Adventures in Transit

This piece was originally published on GreaseRag.org, where I regularly write and organize Grease Rag events.  Grease Rag’s mission is to encourage and empower women/ trans*/ femme (WTF) cyclists in a collaborative and fun learning environment through rides, discussions, shop nights and educational seminars in a safer space.

These boots were made for transit

5 NB, 6:50a

Everyone knows each other.

“Have a blessed day.”

Hugs.

“How’s your mama?”

“Is that where you’re cooking at now? … Their roux is not bangin’, bro.”

One tiny human gets off the bus and turns to the driver and says, “Byyyyyyye,” while waving enthusiastically, strapped into a small Spiderman backpack with matching superhero shoes.

Someone sneezes and four different people respond with, “Bless you,” then giggle about it.

One person compliments another on their style, and find out so and so’s cousin does both of their hair.

2nd and Marquette Transfer Hub, 7:16a

I’m sitting on the granite planters, swinging my feet in a sun dress, balancing on the ledge with my backpack on and spine straight. Spidey sense goes off as a passerby walks by too close, almost brushing me with their bag. About a dozen people are waiting in the same area for their bus. I am the only female.

“Are you waiting for a bus?”
I point to the digital marquee and nod.
“Where do you live? Where are you going?”
A bus passes by so I can pretend not to hear the question.
“Where do you live? Where are you going?”
Luckily, a lot of buses pass by here. I’m not swinging my feet anymore and my back is stiff as a board as I avoid eye contact and ignore this person.
“Hey. Hey! I’m trying to get to Roseville.”
I point to the transit map, under the digital marquee I already pointed out.
“Are you going to help me?! I need to get to Roseville! Why are you being so stuck up??”
They are gesturing with their bag and their voice is getting high pitched and angry as they are saying this, as everyone else pretends nothing is happening.
“Look dude, I’m just trying to catch a bus, figure it out over there,” and point to the transit map again.
They walk off in a huff, and without looking at the map storm off to wait in a transit shelter for their bus, while shooting eye daggers in my direction. My bus came and I made sure they didn’t follow me before I sat down.

250M, 7:26a

A big, articulated bus for 10 people. It’s like this every time I ride.

At the Wells Fargo stop, everyone goes into the building, and I cut across the parking lot, through a boulevard of mowed grass, wood mulch and planted flowers, across a two lane road, to Rice Creek Park. I see a small black bird dive bombing a hawk like a maverick, driving it away from the trees. Mallards. Geese. A half of a squirrel. Shimmering leaves and moving water. Birdsong, rustling grass, a jet plane, my jingling keys. Low areas are flooded and shady spots are still heavy with dew.

A mile later I cross busy County Road I and reach my building, where people walking from their single occupancy vehicles look at me strangely.

Total travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes

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28 Responses to Adventures in Transit

  1. Janne Flisrand
    Janne June 5, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    When I initially saw this, I wished it were on streets.mn. Thank you for sharing my transit experiences so eloquently, and for sharing it here!

    • L. K.
      L. K. June 5, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      This is my first post, Janne! Thank you for the encouragement! You’ve been my cheerleader, forever. <3

  2. Nick Magrino
    Nick Magrino June 5, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    This morning, on the 17, guy who was not sitting next to me: “Are you on a diet??”

    Me: “Nope.”

    Guy: “Why is your lunchbox so small? You can’t hardly fit any food in there!”

    Me: “I manage.”

    Guy: “That’s a Jenny Craig lunchbox!”

    Me: Silence.

    The 17 has been dicey lately.

    • L. K.
      L. K. June 5, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      As you move through space and time confined with a collection of random strangers… anything can happen. Good and bad. I hope you feel safe on your commute and can sit back and watch the microdramas unfold with amusement. It works for me, mostly.

  3. Michael Roden
    Michael Roden June 5, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    I’ve been commuting on the 12 for about 2 1/2 years when I don’t bike to work. It’s a remarkable bus, and although I haven’t experienced a ton of camaraderie myself, it has a distinct lack of intolerance or rudeness. The regulars include a trans woman (whom I have never seen harassed, although I am sure her experience is difficult), many mentally and physically disabled adults on their way to a job program (one of whom struggles with sometimes severe tourettes), many blind riders, and a few regulars in wheelchairs. Also, most Thursday afternoons the bus is packed with children in hijabs and burkas coming home from somewhere out in the western burbs. Taking the bus is a great way to keep reminding yourself that your own experience is not universal – especially if you grew up privileged. Only once did I encounter a person whom infuriated me so much that I was shaking long after getting off the bus.

