Transit confrontation stories
Published Monday, June 4, 2012 12:36PM EDT
TORONTO - A confrontation with a brusque and unfriendly subway rider concluded with an ultimately rewarding result this week, making me view in another light the rude and grumpy people often found commuting through big city transit systems
A pleasant conclusion to a confrontation is a rare occurrence for anyone familiar with Toronto's subway system, or any Canadian transit system in which riders are sardined together for long periods.
It is more likely you will meet folks willing to cut their finger nails and flick them purposefully in your direction, or throw sandwich crusts on your feet and tell you to perform sexual acts upon yourself if and when you take offense.
Rarer are the times when two riders clash, then leave thinking, "Maybe the human race isn't totally buggered after all."
- Do you have your own stories of nightmare transit riders? Do you have a happy story to tell? Share them below.
The rider in question was a sharp-tongued woman sitting several seats away from me on the west-bound Toronto subway car earlier this week. We had both entered at a quiet station and the train was nearly empty. We were nearly alone.
She was a heavy-set older woman burdened by an oversized purse on the seat next to her. The bags hanging under her eyes suggested she was tired, likely heading home, like myself, after a long day at work.
I sat with one of my feet kicked over the opposite knee, absently flipping through my phone while I waited for the subway to embark on its trip downtown.
The woman took immediate umbrage with the way I sat. She demanded I get my foot out of her face, told me it smelled terrible and that I was being rude.
It did not. Stink, that is. It was a muggy day and Toronto's underground can get particularly ripe under such circumstances. But foot odour was not an issue. Were I not confident on this topic, I would not have brought it up. But I digress.
The point this woman was making was that I had pointed the bottom of my shoe in her direction. It was about two metres away from her – a reasonable distance but notable perhaps on an otherwise empty subway car.
She had chosen a rude way of pointing out my own incivility, but she was right. There are some cultures and people who perceive being shown the bottom of a shoe as a slight.
To me, kicking my foot up was an absent-minded act in search of a comfortable sitting position. To her, it was insulting. And she acted in kind.
I apologized to the woman, placed my foot on the floor, and valiantly defended my shoe's non-odourous honour.
"It's rude," she snapped as we otherwise began our commute downtown in silence.
Our train car filled to overflowing as we neared the city core and soon transit riders were searching for seats in vain.
A woman approached my antagonist and asked that she move her purse from the seat next to her so she could sit down. The idea was rebuffed with icy silence. I gave the woman my own seat, and the silent woman shot me a quick look.
It wasn't long until another rider was asking for the extra seat. This time when she ignored the request, the person touched the gruff woman's arm as if to rouse her from a slumber.
"Don't you dare touch me," she suddenly exploded. "You can't sit there. Go away."
The person did in fact leave. But the exchange left me stunned. Feeling I had restored ownership of the high ground, I leaned forward to address the woman.
"Well, now look who's being rude," I said with as a neutral a tone as I could muster.
The women shot another glance at me and snorted, before burying her head in her chest and crossing her arms. She held the pose for a beat, but then exhaled.
She looked up at me with softer eyes and gave a nod. "Yeah, you got me there," she said.
The following moments were as close to bliss as I have felt while on public transit. I fought back the urge to look around to see whether the other commuters had noticed the historic moment.
Has anyone in the human race's long history of commuting ever before admitted to being in the wrong? Have two people ever agreed that neither were entirely perfect?
Before the woman departed the train she came to me and patted my arm. "I am trying to be better," she said to me quietly.
"Life is a journey," I responded.
I have taken the same subway ride several times since the encounter and have not come across the woman who would not move her purse.
But during those trips I have, each time, checked my surrounding before crossing over my leg.
I like to imagine her out there, perhaps on another car on the same train, holding her purse in her lap.
And I hope that neither of us ever again crosses paths with the disgusting person who cuts their finger nails and flicks them on the ground.
Do you have your own stories of nightmare transit riders? Do you have a happy story to tell? Share them below.