You’re not from around here, are you?

I was reading on the bus this morning, a Metro Transit bus. A big black woman, dressed all in black but rather nicely I thought, sat down next to me and I was unsure whether I heard her say to me “how you doin’?” I looked up, but her face was turned away from me as she tried to fit herself into the seat. Maybe she had addressed someone across the aisle or in the seat ahead or behind, but I said “good” in a very low voice that would be audible if she was listening for it but would only fade into the city traffic noise if indeed she had not been talking to me.

Then she began telling me how difficult it had been for her, gettin’ up and down those Greyhound bus steps.

I instantly brightened. I admit that I have stereotypes — prejudices if you will — about black people. (I don’t like the euphemism “African Americans” for blacks any more than I like Native Americans for Indians, because African Americans are not usually Africans and I myself am a native American.) Seattle is not a place where people say bigoted things. Rather the opposite. We say a lot of unbigoted things, but the truth is, neighborhoods of color are different, and in different parts of town, than neighborhoods of non-color (our North Seattle street has several black households, including our neighbor, but I think that’s remarkable). So I don’t currently know many black folks. 

Anyway, my stereotype about large black southern women is that they are characters and that they say what’s on their minds. I folded my book and said, “You just got off a Greyhound? Where’d you come in from?”

“Georgia,” she said. Then she told me all about how she had to get up and down out of a Greyhound bus seven times during the three-day trip, to transfer from one bus to another. She was here to visit her children. She had been here before. I think she said she’d lived here for a spell, and she said Georgia was hot right now. Very hot.

A three-day trip from Georgia brings you to Seattle's bus depot. The ceramic-tiled roof is to make you think you've arrived somewhere sunny. Image pilfered from Google Maps.

A three-day trip from Georgia brings you to Seattle's bus depot. The ceramic-tiled roof is to make you think you've arrived somewhere sunny. Image pilfered from Google Maps.

“The woman next to me kept talking and talking,” she said. “She kept talking until I finally said ‘Will you please be quiet? I bought a ticket so I could sleep, not listen to someone talking!'”

I tried to picture her actually saying this to some poor lonely windbag, and wondered if she just remembered wishing she had said it. We only had two stops before I had to “alight” (I”m going to blog about that word sometime), so I didn’t get to hear any more of her story, but I wished her a pleasant stay.

Two things stand out that fortify stereotypes I already have, yes about black women but more about southerners, or rather people not from Seattle. This woman was dressed very nicely, and my impression is that east of the Mississippi, and especially in the South, you don’t go out in public wearing your gardening clothes. I often wear what I call man-pants and man-shoes to work, but happened today to be wearing jeans and sandals, and I was untucked to boot.

The other thing was that she did not hesitate to greet a stranger. A stranger engrossed in a book. That’s something I really admire. My wife is from St. Louis, and like many who have relocated to Seattle she has observed that natives of the Emerald City (I am one) are polite — pathologically so in freeway merge situations — but you can live here ten years and still not have any close friends. No one invites you to join their group. We’re friendly in a shallow way, and hard to get to know. Mainly we don’t want to be bothered. And no one talks to each other on the bus (unless it’s a Snow Day or the driver misses a turn). Initiating a conversation on the bus, any Seattle bus commuter knows, is a cultural misdemeanor.

The bus ridership can be divided into three groups — and let’s give them colorful labels: say, “books” for the readers (we’ll throw the  laptop users in with them), “poddies” for those plugged into some audio device, and for those undiverted, what… “Slicks”? “Neats”? I’m a book, mostly, but only because there are so many poddies and so few neats. I have met a few people at my bus stop and one or two on the bus itself (met Tim C. on the bus [see Worm bin Jedi]), but it’s rare.

Sometimes I get the urge to just stand up in the aisle and yell, “who wants to play a word game?”, but the poddies wouldn’t hear, the books would be irritated, and the neats, sensing trouble, might look out the window and let me burn. I’d have to switch routes or take a later bus after such a pillorying.

If fifty people comment on this blog that I should do it, I’ll do it. But in the meantime I’m grateful for out-of-towners like that Georgia peach that sat down next to me today and interrupted my read. I guess it wouldn’t be outrageous for me to follow her lead, turn to a nearby neat and ask “how you doin’?”

