04 June 2006

Another setback for Franco-American relations

I just witnessed some awesome, high-quality rage, the likes of which you don't see very often.

I walked down to Whole Foods through Central Park, but it was just a regular day there. Bikers, bladers, joggers; babies, dogs and flowers everywhere. Happy, joy, normal. All the action is on the buses and subways these days.

After grocery shopping, I ran across Broadway trying to catch one of the three M104 buses that were travelling in a pack. A woman in a white dress approached the last bus, about 20 feet from the bus stop, in the middle lane. The driver clearly gestured that she should go to the bus stop and wait, so I had time to get there, too.

But when the bus pulled up, the driver didn't pull over to the bus stop. He just opened the doors, still in the middle lane.

"You are so lazy you can't come over to the bus stop? You told me to go to the bus stop and now you don't even come over? I have to walk to the middle of the street? No, I am not paying for this!"

The woman in white turned out to be French, though her screaming English was fluent. She stormed to the back of the bus, yogurt container in hand, and sat down.

The bus driver yelled at her to come to the front of the bus to pay her fare. He would not move until she did.

"No, I do not pay for this. You do not treat me like this. Just go. I do not pay," she shouted, not moving either.

By this time, the other passengers were starting to get agitated. A man yelled at the woman to go pay her fare, she yelled back that she would not. Then he yelled at the driver to close the door and drive; the driver yelled back that he would not.

After yelling some more at the French woman, the man demanded a transfer and got off the bus. An older woman, after talking to the driver, got off the bus to look for a cop -- there were several traffic cops nearby, but it took a while to get one of them to come over; maybe there's a jurisdictional issue with the transit police. The older woman got back on the bus, marched to the back.

"Get off the bus! You're holding us up! Pay your fare or get off the bus!"

"No, I do not get off the bus! Get away from me! Move back! You do not assault me!"

The older woman stood six inches from the French woman's face. The French woman held her hands up, as if to make certain everyone could see she wasn't the one who would start the fist fight.

I opened the window and called to one of the policemen who were gathered near the bus that there was about to be an altercation and maybe one of them should come on board.

A policeman got on the bus and walked to the back. He told the woman to pay or get off the bus.

"You come get my Metrocard and bring it up there. I do not go near him."

"You have to pay your own fare. We are not going to pay your fare for you."

"You will have to come get me then. I do not move from here. I take your name down. I do not move."

"You have to move. You don't want me to move you."

"You will have to move me."

This went on for a couple of minutes, then the cop reached for his handcuffs.

Normally, I'm extremely uncomfortable around shouting standoffs. Should I intervene? Is someone going to get hurt? Is it somehow my fault?

But it was clear that the woman had completely overreacted and was in the wrong. Another bus driver might have driven on, but ours wasn't wrong for insisting she pay. There was nothing I could have done that wouldn't have made the situation worse, so I didn't have to feel responsible. Plus, I was pretty sure the woman didn't have a gun in her yogurt container, so I wasn't scared. I was enjoying the show.

Unfortunately, the woman got up and stomped to the front of the bus to pay before the cop got out his cuffs. The cop left, the driver closed the doors, we drove up Broadway. The woman swore in French a few times, then helpfully translated.

"It's always the same. The same lazy shit."


Blogger PG said...

Cor! Only in New York...I do find it reassuring that the kinds of things I expect to happen there really do happen, and it's not just in the movies. :)

4:15 PM  

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