Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adventures In Public Transportation

Another indicator that I was meant to live in NYC? I love public transportation. Although I can't really draw the connection, I love it for the same reason that I love going to a restaurant alone, saddling up to the bar for a meal and reading a book. Part of it is probably the white noise, as I am the least comfortable in a quiet room. I studied for the LSAT at a noisy bar, right after I got off my shift waiting tables, and I could concentrate so intensely that I would jump a foot if someone tapped me on the shoulder. In law school, I studied at crowded coffee shops and other places with a constant din of white noise. Although I do love libraries, I could never study there.

I like public transportation for similar reasons, and also, of course, the people watching. Every stranger's face is a new story and, to some extent, a reminder of my small place in the world. B hated that I took the bus to work and often persuaded me to accept a ride from him (even though he was going in the complete opposite direction). At night, I would stop by my favorite bar, enjoy a cocktail while reading something, then take the bus home. It was my chance to turn off my on switch and I came to realize that I required more personal alone time than him. Topic for another day, I suppose.

Because I am incapable of walking like a normal person and get too sweaty walking into the office during the summer, lately I have been taking the bus to work. The morning crowd is different than the evening crowd, and many are lost in thought about their day's events. Tonight, for reasons related to my ongoing inability to eat properly, I knew I was too weak to walk the three miles home, so I hopped on the bus. The evening crowd is often weary and distracted, although there are a few who are just buzzing at their nightly emancipation from their cubicles and offices.

The bus was pretty full and as I peered over my book, I saw the usual suspects. The guy on his laptop, making full use of the plethora of unsecured wireless networks on the route home. The ipod folks who nod off to music that reminds them of easier days. The readers (self included) who take their entertainment in the incremental periods of commuting. The quite-nearly-postal employees who hate every minute of being on the bus and silently pray that no one will deign to sit next to them. The fucking idiots who make all of their return phone calls and speak as though they are on walkie-talkies.

Early on, a dreadlocked guy boarded the bus, carrying his guitar. I confess that I am just judgmental enough that I held my breath as he passed, lest he emit a less than showered scent. Shortly thereafter, he started quietly strumming and it was pleasant. I was secretly hoping he wouldn't bust out with lyrics when, all of a sudden, the woman in the seat ahead of me turned around and said, quite loudly, "WOULD YOU PLEASE NOT PLAY YOUR GUITAR? I HAVE A HEADACHE FROM WAITING FOR THE BUS!"

I was utterly gobsmacked. First, and as a preliminary matter, the faint sounds of his guitar were nothing compared to the symphony of city sounds, which included ambulances, horns, the bus driver announcing stops, the aforementioned cell phone conversations, chanting protesters (Danfur? No idea) and whatnot. Second of all, what kind of audacity does it take to say, in effect, "not tonight, I have a headache" to a complete stranger? My jaw dropped and although the would-be strummer could not have been more gracious, I found myself completely pissed off. I shot him a look of sympathy and mouthed the words "that is bullshit." He ended up in a too loud conversation with obnoxious cell phone guy about their respective bands and aspirations, but I was seething with desire to tell that fucking bitch off.

I gathered my thoughts and was preparing quite a soliloquy about entitlement complexes and shared space. Seriously, I was irrationally tweaked at her behavior and the notion that she expected everyone (or, at least this guy) to accommodate her bad mood. My fellow passengers in the immediate vicinity could see that I was about to be very un-Seattle-like and call bullshit on this move and seemed both poised to cheer me on and ready to ignore another crazy person on the bus. Just as I was about to open my mouth, however, I noticed her ponytail.

She had a crappy haircut (certainly not of the $400 variety) shoved haphazardly into a barely-there ponytail, and I could tell that she assembled this look while her hair was still wet. I had a pang of recognition and searched my mental Roladex as to how I might know this person. I realized that she had been a temp at my firm and I was the reason she was no longer there. She had been placed at our firm during a paralegal's maternity leave and she sucked ass at the basics. I can overlook most incompetence, however, especially for woman doing the temp gig, so it wasn't her lack of skills. No, it had been her - wait for it - entitlement complex in that she thought she just had to show up to collect her paycheck. I rarely, very rarely, ask my legal assistants or paralegals to do something I can do just as fast (see, e.g. copying this document, faxing that one). I ask them to do stuff that they can do faster and more efficiently than I can on account of their experience (see, e.g., format this document for the 9th Circuit, etc.).

On her ill-fated last day, I asked her to do one such task - format a pleading template for me - and she barked back at me that she was going to lunch, needed to eat on account of her diabetes and low blood sugar, and, in the future, if I needed her services, I needed to give her at least one hour's warning. I felt immediately shamed, as though I had treated her like a servant or otherwise disrespectfully (even though I had said 'please' and 'when you have time'), and said I understood. While she was at lunch, I looked up the applicable rule, formatted it myself, and forgot about it. She came back even more angry and launched into this bizarre tirade about younger women disrespecting older women and did I know that if it was not for her, I would not be an attorney?

(I don't discount the substance of these arguments. Many women before me paved the path for me to become an attorney and it is very true that I owe those women a huge debt of gratitude. Women who sacrificed family and children and put in ungodly hours to prove their worth to their male counterparts and likely endured humiliating indignities towards that end. This woman did not appear to be such a pioneer, but appearances, they can be deceiving.)

As she stormed out of my office that day, I noticed that she had crammed her short hair into a strange little pigtail and, as I heard her flip flops clacking in protest (seriously, flip flops? At a law office?), I reconsidered my earlier shame. I had asked her to do a task that was well within her job requirements and had been completely polite and non-demanding in that request. After she left, I walked into my boss' office and told him that I would not work with her again, giving a brief explanation. To say that I am the least demanding attorney in my office (vis a vis the support staff) is a huge understatement, and she was let go within the hour.

So (fuck, I need to self edit), just before I prepared to launch into my tirade, I remembered this little interlude and felt guilty for having caused this woman any professional fallout. I was certain that I didn't need to call her out amongst my fellow in-city commuters and, in any event, humiliate her further. I kept my mouth shut like a good Seattle girl and endured the short ride home.

As I got up at my stop, I passed her and she said, again, quite loudly, "I HOPE YOU ARE PROUD OF YOURSELF FOR GETTING ME FIRED!" I was stunned. Dreadlocked Guitar Boy and Obnoxious Cell Phone Guy both smirked as I turned around, leaned down to her and said, "Cupcake? Consider for a moment that you are not a pleasant person to be around and that you are responsible for the hand you keep getting dealt. You just might be the fucking problem."

My little section of the bus cheered as I exited the bus. I felt equal parts ass and hero.


Talix said...

That's awesome.

Norm said...

You're my hero.

As for the ass, well, you're doing the squats and lunges, right? *hmof*