Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
And then there are the people who shuffle through our lives. The man who passed my seat holding a sign then stood with his back to me murmuring to the group seated at the end of our carriage. He turned towards our seats and murmured some more, but I couldn’t understand a word. The sign was too busy--large lettered words and tiny squiggles and a taped newspaper article--so I couldn’t settle on what it said he wanted. Money probably. Then he left. Needs a publicist. He was white.
A man came through shaking a battered paper cup politely asking for change. Did he go to every carriage? Or did he just ride this one hoping eventually some kind-hearted stranger would drop coins or bills into his begging cup. He was black.
A more enterprising man boarded our carriage calling, “Socks. Socks.” Surprised, I looked up to see he carried a stack of pure white athletic socks. They looked new. He moved fairly quickly down the aisle, so I didn’t see if he made a sale. Who would buy socks in the subway on the way to work? He must get succeed sometimes or why bother? He was Hispanic.
Need is diverse.
And always there is a darkly bundled person curled in on her/himself sleeping, usually alone in a two person seat, stale aromas wafting up to those who pass. Whose son or daughter is this? Whose father/mother? What story could they tell?
Monday, April 4, 2016
In our commuter trains there are single seats near the doors that have a metal notice above them: “These seats reserved for the elderly or disabled.”
On a crowded early-morning commute, these seats are often filled by random passengers. In my three days of traveling in these trains, I noticed that when an elderly or disabled person got on, the able-bodied, younger passenger occupying these seats responded in one of three ways.
1. Jumped up and pointed to the seat, almost insisting that the older/disabled person sit down.
2. Made eye contact, raised eyebrows and stood, giving the disabled person an opportunity to accept or reject the said seat.
3. Completely ignored the older or disabled person by looking down, closing the eyes, reading, or looking everywhere except where the person swayed, trying to stay stable on the moving train.
In the three days and seven trains that I rode, I noticed something interesting. The closer to age forty the seated person was, the more likely to get up and offer their seat. Men usually took option one: Jumped up immediately and offered their seat. Women usually made eye contact first, as in option two.
However, the closer to teenage-hood of the seated passenger, the more likely they were to sit and pretend to be sleeping or look straight ahead. I watched one older woman, hanging on to a pole as the train started off and careened around a corner. She stood directly over a twenty-ish young man occupying a “reserved” seat, while he stayed seated, eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. His friend sat in the reserved seat opposite, hunched over and sleeping while holding onto the hand of his girlfriend in the next seat. The other standing passengers’ eyes flicked back and forth between the youngsters and the older woman, obviously disapproving, but not saying a word. After a few minutes a fortyish Hispanic woman in the regular seats stood up and beckoned the older woman to her seat. She also stood guard over it as the older woman struggled down the crowded aisle.
One other item stood out. The Hispanic passengers were the most willing and insistent on giving up their seats to the older or disabled person. Many of them were middle-aged, modestly dressed, and did not speak English. Could they read English? Unknown. But they seemed the most considerate of the elderly. I wonder if something in their background or culture engenders respect for the older generation.
My experience also leads me to wonder. What are we teaching our children? In our eagerness to cater to their needs, are we also forgetting to remind them that they have a similar duty to others? Are we raising a nation of self-centered young people? Or is it just in Los Angeles, where commuter trains are relatively new, that riders are ignorant of acceptable behavior? I like to think it is the latter.
Sunday, April 3, 2016
Getting out of the car and sitting next to other citizens of this area has given me a glimpse into, and an appreciation for, the diversity and the dignity of our neighbors.
I saw one young man with hair long on top and back, but shaved on the sides above his brown-skinned ears. The marks of recent combing were evident in the still damp streaks of hair that extended along his head and down the back, clipped together neatly at the nape. Tattoos marked his arms and neck. Seeing him swagger down the street, or even just walking, I might have driven past him assuming he was hard and dangerous. As we sat across from each other, rocking on the train with many other passengers standing and sitting around us, he pulled out a thinnish book and began to read. The book was coverless, deep yellow with age, and filled with text. The edges of the pages were tattered in a way that bespoke years of use rather than misuse. I immediately thought of the hundreds of books that overflow my bookshelves, and the boxes of books I have donated over the years. I wanted to encourage him, to give him a new book, to keep up his interest in reading. But which book and how would I do that? In the end I would not invade his privacy, startle him, and embarrass him. His eyes stayed on the pages reading intently until he stored it in his backpack and got off at his stop. I watched him go, wondering where he went, what he was reading, and how I could have approached him.