El Oh El

Public transportation is, as any city-dweller knows, a necessary evil. Whether stuck driving behind the bus or stuck on it, it cannot be done away with. As one without her driver’s license, I depend on it. Unfortunately.

I don’t mind traveling with complete strangers, which seems to be the common complaint I run into. They are the least of my concerns. I have the benefit of time to myself, and I enjoy the fact that I’m doing my bit for the environment. I don’t have to worry about insurance bills or car payments. No missed exits, no jerk cutting me off because he’s late for work. Or the bar.

My aversion to public transportation is simply because it magnifies some of my biggest faults. I’m not particularly punctual and I’m horrible at running. Public transport requires me to either be on time, or (and this is usually the case due to my easily distracted nature) I must run for my life—or, rather, my employment.

But once on the el (my usual mode of transport), I’m fine. I keep to myself. I try and keep to the boundaries of my stupidly uncomfortable seat. I stick my nose in a book and drown everyone out with music–at a reasonable level, of course.

Not all people are content to do this, however. People blast music, yell into their phones, smoke, argue, make-out. I’ve even seen people sleep on the el. Not a quick catnap, head propped up on your hand (I think almost everyone is guilty of this), but an honest-to-goodness proper slumber, REM-cycle and all.

I once had a man fall asleep on me. I was in high school at the time, even more mousy and non-confrontational than now. It was winter, and he was wearing a puffy coat in a robin’s-egg blue, with a matching ear-warmer band wrapped around his bald head. Ghosts of his rocker lifestyle remained on his knuckles: faded tattoos hoarsely yelling LOVE and HATE. He sat in the aisle seat. Desperate for a seat in the crowded car, I settled into the empty chair, not believing my luck.

The el lurched to the side, and he leaned on me slightly. A gentle nudge sent him back to his proper place. The incident repeated: the el lurched, he leaned, I nudged. But then he began to lean on me with no prompting from the el. Now, gentle nudges weren’t enough to send him back to his own area. He was invading mine, leaning more and more heavily on my shoulder. He was big and bulky, and I was his opposite. My only defense was my elbow, which I jammed repeatedly into his side. The first few pokes seemed to send him the other way, if only a little, but then he adapted. He went back to leaning on me.

I was trapped. And, I quickly realized, a show. People did nothing to help and everything to get a better view. They craned their necks around others to watch me struggle to not be crushed. I swear I heard snickering.

I survived by the grace of timing. My stop finally came and I squeezed myself out from under this strange man I never met (but was now uncomfortably intimate with) and dove from the car. I managed to catch sight of him plummeting to the empty seat, almost clipping his head on the windowsill. He woke up after that.

I’ve been asked out on dates, been hit up for money, been ogled at, and been asked if I was running away while riding public transportation. One guy even tried to kiss me. I’ve been cursed at verbally and through writing. And I just accept this. I focus past the obscenities carved into the window and watch the scenery pass me by. I try to enjoy it. It’s tranquil. A sort of in-between space where I don’t have to worry about where I’m coming from or where I’m going. You don’t get that driving a car.

About Anna

Lots of things make me happy. Running my mouth is one of them. Another is pie.
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