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9 Responses to “You’re not from around here, are you?”


  1. 1 Marni June 17, 2009 at 18:33

    Okay, I’m 1….and can you please promise to tell me what day and what bus route so I can be there when you do it? It’s been awhile since I rode the bus (see my comment about being a big fat gas-guzzling satellite-tv-watching etc) but I was definitely a “book”- big surprise- and would have thought you needed to be committed to some mental institution had you spoken to me, so….true introverted Seattlite present and accouted for!

  2. 2 jstwndrng June 17, 2009 at 18:49

    It’ll cost you a cool $1.75 (US) to see this show. 😛

    Because of my allergies, I often can’t read on the bus during May/June — if I look down, my nose runs and then the sneezing jag begins (yes it’s embarrassing!). So today I was a neat. Another neat sat next to me but even after posting the above, I didn’t have the moxie to just ask him how he was doin’. Of course, he LOOKED like a neat, but he may have had a wire in his away ear. Wouldn’t THAT have been a nifty experiment!

    And about the string of adjectives you mentioned from the TripleX post — you get a special dispensation because you’re a friend of mine AND you’re kind to animals.

  3. 3 Ben F. June 19, 2009 at 06:34

    Dearest Brother:

    I find myself in a fit of laughter, my belly shaking to deep grunts of mirth as I read your blog. I remember the Greyhound station well! Insparticular (as a young Charleston fireman I know is in the habit of saying), I remember stepping over inebriated initiates of the street scene, lying outside the Greyhound station in L.A. as I began my trip North for home on a foggy Christmas Eve, whilst in the Marines. I know that is a run on sentence of some sort, you could probably tag it. Please do not bristle at my lack of grammar.
    Stand up on the ole’ bus dear brother, and belt it out! I hope to HIN that someone pops off and the two of you might give the scene a real twist!

    • 4 jstwndrng June 19, 2009 at 16:37

      I take it that’s a second yes vote?

      Hey Watash, thanks for reading this stuff! And I don’t bristle at lack of grammar. I’m grateful for the comments. It makes it feel a lot less like I’m just talking to myself. Actually, I think I’m writing to Mara in the future. Someday she may want to know what I thought about stuff. (May not, too.)

      48 more and I’m “belting it out”.

      -m

  4. 5 Kip June 20, 2009 at 04:18

    Count me as a “DO IT” vote! I well remember my commuting days on Metro, from East Side to west, and back again. It was not until I read this it occurred to me the bus was silent! And this WAY before the days of the poddies, of which I am one! Oh how I loves my pod! Please to make sure that, should such an outburst happen, a video is taken for one and all to see!

  5. 6 Louis June 23, 2009 at 18:46

    Count me in. You should do it. I remember one time on a cold, early morning, riding a BC Transit bus to Simon Fraser University. The bus loaded with sleepy, cranky students. The bus driver decided that we were all going to start our day with a song. When he heard the groans, he didn’t back off. He held his ground with a “Come on, people…” I cannot remember what it was we sang, but I remember all of us laughing as we plowed through the song. I had a silly grin on my face for the rest of the day.

    • 7 jstwndrng June 23, 2009 at 19:45

      Fortunately, I don’t think I have fifty friends who might read this blog, or else I’d be starting to worry. Just in case, though, I should probably start thinking up a good word game. Does anybody know any? It would have to be simple so people wouldn’t be intimidated, and something that could involve an indefinite number of people, and maybe not be competitive. Like “I’ll name a city, and the next person names a city whose name starts with the second-to-last letter of mine, and the next person names a city whose name starts with the second-to-last letter of that one, and so on”. I tried this in my mind, though, and immediately got hung up on G. Eventually I thought of Galveston, but if people get nervous they might blank out. I like your story and the idea of a song, but the pods and books would definitely be put out if I tried that. People actually turn around and stare when two people start conversing at any volume, much less singing.


  1. 1 What will the neighbors think? « Just Wondering Trackback on June 21, 2009 at 04:38
  2. 2 The slow march to a de-isolated commute « Just Wondering Trackback on July 10, 2009 at 06:37

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