I read this yesterday, and it reminded me of an incident which occurred on a busy BART train, many years ago now. I can’t believe I’d forgotten this story, because it’s actually rather excellent, and it illustrates how people can totally defy your stereotypes, filling me with hope for humanity.

At any rate, when I was briefly living in Oakland, I used to take BART into Berkeley every day. I lived pretty close to Coliseum station, so I would drive down, BART in, do my thing, drive back, rinse, lather, repeat. At any rate, sometimes my commute got a little exciting when there was a game on, because a lot of people would go to the game on BART, rather than driving, which is something I generally applaud, although it did make my train trips chaotic sometimes. But everyone was usually pretty nice, and I remember once a group of exuberant young men insisted on walking me to my car because it was dark and they were worried about me, which was very sweet.

So I hopped onto the train one day and it was incredibly crowded, even though BART had added extra cars. I quickly saw that I wasn’t going to be able to sit, so I grabbed a pole and made the best of it. Most of the train was in a state of high energy, obviously excited about the upcoming game, except for a handful of outliers, including a businessman sitting in the handicapped seat, reading the Wall Street Journal and jabbering loudly on his cell phone with his brief case sprawled out next to him. For some reason, no one had made him yield the other seat, let along get up for one of the older people on the train, which kind of surprised me. He was very obviously not handicapped, and yes, I know that people have disabilities which are not readily visible, but trust me on this one: he was just a self righteous yuppie, and he in no way, shape, or form needed to sit down.

So we reached MacArthur station, and a very pregnant woman got on board, along with a bunch of other people, and the train fell into a state of expectant silence, with everyone looking at the businessman, who continued blaring into his phone, obviously totally oblivious. The pregnant woman didn’t kick up a fuss at all, she just grabbed a pole and stood, getting ready for the train to leave.

At this point, a thuggish young hoodlum tapped the businessman on the shoulder. And I mean thuggish. Not wannabe ghetto, seriously thuggish ghetto, as in probably packing a gun that he knew how to use. The kind of person that you would cross to the other side of the street to avoid.

The businessman looked up irritably after about thirty seconds of tapping, and said “what” in a snarling, hostile kind of way which actually kind of impressed me, given who was tapping him on the shoulder. Now the train fell into complete silence, so silent that you could almost feel the tumbleweeds blowing down the center aisle.

“Yo, dog,” the thug said. “You gonna move for that pregnant lady?”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” the businessman said, which amazed me even further.

“Yo, dog, can you read? This sign says “disabled” on it. You disabled? ’cause you don’t look like it, man.”

The businessman held his ground, silently, as an even larger thug slid up behind thug number one.

“The man asked you to move,” he said, very softly. “You should stand so that nice pregnant lady can sit down.”

The pregnant lady was mortified at this point over the fuss, while the train’s passengers were waiting with bated breath and dropped jaws.

“You best git out o’ dat seat,” he said, a little more loudly. The businessman ruffled his paper defiantly…

…and thug number two literally lifted him by the collar and deposited him in the aisle as the train exploded in laughter and the businessman’s cellphone went skittering to the other end of the train. He started indignantly boiling over while another standing passenger helpfully handed him his briefcase and the two thugs escorted the pregnant lady to her seat. Eventually the cellphone made its way back to the businessman, who stopped sputtering and sat in humiliated silence on the floor while everyone congratulated the thugs and starting high fiving each other from sheer exuberance.

When the businessman finally got off (12th Street), thug two looked him in the eye and said:

“Next time I see you takin’ that handicapped seat on this train while someone who needs it is standing up, I’ll shoot you, dog. Then you’ll really be a cripple.”

And the doors slid closed while the train continued on its way.

This, my friends, is why I love Oakland.

9 Replies to “Unexpected”

  1. I am completely incensed when I see people who do stuff like this. There’s this one kid in his early twenties who always covers the seat next to him with his coat so that nobody will sit next to him. When all of the seats have one person each, I always make it a point to sweetly ask him to move his shite so that I might park mine ass.

  2. While I may think that being a ‘thug’ is no good, I can’t help but give these thugs due credit. It goes a long way in showing that a group being given a negative connotation by society is not indicative of the individuals within that group. I find that people who live stereotypes tend to not last long when they’re integrating with the group those stereotypes are of, which also goes to show the same. Good stuff.

  3. So where was everyone else? A crowded train didn’t have but one thug to speak. Why was everyone else (us?) silent. A business man in a suit intimidates us? Why? There were other suits in that car. I wear a suit. Would I speak? I hope so.

  4. I’ve been a pregnant lady on a crowded subway and conducted my own sociological study. White businessmen will not get up for anyone, unless prodded by a thug or little old lady. Hispanic men of all ages, from pre-teens to grandfathers, will instantly get up. African American women will get up, especially the elderly ones who need the seat themselves.

    But white men in suits will sit with their legs spread apart to take up three times as much room as they need.

    Those are the results of my study, plus or minus a few percentage points.

  5. I suppose that being a thug doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t know right from wrong; I guess it just means you don’t always feel the need to let the difference affect you.

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