    Thanks for sharing this, L.K. Talking about our transit experiences helps to demystify it for non-users, and might reassure a rookie with a bad experience that they’re not alone – it’s humanity, but don’t let that stop you!

  4. James T. June 5, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    I’ve had a few times where I’ve had to, at least try, to intervene on a bus. (Man was harrassing/ threatening the driver) ended up snapping at me, thank gosh she was a good driver and told me to get on right after he got off, following me, then she stopped where she wasn’t supposed to so I could still transfer.

    If you see something, do something, other people will likely help you out if it turns dicey!

    • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
      Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 5, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      I love these suggestions. When you’re the object of the harrassment, what do you do or say to illicit help from others who seem to want to ignore difficult sitations like in Laura’s experience?

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 5, 2014 at 11:59 am #

        I wonder if sometimes keeping a watchful eye is hard to distinguish from ignoring. Or, put differently, it can be hard to know exactly when its the right time to intervene, if intervening would help (might it just escalate things) or if intervening is even the right thing to do (e.g. might it be just as threatening).

        In this story, it sounds like L.K. had things under control and had I been there I would have thought that the right thing to do is to observe and be ready to lend support. What kind of help is welcome in these circumstances?

        • James T. June 5, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

          Unfortunately that’s the hard part… I don’t know if you don’t want to talk, are having a bad day otherwise, feel like someone’s doing this to hit on you, or if that’s just your face (I have a face that looks pissed… it just does… if I’m neutral I look pissed).

          If we could develop a signalling aspect for ‘hey, this guy’s over the line, and I’m inviting assistance.’ I would love to be a part of that discussion and getting it out there. Because some people feel just as violated if I try and help too soon, some people’s breaking point is before I would intervene (although if you’re past the breaking point I will try to help). A signal of some sort would eliminate these fears some men have, (however it might be of harm to tourists and others who don’t know the signalling technique).

        • L. K.
          L. K. June 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

          Rule #1? Ask the person being harassed. Asking removes the part where you assume ability and threat.
          “Are you okay?” “Is everything ok?”

          If I say, “I need help!” Ask, “What can I do?”
          If I say, “I’m cool.” A friendly answer is, “I’m over here if you need anything.” Then step off.

          Don’t engage a harasser. I don’t need a white knight, and it is only going to escalate the situation.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller June 5, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

            I guess when you say it, it seems kind of obvious.

            • L. K.
              L. K. June 5, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

              It’s not fool-proof, but it’s a start, right? Part of being a respectful ally to women is to ask them what they need! Because we all know about what happens when we “assume” things… =]

              Thank you for asking the question!

      • L. K.
        L. K. June 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

        Beautiful follow-up question, Cassie. Thanks!

        I like to think I would just say, “Help!” But I know from experience that sometimes being harassed totally blindsides you and leaves you speechless. =\

  5. Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
    Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 5, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    Beautiful. I hope to see more of these. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Heidi Schallberg
    Heidi June 5, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    Love this post. There’s power in sharing our experiences.

  7. Tom June 5, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    This is just great – thank you!

  8. Anne June 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Lately I’ve been having an internal struggle between being “Minnesota nice” on transit and in public spaces and shutting myself off as much as possible from unwelcome conversations from men.

    I usually go for the dead eyes, looking through someone without acknowledging them or making eye contact approach, but then I feel like a bitch. Maybe I do know the answer. Yes, in fact, I CAN read the back of your bus pass and tell you when it expires. But so can you. Why do you need my help – as an entry point to invade my personal space and start a conversation I don’t want to have? What about my body language and clipped response was unclear?

    On the scale of street harassment, this is very minor, but it’s the same concept of strangers (men) feeling entitled to my time and attention without actual encouragement from me.

    • L. K.
      L. K. June 5, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

      Anne, I’m of the opinion that I don’t owe anybody a smile, a second of your time, or a friendly tone. If you feel someone is harassing you- YOU’RE RIGHT. And you have the right to do whatever makes you feel safest. Because you know what? Your body language and response were TOTALLY CLEAR. Boundary-stepping creeps are creeps because they boundary-step.

      On the topic of street harassment, the article quoted in this post draws a big line between harassers and complimenters. Harassers just can’t. let. it. go.
      http://greaserag.org/user_blogs/lowrah/street-harassment/

      You do you, Anne. If bitch-face keeps you safe, keep on with that!

