Tag Archives bus rides

Potty-Mouthed Street Kids & Other Tales of Harassment

PhilzA couple of weeks ago, seated with a girlfriend outside Philz Coffee, a random, late middle-age man passing by, grabbed my foot and shook it. He didn’t say anything, just shook my foot and continued walking.

What the hell?!

My friend and I looked at each other, puzzled. I didn’t say much and publicly shrugged it off. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to react. Afterward, however, I sat feeling disturbed, my attention divided between my discombobulated thoughts and my friend’s excited chatter about her upcoming travel plans. What made that man think he had the right to reach out and touch me? Would he return? With the steady stream of pedestrians, many toting along canine companions larger than me, I uncomfortably wondered if anyone else might feel compelled to invade my personal space and grab a limb.

***

A few weeks ago, I opted for an Uber home after dinner with a friend. A few blocks away from my apartment building, I instructed the driver where to drop me off. He nodded, but a few seconds later looked behind him and said, “Uhhhh, there’s a police car behind me. I’m going to drive for a little while, see if he goes away.”

My heartbeat sped up ready to race. Danger! Danger! Why does he care if a cop is behind him? They exist, they patrol, they eat donuts and tacos. If you haven’t done anything wrong, you probably have nothing to worry about (in that neighborhood, with his skin color). The story I’d heard of the woman in West Hollywood who was allegedly kidnapped by her Uber driver in the forefront of my memory.

Cat Self-Defense Keychain Photo cr: tactical-life.com
Cat Self-Defense Keychain
Photo cr: tactical-life.com

I prepared to weaponize. I will stab an attempted kidnapping motherfucker in the eye. I looked around and assessed my surroundings, people to ask for help if needed,or a place to run. Only 9pm, but my neighborhood is a quieter one and thus few people wander around late – it’s one of the reasons I chose it, fewer chances of being harassed on the street. The doors to the car were locked. This man is not taking me anywhere. My phone poised to dial 911, I requested, my tone firm, “Please let me out right here.” He drove one more block, my anxiousness increasing with each wheel revolution until finally he stopped the car, I got out and told him, “Never say ‘no’ when a female passenger tells you she wants out.” I don’t know what his issues were or his intentions, but the experience left me shaken. Did I do everything I could have to prevent a bad situation?

After, I read up on the incidences of assault and kidnapping on female passengers in taxis and shared ride services. One male officer suggested that women consider riding with a friend. I grew angry. Isn’t the point of taxis and other passenger services to provide convenience to get from point A to B? I have to adjust my behavior, put a crimp in my lifestyle, because there are some people, men – let’s be real – who think they have a right to my body. Though, I didn’t share this story – as much as it disturbed me – with anyone else because I feared the potential judgement of questions, “Were you drunk? How were you dressed? Were your clear with him that you wanted to get out? Did you flirt with him? Why were you out so late?” All the ways in which female victims are sometimes blamed for the poor behavior of their transgressors.

***

Photo cr: Rapscallionvawn, deviantart.com
Photo cr: Rapscallionvawn, deviantart.com

A few of months before the Uber incident, on my way home from a friend’s place after the sun disappeared for the day, as I boarded the bus, the bus driver, with his shaggy muted brown hair, 70’s pornstache, and Dahmer-style eyeglasses, greeted me with an approving glance and asked creepily, What’s a nice girl like you doing out here this time of night?” Is 7pm when all the “girls” are to pack it in for the day and stay indoors? I’ll admit, I stereotyped him, his appearance and borderline-lascivious gaze brought to mind the type of man police discover harboring missing young women for years.

A handful of other passengers were aboard, including two women – one young, one middle-aged. I decided to board, we’re all women riding the bus at night and there is strength in numbers. I texted my girlfriend to fill her in on the situation and updated my Facebook, a humor-tinged status referencing the fact that bus drivers here are sometimes as stoic as the men guarding The Royal Palace, and this guy was different. Should anything actually happen, people will know I’m missing sooner than later. Thankfully, I disembarked the bus without incident.

***

Last year, on our way to a piercing shop in The Haight, my sister N and I were leered at by street kids lazing on the sidewalk, leaning against a clothing store, looking lost, stoned and sketchy. One “kid” (he appeared to be in his early twenties), white with dirty, stringy blonde hair, shouted at us, “Hey ladies! I’ll lick your p–sy for $10.”

I shook my head, the taste of revulsion and disgust filling my mouth. I’ve experienced my share of insensitive and objectifying cat-calling, but this incident begged to stand out. We are more than our vaginas and ours breasts, we are human beings that deserve the respect we afforded them.

