After attending Sunday’s screening of “Count Me In,” I boarded a #155 bus home. I was about to witness some ugly behaviors, verbal and threatened physical attacks, race-baiting, anti-immigrant rants, and needless escalation of a senseless confrontation. I would also witness acts of courage and selflessness by the driver and an unknown young man, both of whom prevented what could have become a tragedy.
As usual, the bus filled up at the Loyola el station. This has become more of a problem as waits for the bus have grown longer, and the bus was standing-room-only as we drove to the next stop, where a few more people boarded. The driver calmly began telling waiting riders at the following stops that her bus was full, the next bus was no more than five minutes behind her, and that she absolutely could not take any passengers with walkers, canes, or strollers. Some people boarded anyway, knowing that five minutes to the CTA could mean a thirty-minute wait to a passenger.
But a truly nasty woman already on the bus, standing at the front door, began verbally harassing those waiting outside, repeating the driver’s words and adding a few comments of her own, such as “Can’t you people understand English? Why you livin’ here if you don’t know what ‘don’t get on the bus’ means?” She began cursing at people who brushed against her; after telling people that if they weren’t citizens they should get off the bus, one young man cursed back. The woman became uncontrollable, saying that she had a knife and knew how to use it, “..cuz I’m from the South Side and we don’t take no shit….” She had a knife? The idea was terrifying. She seemed determined to create an opportunity to use it, or to start a free-for-all.
This verbal confrontation continued for several stops, made worse by other young men cursing back at her and an irate man in the middle of the bus cursing at the driver, demanding that she get the woman off the bus and move the vehicle. The woman apparently thought his curses were coming from the first young man, and ran out the front door and in the back, which another young man held open for her, thus preventing the driver from leaving the bus stop. The woman then began moving toward the first young man, telling other passengers to get out of her way or they’d get “a bellyful of lead.” She kept repeating that she had a knife. The irate man, who stood between her and the first young man, removed his scarf, wrapping it around his hands like a weapon, clearly a warning that she should not continue to try to push past him.
Several passengers called the police. Others left the bus, afraid of the escalating confrontation. Next to me sat a terrified young Muslim woman with her two daughters and a baby in a carrier. She didn’t speak much English, and may not have understood the vile words being tossed around, but she was clearly frightened for her children. The angry woman was at one point less than two feet from the elder daughter, who was no more than five years old. Passengers were now shouting back at the woman and at the man who had been yelling at the driver, and the situation could easily have turned dangerous, especially since the young man who had held the rear door open for the woman was now in the front of the bus, and he and she were calling the other passengers the N-word.
The driver was physically trapped behind her protective window, but she had the calm, good sense not to respond to the curses being thrown at her by passengers unfamiliar with protocols that require her to wait for police. I sat right behind the driver and heard her in communication with her supervisors; she did everything right. She quietly moved passengers blocking her entrance into the bus aisle and quickly surveyed the situation. The angry woman had by then exited via the back door and stood outside, cursing.
At this point a tall young man began calmly moving down the aisle, closing the back door so the woman couldn’t board again, then speaking quietly with the irate man and persuading him to calm down, and somehow making his way to the front door, where he stood calmly; the woman and her supporter left after a few more curses. As he made his way through the bus, more passengers left. This young man then moved to the back of the bus as if nothing unusual had happened.
The driver had to wait for the police, and more people left the bus. After the driver met with the police, we moved a few blocks and then were told the bus would go no further and the driver would help us board the next bus.
The rest of the way home I thought about how an entire busload of people were endangered by the deliberate actions of two people looking for trouble, the unthinking reactions of two others to taunts and racially-motivated attacks, and the good sense and selflessness of two individuals who took responsibility for the safety of the rest of us. I wrote to the CTA to tell them how well I thought the driver handled the situation.
I don’t know who the young man is, or I’d send a letter praising him, too. I’m thankful he was on the bus. His parents raised a fine young man.