There's this saying in New York:
If you can't see the crazy person on the bus, then it's you.
It's the same for the MUNI buses in San Francisco. I have the distinct pleasure of using the city buses fairly often at this point in my life. I have no choice because I've been run into poverty by the vulturous parking police (Did you know they charge you a fee on top of your parking ticket for processing? A fee on top of a fee. Way to go, San Francisco.) and the absolutely incompetent taxi drivers who roam the streets. (If I have to give you directions or tell you to pay attention because you're ignoring the car headed straight for my door, you need to find a new job.)
You all know how much I love the public transit system. The most disgusting people in the world ride the 19. No, really. Once I sat in between a mouth-to-mouth crack deal and, another time, across from a man picking his silver dollar-sized, bloody, oozing, open cheek sore. My favorite bus ride involved a crazy, homeless prostitute screaming at two women because they told her to stop harassing a girl who had Aspberger's. The pro kept saying she was going to break out her vaseline and the women told her to get off because they had their steel-toed boots on. It was a goldmine of ghetto. (And yes, this occurred in the Tenderloin, which is the ghetto of San Francisco.)
But, I digress.
When I climb the grime-caked steps to the most agonizing twenty minutes of my day, I glance around for an entirely empty seat. No neighbors. No loud music. The radius must be devoid of human life. I'd prefer to see a rodent than another human being. After I secure a deserted location, I sit, smiling to myself about my good fortune and hoping that it will continue through the rest of my ride.
Others board in a similar manner. No one actually wants to see, touch, smell (or taste for that matter) another being on their already dismal bus ride. Inevitably, single seats fill up first and those late to the party must make a conscious decision about which person looks: 1. the least crazy, 2. the least intimidating, 3. the most respectful, 4. the least talkative, 5. the thinnest and therefore most space-conscientious neighbor, and 6. the prettiest. Of course, these are my criteria. But let's be honest: who doesn't include most of these?
Fascinatingly, while no one wants to actually sit next to anyone, the last person to have an adjacent empty seat has effectively lost the working-class adults' dodgeball-team-picking equivalent. The last person sitting by him or herself on the bus is either crazy, demonstrating some sort of anti-social behavior, or is ugly. Like, abnormally ugly.
For a great while, that person was me. I realized something was amiss when I had taken the bus a number of times to and from my doctor and no one wanted to sit next to me. They'd rather stand, than situate themselves next to my warm thigh.
Something had to give. I went through my criteria, hoping to expose the flaw in my person or character:
First, I lost twenty pounds. This didn't help much, unfortunately. People still avoided me. Then, I started wearing make up exclusively for my bus rides. Fewer people avoided me. Every so often, a brave soul moseyed over to my area, and timidly sat down. A few men on the 19 asked for my number and sadly trudged off in disappointment after I told them I was with a woman.
Second, I stopped being overly friendly. No more talking to strangers about happenings in San Francisco. Don't speak unless spoken to and don't make eye contact. Making eye contact on the bus is the social equivalent of a high-five over a urinal.
Third, people aren't actually intimidated by me. As a defense mechanism, I started to butch it up a little bit more--dark clothing, military backpack, beat up Chucks. I became the person to sit next to if you didn't want to get robbed.
Still, no one sat next to me. Process of elimination: I was the crazy person. So, I withdrew from law school.
Miraculously, my bus luck started changing! After a couple of weeks, my eyes brightened with life. The dark circles under my eyes disappeared. 'Walking on Sunshine' played from my conservatively-volumed iPod. My soul rejoined my body because I wasn't excising it in an attempt to achieve the farce of the American Dream. I started to sit up straighter from not carrying law books anymore. I lost more weight. My hair shined. My teeth stopped yellowing from coffee. My mind stopped shorting from caffeine overload. My wallet grew fuller due to sobriety. I stopped questioning myself, my intelligence, and my future and I stopped letting other people do it on the daily.
All of a sudden, I wasn't the crazy, rocking law student on the bus. People started to sit next to me because I was normal.
This is what normalcy feels like: a stranger's warm thigh on a dirty bus headed to my low-paying, managerial job at a cafe in Russian Hill.
I promise to keep Tales of a Neurotic Law Student going. My next post will outline the reasons why I left.