***

During dinner in The Mission with two of my ex-coworkers, Andrew and Melissa* – the same week as the foot-grabbing episode – Andy, one of the most genuine, big-hearted people you could ever meet, asked us earnestly for our thoughts about the national ongoing rape culture discussion. He didn’t want to unknowingly perpetuate the behaviors and beliefs that encapsulate it. We assured him he’s one of the last men who should be concerned with promoting rape culture. As things tend to go, the men who should concern themselves are likely the ones not thinking about it. Similar to how, often the people most insistent on not talking about race, are the ones who need to examine their beliefs and behaviors.

Photo cr: crushable.com
Photo cr: crushable.com

After dinner, our trio headed to the BART station; Andy insisted on walking us to the BART and bus stops, because that’s the kind of guy he is. We ambled down Valencia Street, savoring our time now that we no longer all work together, when a lone man of average height, approaching from the opposite direction, eyes ogling me and Melissa, uttered, with his voice hinting at desire, “Sexxxxxy.”

I ignored him. No man worth my time will approach me on the street and call out to me like I’m a cow in the field.

Andy gaped at us in disbelief. “Did you guys just hear that?!” he asked.

I looked at Melissa, she nodded with indifference. I shrugged and told Andy, “This happens all the time. You get used to it.” He shook his head in sadness. I told Andy, “I’m glad you are with us though. Men respect other men. He won’t be bothering us.” Had Andy not been with us, who knows what would have happened? The three of us remained silent for some time, my words, “You get used it,” reverberating in my head. I have gotten used to and I hate it. I hate that I have accepted that this is part of life as a woman.

*Not their real names

Bus Bullies and Ratchet Bitches*

Last week on my way home from work, trouble came looking for me in the form of a bus bully. I could have ignored it, but the fighter in me protested: “Nope, we will NOT be backing down today.”

When I boarded the bus, it was standing room only. I parked myself near a pole, turned up Spotify and tried to decompress from work. Whereas I could have gotten lobotomized and still done my old job, my new job keeps me on my toes: literally and figuratively. By the end of most days, I’m spent. That day had been particularly exhausting.

Photo cr: torbakhopper, flickr.com
Photo cr: torbakhopper, flickr.com

A minute into my bus ride, the girl (she was maybe in her early 20s) sitting in front of me said to her friend, seated behind me, “Hoes be having they p-ssy all in my face and shit.”

Say what now?

Another woman (not a man) can call me a bitch and I won’t care. Dirt off my shoulder. But, I do not accept “ho” or “hoe.” Perhaps to me the word “ho” is like the word “chicken” is to Marty McFly. [“Nobody.calls me.a HO!”]. This may seem hypocritical given the post title, but so be it.

I looked up from my phone. Dammit, I just wanted to listen to some music and read.

“Excuuuuse me?” I said with surprise (and ok, maybe some irritation, but still, I was calm).

The girl gave me a stankass look. Or maybe that was just her face. Frozen in stank position ’cause all she does is act stank. “Giiiiirl, I know you ain’t talkin’ to me.”

“First of all, I am not a girl. I am a woman. Second, you will not speak to me that way.”

I always wondered when I would stop referring to myself as a “girl” and start referring to myself as a “woman.” This, apparently, was that moment.

I could see on her stankass stankface that she was taken aback. To her friend she got all huffy and began heaving her giganto-boobs in my direction, neck-rolling, steam coming out of her ears that are probably too through with hearing her stankiness. Her stankface became even stankier as she exclaimed stankily: “Ooh this bitch…blah blah blah…dumb ho…niggas….blah blah..I know she didn’t…more stankface bloviating. I am a stankface who says stankface things.” [Ok, fine, she didn’t say the last two things.]

Now here is where I could have told trouble to take a damn hike.

A woman in a wheelchair needed to board the bus. As it happened, stankface was seated in the wheelchair area.

The bus driver instructed: “Everybody move back, get up! Wheelchair coming!”

Stankface got up with a huff, rolling her eyes and heaving her giant bosom. I taunted her (gleefully?), “Oh look. Now your problems are over and you don’t have to be near me!! Lucky you!”

She stood over me, at least 6 inches on my 5’1′ (and 3/4!) frame and made like she was gonna fight me. Her face became the stankiest I would see it that day. Winner of the stankface-a-thon is YOU!

I didn’t flinch. I know a bully when I see one. I was the smart black kid who got teased for “talking white,” listening to grunge music and caring about school. I was not here for her bullshit.

“I am not scared of you little girl. You know how they say someone’s voice was “dripping with disdain?” That was me. I was practically vomiting disdain. Disdain all up and down that bus! Channeling my grandma, my dad, my moms and any other strong people I know who don’t put up with disrespect, I thought to myself, “I am too old and too accomplished to have this stankface little girl talking to me this way and wasting my time over some nonsense.”

