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16 July 2007

Heard on the Bus

I am a reasonably well brought up girl, brought up  in the suburbs with, to a large extent,  small town values. 'Please' and 'thank you' are tattooed on my DNA, and the idea of occupying (say on a bus) a seat while someone older or more infirm than myself is unthinkable. Unthinkable to a degree that I've never given the objects of courtesy much thought at all. When I thought of the elderly at all, you know, in the group sense, it was as I knew them in my own smallish burg. Quiet, well-mannered, nice, etc. But it never occurred to me to wonder, what they're like. What they are really like among themselves. What were they like when thrown together in public, at the front of a bus this one with cataracts, that one hobbling on a walker, another in a wheelchair? My role in such situations is clear, to provide assistance and get out of the way. The pecking order is clear, age and experience, 'there but for the grace of god', 'this'll be me one day' and all that. And it was that role which provided me for the first time a fly on the wall perspective of how one might behave when a member of the Silver Wing of bus riders, a club in which everyone is just as infirm as you.



So . . . absolutely, complete and utter true story:




One of my good friends and I are standing on the bus after a day of sightseeing, barely speaking. But...let's not go into that. We're standing toward the front, when it comes to a stop. A gravely voice somewhere in the direction of my right elbow comes to me. "Excuse me...excuse me," it growls. "Watch your feet." An older man wearing a baseball cap rolls into sight, attempting to maneuver his small mechanical wheelchair past the other seniors who occupy the front of the bus. "Excuse me, watch your feet," he repeats. Things are going well, well relatively well, considering the crowd on the bus. Oops, spoke to soon. "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! (Blasphemy!) (Profanity!)" A white-haired old guy with wrap around sunglasses takes a couple of aborted leaps into the air. "You're running me over! (Blasphemy!) (Profanity!)" "I said 'watch your feet." The fracas dies down as the old guy in the wheelchair manages to wedge himself into the doorway. As the bus's lift lowers him to the ground. An elderly Chinese man with a New York accent speaks up. "That chair (two syllables)--it's so big! You'd think he'd pick a smaller chair." "These schmucks in wheelchairs," the old guy with the sunglasses growls back, "most of them got no consideration at all." Aahh...welcome to San Francisco.



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