      Also, thank you for picking up on the theme that street harassment is ubiquitous and completely normalized. It just fits right in my daily commute.

    • Michael Roden
      Michael Roden June 5, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

      Anne, it’s funny how an obvious thing in plain sight isn’t apparent until it’s pointed out to you (I call it the Jane Jacobs effect). I had never thought too much about simplistic, unnecessary questions like you noted. I knew it was awkward, and I would usually shy away from the situation. Now I am aware that it is blatant (if not deliberate) systemic harassment. The best way for me to determine if it is harassment or sociability is to ask if the offending guy would behave the same way toward me.

      I feel compelled to write this because I noticed EXACTLY THIS SITUATION happen at my office just now. An ice cream cake comes in to the employee break room, a young woman is cutting herself a slice, and an older man scoots himself up very close to her to inquire about the cake. He would never have gotten that close to me to ask whether the cake is indeed a smiley face, and whether I had made it myself.

      This guy wasn’t malevolently harassing her, and certainly wouldn’t do something that HE considered harassment, but it’s the fact that this behavior is so ingrained in so many male psyches. I hope awareness of how this makes women feel helps to curb this behavior.

      • Anne June 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

        If my complaining helped raise awareness, then great! Because it is so ingrained in our culture though, it’s hard to actively fight back without seeming like you’re overreacting.

    • Janne Flisrand
      Janne June 5, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

      I’ve got an entire “bus persona” I put on before I get on the bus. It involved making my elbows slightly pointier, my personal space slightly larger, and using physical objects (bag, book, device) as shields from humanity. It’s recently also included refusing to move my bag from next to me, if there are empty seats with men [taking up three seats\ but they’d rather sit by me than engage that dude about taking up more than his fair share of space. It mostly works, but it’s such HARD WORK. I shouldn’t have to work hard just to take the bus.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 5, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

        Hm. And now I’m thinking about how I’d always prefer a seat next to a female stranger than a male one, for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with creeping on random women. I hadn’t thought about that as part of the problem before.

      • Anne June 5, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

        You have seen this tumblr, right? It’s been around for a while, but it still speaks to me!

        http://mentakingup2muchspaceonthetrain.tumblr.com/

        • Janne Flisrand
          Janne June 5, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

          Adam, research shows that everyone — men and women alike — would rather sit next to women than next to men on transit. Insert bell curve caveats, but the preferences aren’t crazy.

          For women, you’re less likely to get hit on. For everyone, you’re less likely to have someone else’s body in your space, less likely to get argued with or confronted, less likely to end up in an unwanted conversation, etc. etc.

          Act three of my bus persona:
          As my bus fills up, I watch people get on the bus, time people coming down the isle, and move my bag to make space when someone I wouldn’t mind sitting next to approaches me. A subtle way of saying, “You’re welcome to sit here.” Offered, preferentially to women. If that’s not an option, to an educated-looking, hopefully-not-clueless/offending man, on the smaller side. Statistically reducing my likelihood of unpleasantness.

          Another note.
          I have my white privilege. I’m sure I’m “offering” that seat to white women more than people of color and/or non-young women. Partly, it’s my (unconscious) biases. Partly, it’s my allergy to scented products — which are disproportionately worn by older people and by people of color. I’m sometimes pained when someone (disproportionately a person of color, men and women) sits near me while wearing heavily scented something… and my allergies mean I have to move. I’m pained knowing that it looks like I’m moving because I don’t want to sit next to someone who doesn’t Look Like Me, when I’m happy to sit next to that person but not to end up with the allergic reaction something they’re wearing causes me. In my head I hear, “She was so racist, she’d rather stand for four miles than sit next to me!”

          My awareness of perceptions, privilege, and more leaves me not knowing how to navigate that.

        • L. K.
          L. K. June 5, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

          Don’t hate… They are just saving room for cats! Haha.
          http://savingroomforcats.tumblr.com

          • Anne June 5, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

            I just saw that on another thread this afternoon!

  9. Bike to Work June 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    I love the discussion of harassment and especially the thoughts about how to intervene and make transit safer for all users. I visited Philadelphia this spring and was pleasantly surprised to see anti-harassment ads all over subway cars, buses, and stops. My favorites are the ones that suggest ways to intervene or help the victim feel supported after the fact. There’s a sample at BuzzFeed here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/important-anti-street-harassment-ads-found-on-philadelphi

    Or the full campaign is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1456665314568521.1073741828.1428862634015456&type=1

    • Anne June 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

      Wow, thanks for sharing! I LOVE that they put a whole campaign together!

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