Stankface moved closer to her stanky sidekick. She was now standing next to me. She and her friend continued to chitter on, loudly, as though the rest of the bus cared what went on in their stankratch lives, about what an awful person I was. Ho this. Ho that. I could see other riders looking at them askew. Then a detour: “My baby daddy…blah blah…my son…oh yeah, my daughter.” These ratchet bitches have kids? God help those children and our society.

Don’t make a comment about their kids. Don’t even say the word “child!” Don’t say that you feel sorry for their kids. Keep your mouth shut! You are too old to be getting into a fight. You have a real job. Get it together girl.

I could see my criminal future flashing before my eyes, Facebook HuffPost headline reading: Promising black female tech employee (one of 5.75 in the City!) gets in bus fight with stankface ratchet bitch over the word “ho”. Ruins career.

I silenced the devil on my shoulder. Instead, as they tried to antagonize me with their words, I smirked. Bullies hate when you don’t break down and give in to their shenanigans. Oh does it anger them. “Oh hellll no, this bitch is laughing,” stankface grumbled indignantly. Yep, this bitch is laughing, and you and your heaving bosom of all that is ratchet and your stankface are getting more upset and I don’t give a f-.

Another woman, seated with her child, pulled the cord to get off the bus. She announced loudly, directing her attention to the stankcrew: “I am getting off the bus with my son. If anybody gets in my way….”

What in thee hell is with people on this bus? This bus line can be particularly trying. There always seems to be someone yelling, someone with an attitude, someone angry at the world, someone smelly, someone talking to themselves, some dude trying to make eyes at you with a yellow-toothed smile. Sometimes, it’s overstimulating.

The woman and the toddler got off the bus just fine. No incidents. A few senior citizens boarded the bus at the same time. Stankface’s friend continued sitting her rathet ass in one of the seats reserved for the elderly. Might I remind you that I said the bus was standing room only? And stankfacefriend didn’t move? No respect.

As it turned out, the stankcrew had another friend on the bus. He was a real charmer. “Maaaan, them Oakland cops ain’t got nothin’ on me. I know how to work them!” Oh how lovely. Stankface and stank-less-face nodded in appreciation at his skill in avoiding the cops.

Finally, after what seemed an interminable amount of time, we arrived at my stop.

There were so many things I wanted to say to those girls as I disembarked. “Get an education. Go to an etiquette class. Control your heaving bosom! Unstank your face! You’re feeding into negative stereotypes. Stop throwing around the word ‘nigga’.” I resisted uttering these things as well as the urge to grin widely and say “Toodle-fucking-loo ratchet bitches!”

Instead, I got off the bus and thought about all the ways I could have behaved better. Stankface reminded me of bullies I’d dealt with when I was younger. It was as though my younger self took over, seeking vindication. Stankface touched a nerve, one that raise my self-defenses. I am not proud of how I allowed myself to be drawn into the madness. I am not proud of my judginess. I misbehaved. Try as I may and wish as I might, I am still not perfect.

*I am trying really hard to stop referring to some women as bitches. But, sometimes a bitch is a bitch is a bitch. Don’t come after me mega-feminists, I know.

Tanzania: A Weekend in Paradise – Pangani

My first full week in Tanzania was a busy one. After a great weekend safari in Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater, my body told me it needed a break, in the form of a cold. After 20 hours of flying and airport hijinks , I’d only slept 13 hours in 72 and my body wasn’t having it. I spent most of the week battling fatigue, congestion, a sexy-sounding mucus-y cough and a sore throat. Between co-teaching two English grammar courses, spending a hot afternoon walking around rural Moshi recruiting students for the next school session, and just generally trying to get my bearings in a new country, I was exhausted and ready for some relaxation.

Three other volunteers and I (George, Je_, and Ka_) planned a trip to Pangani, just outside Tanga for the weekend. There are very few ways to get to Tanga from Moshi and the most common means of transport is by bus. The bus ride was brutal. I thought an 8-hour ride on a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas next to a malodorous person who appears not to bathe is bad. This was far worse. It should only take 4-hours to drive from Moshi to Tanga. Our bus ride expanded to a hellish 8-hour ordeal where the following occurred:

  1. We learned that in Tanzania, there is no such thing as a full vehicle. The bus operators will let as many people on a bus as possible, packing people in like sardines. People stand in the aisles, including women holding babies in brightly colored slings and men with pungent body odor who end up face-elbowing those unlucky enough to have aisles seats and there are random seats hidden all over the bus. If they could put seats on the bus roof, I’m sure they would.
  2. The bus stopped frequently. It seemed that every 10 feet was a bus stop. Why person at point A couldn’t walk the 10-feet to point B, I have no idea, but I will say that after 8-hours of this it got on my damn nerves. The bus also transported cargo, so even if no human was boarding and disembarking, the bus would stop to deliver large packages of food. We were even lucky enough to be on a bus that had a mechanical issue: adding a 40-minute delay to our ride.
  3. Each time the bus stopped, a rush of street vendors appeared at passenger windows to offer goods for sale: mostly a bunch of junk food and beverages, but at times fake watches, wallets and loaves of bread. Is it a common occurrence for people to crave loaves of bread, a fake-ass set of Beats by Dre headphones and a tomato? These roadside sellers were persistent too, banging on passenger windows, tantalizingly waving their products and not taking “no” for an answer. By the tenth stop, I was through being polite. “No, hapana, non, no, nyet, I do not want!”
  4. People throw trash out of their windows on the side of the road. As an American who’s had the “Don’t Litter!” admonition ingrained in my brain since I started toddling, I have a Tourettes-like reaction to seeing others litter. I calmly, repeatedly reminded myself that it was a different culture as I watched someone toss a cookie wrapper out the window, spoiling the beauty of the surroundings. Even still, when the gentleman in the seat in front of me steadily tossed his orange peels out of the window, I almost had an aneurysm.
  5. Listening tomuzak playing on the speaker system (90s era Celine Dion and Michael Bolton, kill me now) did not quash my homicidal feelings. To the lady with the baby seated behind me: I am sorry your baby didn’t like wind blowing in his face, but that bus was a furnace where body odors go to fester and radiate. It takes a village to raise a child: hand your baby to someone else (people were regularly doing this) and leave me and my open window alone!

    The scenery on the drive to Tanga is gorgeous. The Usambara mountains are in the background.

When we finally arrived in Tanga, a harried 8-hours later, we had to endure the jockeying of taxi drivers. The minute one puts a foot on the bus step to descend, at least four men approach you to strongly encourage you to choose their taxi over the shady guy next to him. Some  even come to blows over potential customers. “Sista, sista, dada, taxi! Taxi!” We still had more traveling to do as it’s a 45-minute ride to Pangani from Tanga. One driver offered to take us in his tuk-tuk and another taxi-driver shut him down for that nonsense. Four people, including two men, and our bags, were not going to fit in a tiny tuk-tuk. We finally chose a driver who seemed the least likely to rob us and make us the subject of a “when travelling goes wrong” documentary. Other than our taxi driver stopping during the ride to pee on the side of the road, being stopped by roadside police (who thankfully weren’t corrupt) and being forced to listen to Akon’s annoyingly high-pitched “my jublies are in a vice grip” voice on the radio, the taxi ride was uneventful.

It was clear when we arrived at Peponi (which translates to ‘paradise’ in Swahili) Beach Resort, that the distressing bus ride was worth it. The place is gorgeous with Bougainvillea , mangroves, palm trees dotting the grounds and a view of the Indian Ocean only a few feet away from the bandas and campsites. We later discovered cute monkeys, a few resident cats, mongoose, crabs and turtles.

Inside our banda at Peponi Beach Resort. The mosquito nets doubled as a canopy during the day.

The grounds were beautiful and the banda adorable, but we were ridiculously excited about the prospect of taking a hot shower. The shower most of us shared at the volunteer house didn’t want to give us hot water, so we’d spent days taking cold showers. We had a window from 5:30pm – 8pm for a hot shower. Hot showers are bliss.

After dinner (whole crab, yum!) we walked on the beach that night. It was low tide and we walked on the sand that just earlier had been completely submerged in ocean water from the Pemba Channel as the moon shone brightly on the water. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Ready to enjoy my first meal of seafood in Tanzania and drinking a glass of Tusker (or ‘tasca’ as it sounds when said with a Tanzanian accent), a Kenyan beer.

We arose early the next morning for our dhow snorkeling trip. The water was definitely not as clear as say, the Pacific Ocean near Costa Rica, but it was still a great time. Our foursome was joined on the dhow by a young couple from Amsterdam and an older couple from Toronto. While snorkeling we saw massive coral reef and a few colorful fish. I also had the pleasant experience of getting seasick for the first time and upchucked in the ocean. That shouldn’t destroy the sea life right? It’s all organic ingredients. It also rained heavily for about 10-minutes, sending us all underneath a tarp our dhow crew set up.

The dhow on which we sailed to sand island. Our captain is chilling on the boat. It’s got to be a great job.

The weekend in Pangani was incredibly relaxing. I loved being in the water despite the number it did on my stomach. We all bonded even more while trading life stories, meeting a few new people and enjoying beers and wine. The calm I experienced helped temper my irritation on the bus ride back, which blessfully only took 5 1/2 hours.