Monday, February 17, 2014

Waiting for Buses with Strangers

The old man took deliberate steps towards me. He brandished a length of polished wood, like the leg of a table, using it for a cane. His orthopedic shoes and flat-topped Stetson gave him a harmless air, but the way he made direct eye contact from behind his wire-framed bifocals left me checking for escape routes. Not for the first time in my life I wished for a “NO SOLICITATION” tattoo on my forehead.

"Is the next bus coming soon?" He paused in front of me at the bus stop where I was waiting for the 49 with several other riders. I sought out an ally--literally any other person waiting for the bus with us--but no one was looking up from their slush-covered boots or out of their scarf-wrapped hoods.

Though I'm not a professional bus tracker, I nodded. "Yep, should be about five minutes." It seemed like a good guess. All I wanted to do was take a breather after work, wait for the bus in peace, and go home for dinner. I wasn't trying to engage in conversation. The only people who make small talk really just want me to: subscribe to a magazine, join their bank, join their church, join their gym, or allow them to linger in my personal space far longer than is normal or comfortable for me.

He took a few more steps and turned around to face me, but didn't say anything. I could feel his gaze, though perhaps he was looking at something past me. I didn't want to check, instead opting to keep him in my peripheral. People get robbed when they let their guards down, and this man was already giving me weird vibes.

He came closer and I pulled my purse to the front of my body. "Could you tell me the time?" he asked.

I checked my phone. "It's 7:13." Did he only ask so he could see where I put my phone? I slipped it into my jacket pocket and kept my hand in there with it.

Again he did his few steps away, turn, few more steps back maneuver. Now he was in my personal space. I leaned away, willing the bus to show up.

"And you said the bus would come when?"

I was annoyed. We were already waiting--the bus comes when it comes--and again, I'm not a bus tracker. I had checked online before I left work to get a vague idea of how fast I would have to walk to the bus stop, but there's no telling what kind of delays/traffic a Western bus will face on a weeknight. "Well," I took a step back, "the last time I checked, it was coming at 7:17."

He smiled at me, unfazed. "And you said it's what time?"

When the bus pulled up, I checked through the windows for empty seats. The queue formed at the door, but didn't move. The Clockless Wonder stood at the front, nearly bowing as he motioned for me to get on first. I smiled and boarded. Spotting a few empty rows in the back half of the bus, I quickly sat down. He took a spot in the reserved area. I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding and closed my eyes. Another day, another awkward interaction, another reminder to bring headphones with me when I go out in public.




"Please Go Away." T-shirt courtesy of St. Norbert College's study abroad program, but also effective as a weirdo repellent.
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26 comments:

  1. Totally engaging. I was all creeped out and nervous right along with you. I hate when people invade your personal space. I don't like those unnerving situations at all. Great read.

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    1. I can usually handle personal space infractions, but when combined with extended conversation, I'm OUT.

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  2. Yes, the headphones seem like a perfect answer! I was fascinated the whole way through your story - great job!

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    1. Sometimes I don't even listen to anything, I just put them in so people don't talk to me!

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  3. I much prefer a half-empty bus to being butt to belly on my commute. That said, I got over the creepy interaction thing (mostly) during my time in Brooklyn outer edges. And I've never owned headphones -- THEY creep me out too.

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    1. Yeah, it has to be something you get over living in a city...and I guess with the headphones you are trading "privacy" for less awareness--hence why I don't always listen to anything, I just wear them. Sunglasses also tend to do the trick.

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  4. I just want to be alone on public transportation. Please. ;)

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  5. Oh, I would have been so annoyed. I usually do everything in my power to avoid social interaction with strangers.

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    1. Me too. I go way out of my way to not interact in public. I even avoid people giving samples in grocery stores.

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  6. Interactions like that are so exhausting. I felt like I was there right with you getting creeped out. And that shirt is genius.

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  7. After living in Manhattan for 8 years, I have definitely waited at bus stops with my fair share of creepers. And honestly, it never gets less weird. Personal space, man.

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    1. Ugh. We share the world with some strange people, that's for sure.

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  8. I always wanted to read on the transit system, especially after I had children, it was a respite of alone time otherwise not afforded to me. My husband says I am a creeper magnet, though, because no matter where I am or what I am doing people always assume I am up for a conversation.

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    1. Right? Like do we have signs hanging from us that say "Hey, talk to me, weirdos!"

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  9. Oh man, we've all been there -- this brought back some of my awkward public transportation encounters. Great read! Also, I would recommend sticking your nose in a book, but for whatever reason, people don't seem to find that a deterrent!

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    1. Books are usually my go-to, though I try not to read anything too popular because--surprise surprise--someone's gonna want to chat about it!

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  10. Phew. I thought for a minute he was going to take the seat next to you. I agree. Headphones can be a blessing because sometimes we just want to be alone with our thoughts.

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    1. Yes! Alone and unnoticed, my favorite way to do public transportation.

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  11. BLECH i'm so glad I work in the burbs (live in the city) and have car.

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  12. Very engaging post -- awesome sensory details. Well-told. More importantly, I LOVE your tee-shirt in the photo!

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    1. Haha, thanks! It's one of my favorite shirts.

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  13. Talking to strangers? The horror. I loved your story.

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    1. Don't I know it. Thanks for reading!

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