Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Seen on the bus

Six years ago, the Lemon Girl and I started thinking about living without a car. The car we owned at the time, a nine-year-old Honda, overheard us and promptly called our bluff. It broke down in a bunch of ways at the same time and we suddenly found ourselves confronted with a repair bill that exceeded the what the  resale value of the car would have been after the repairs were done.

It has been six years now and the experiment has been a successful one. I should add, though, that it has only been possible because we live in a relatively densely populated part of the city. There is a bus stop a half block from our front door a bus goes by every fifteen minutes that travels straight to the downtown core. If we weren't privileged enough to live in this neighbourhood, and we are privileged, it wouldn't be possible to live without a car (and if it makes you feel better to hate me as a consequence, there is nothing I can do to stop you).

That out of the way, I'll get to my main point. I should warn you that it is a highly incorrect point and there is a very good chance that you will be offended by this. When you give up your car and travel on the bus all the time you get to see what poor people are like and a lot of what you discover about them is not good. The poor in spirit are definitely blessed, the people who are simply poor are not necessarily so.

We see a lot of hatred directed at rich people who only care about themselves, who never give back, who have no concern whatsoever about good of the greater society that makes their life of relative comfort and security possible. And such people do exist. But the brutal truth is that you find far more poor people who only care about themselves, who never give back, who have no concern whatsoever about good of the greater society that makes their life of relative comfort and security possible.

It's not a difficult thing to show a little concern  for your fellow passengers. it's not difficult, for example, to move ten to fifteen feet further into the bus so that you aren't blocking the entrance for everyone else who is getting on an off. It's not difficult to resist staring at a woman's breasts intently for twenty minutes so she can travel comfortably too. It's not difficult to take your back pack off and carry it so you don't block the aisle for everyone trying to get by you. It's not difficult to move over to the window so someone else can have a seat. It's also not difficult to not sit with your knees wide apart. It's not difficult to not scratch things into the windows with your keys or to not right angry, woman-hating things on the back of the seat ahead of you with a Sharpie.

If you ride the bus a lot you will see hundreds upon hundreds of people who simply will not do those things for others. They stand right in the doorway. It's not that they don't know that they are causing inconvenience for others. They know damn well what they are doing and it shows in the way they hunker down defensively and avoid eye contact. (When someone on public transit studiously avoids looking anyone in the eyes you can be sure they are planning to be an asshole about something.) The have decided that a relatively small gain in convenience for themselves is more important than showing any concern for other people.

The corollary to this first point, and one some will find even more offensive, is, as the Lemon Girl noted last Friday, that this lack of concern for others has a lot to do with why these people ended up on the bottom of the heap. No, I am not saying that all poor people are selfish or that poor people deserve to be poor. But the simple truth is that if you don't care for others, they will return the favour. They won't trust you and they won't form bonds with you. You won't have friends who will help you, a spouse willing to marry you and employers won't trust you with anything but the most unimportant, menial jobs.

Not only do these people not contribute much, they also cost society billions of dollars every year. They do damage to public property, the make operations like public transit less efficient, they cause more people to drive cars in the first place by making the experience of using public services less pleasant (and if you think they make public transit unpleasant, you should see what they do to public parks and public washrooms). And because they do such a poor job of talking care of themselves, others often end up having to take care of them.

The thing is, if we want to attack the rich for "not paying their fair share", we have to do the same for everyone else too. I'm not sure it's entirely a good thing to insist that everyone pull together all the time about everything but when we move from the private realm to the public, that everyone who takes public transit should contribute by behaving themselves is a tiny thing to ask.

1 comment:

  1. A year ago a move to a different part of the city meant that we found it more convenient to begin taking the slightly more expensive 'express' bus routes. The difference in behavior is (usually) night and day. I was surprised at first that this should be so as the routes cover the same ground, the difference in cost is more imaginary than real, and it is after all public transportation. Yet night and day it is.