there is a reason for this: because a lot of the Black people, on the path to finding their mental health, sit up front.
All of a sudden I looked to the middle of the bus and I see two Black men sitting together. The one sitting next to the window was wearing a red baseball cap and the other man had on a sort of fisherman’s tan hat. The dude with the red hat said, “Well if that’s what it mean ta be bi-sexual then I bi-sexual nigga!” Okay, it was late afternoon; the time children are coming from their afterschool programs with their parents or caregivers.
The man in the tan hat said, “No. No you ain’t. You just a faggot. ‘Cause Tony took it out a yo’ mouf and put it in mine and I got him off and then I fucked him.” The red hat man said, “Nah I got mine.” Then Tan Hat said, “Man you full a shit. Tony put it in my mouf. Then I fucked him and then he fucked you. You ain’t bi-sexual. You just a faggot.” I pretended not to hear for a while but the White folk were looking to me for explanation. And I was just appalled and it showed on my face.
Then the bus driver got into it. She was like, “Hey y’all need ta cut it out. There children on this bus. Don’t nobody wanna hear this shit.” Oh, but Tan Hat was not going to have it. He said, “I paid my money and I say what I want. Tony fucked him.” The bus driver screamed, “I will pull this bus ova and put yo’ ass off.” Tan Hat was feeling pretty spunky or something because he said, “No you won’t. I paid my fare and Ima git off where I wanna git off.” Then it just turned more ugly. The bus driver—and keep in mind she’s female—said, “Listen ta me Tan Hat. You need ta shut tha fuck up ‘cause I ain’t Tony bitch!”
I just hung my head. I was so overwhelmed and trying not to laugh at the complete insanity for all involved. At the next stop Tan Hat got off. And he started talking big shit through the window and the bus driver yelled, “Yeah. Whateva. You knew I was gonna put yo’ ass off. This ain’t where you wanted ta git off at.” Then Red Hat started shaking and said quietly, but loud enough for all of us to hear, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry y’all had ta hear that.” There was an older Black woman behind him and she just rested her hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s alright. You alright.” And then a tear appeared on my cheek and I had trouble breathing.
I got off at the next stop and went to Trader Joe’s for wine tasting and thought about what was happening. What’s happening? I had wrapped myself in Red Hat’s shame. I was ashamed that the White folks thought this was funny. I was ashamed for the Black children. What’s happening? I’ll tell you what’s happening, there is no help. Those of us who are marginalized because of our marginalization as poor, mentally ill, convicted felons, sexuality etc. etc., are giving up and giving in to the madness.
A woman got on one of the 50’s the other day and she had all of these grocery bags. I thought I should get up and help her navigate to a seat. When she saw me looking at her she yelled, “Why you all up in my bags bitch?” I looked at the ground. I was not having a good week (life). Then she made her way to the middle of the bus and someone she knew greeted her and asked her why she was upset an she replied, “Cause that bougie ass bitch all up in what tha fuck I got in my bags. Nosey bitch!” I thought, “Don’t make eye contact.” Then I got off the bus.
What’s happening? I worry I’m headed in this direction. Last week I was on a Circulator and the bus was two feet—I kid you not two feet—from the stop at 14th and Irving. I needed to get off and transfer to a 50. People outside started walking over to the bus, as the light was red so the driver could not move forward. She would not open the door and I said, “Um can you let us off?” She answered, “No. That’s against tha law. I can only open the doe’ at tha stop.” I laughed loud and said, “Really? Are you going to pick and choose which laws to follow? I’m pretty sure it’s against the law for you to be reading the newspaper while you are driving.” Then she tried to hide the newspaper and said, “I’m not readin’ a newspapa.”
I asked, “Are you crazy? I saw the paper on your lap. Open the damn door.” She said, “I was jus holdin’ tha papa on my lap.” People had started moving away from me as if I was the problem. They headed to the back door. The light turned green and she moved the few paces up and the people waiting to get on were pissed. I said to her, “You are a very unhappy person.” She replied, “You have a nice day Mam.” To which I yelled, as I walked slowly down the steps off the bus, “You JackAss!” And all the people waiting to get on knew exactly why I was calling her that and they laughed. Plus I looked really cute so it just made it all the better. See what I mean?
The buses are a stage and the performances are endless. When I am player the story is often absurd and makes me laugh. Too often my bus stories are tragically funny. If you want to know the state of our city (and perhaps our country) I suggest you spend some time on the buses this summer—especially the 50s, 90s, X2 and the 42. The divide in this city is great and the desperation is deep. If you see a thin Black woman with one or two ponytails that looks put together, that’s me and do not expect anything because I am only “bougie” in my looks and speech. I am one of the many marginalized by my marginalization and it is baffling to see myself in the Tan and Red Hats in this city. We need your help, not your judgment. We need compassion, friendship and love.