Friday, December 19, 2008

The "give up your seat" controversy.

The west coast is generally thought of as being nicer than the east coast. I've had the benefit of living on both coasts, as well as major stints of time living in the middle. What entertains me the most about these stereotypes is what "nice" and "mean" are defined as in each city.

I got indirectly ripped on in a missionmission shoutout about a week after moving here, about how assholes move from the east coast and then don't understand what life is about. 
maybe because all the bad attitudes come from points east. i love this thing about carpetbaggers wishin frisco was more like the crappy places they come from. we californians try to take it slow & easy but there’s always some new-be not gettin w/ the program. we have become LA. sorry for the rant but were on edge down here in the flats.
And, I mean... fair enough. Feel how you want to feel. This dude portrayed "mean" as me yelling some equivalent of "If you hit me with your fucking door, so help me God" at a guy who... well... almost hit me with his fucking door. This, of course, is sort of a panic instinct for me. Being able to throw that many words out was somewhat shocking, as I usually have the time to scream "Seriously?!" in the hopes that they realize it was directed at them, by which point I am half a block away. So, if that's mean, I'm mean. I'm also from a crappy place, I guess. And I don't really wish San Francisco was more like where I came from. If I liked where I came from, I probably would have stayed there. Ah, but I digress.

The definition of mean and hateful is subjective. "Fuck you" really, honestly isn't that offensive in New York. It is a way of showing displeasure. They are words that are forgotten as soon as the two involved parties - the fuckee and the fucked - have gone their separate ways. They are forgotten, because they are just words. Certainly I wouldn't throw out a "fuck you" at my grandmother if she bumped into me on the subway, and I would feel badly if I threw one out after someone stepped on my heel and I turned around to learn that they were seven years old. But I believe that we get to a certain point as adults where maybe words aren't so illegal. I'm just saying I would much rather someone tell me to get fucked than tell me my bike is ugly. (Sometimes, words do hurt.)

A post from BART Musings that I  just came across brings up something that I find to be really awful: not giving up a seat to people who might need it on public transportation. This is where New York owns you, rest of the country. If you are sitting and remotely do not look like you need that seat, and someone comes along that really does need it, watch your ass. The ragamuffin teenager who spent approximately thirty-four subway stops talking about "that ho" will spring to action when someone with a cane rolls deep onto the 1 train. It is a beautiful phenomenon. Someone will give up a seat, somewhere, for you.

MUNI riders kind of don't do this. Of course, I am speaking from somewhat limited experience, I guess. I'm not a daily MUNI commuter. I was riding it regularly when I broke my collarbone and couldn't hold myself up on a bike for awhile. I ride it when I'm with people that aren't cyclists. There are other special occasions, like today when I bought a new bike for The Roommate and learned I cannot ride one and roll the other along with me like that super hot cyclist girl from a few months back on Van Ness. But I do know that I have seen a lot of sort of shameful behavior when elderly or disabled people get on the bus and there are no seats.

What I find funny about this is that maybe this behavior really isn't a San Francisco thing. One of the comments on the aforementioned post says something about being afraid they'll offend someone. I've gotten this sort of reaction - I'm a seat giver. I feel so crazy guilty sitting down on public transportation that I pretty regularly stand when it looks even remotely crowded, even if there are still seats I could squeeze into. I've offered my seat to people and had them look completely shocked. I don't mean to offend someone. I'm really trying to help. 

I got pretty irritated with this during the collarbone incident. I had the sling on. There was a day in particular where I was carrying a few huge bags. There were no seats and I was in a lot of pain. But I'm also very young, and I look healthy aside from that sling thing. I don't like being the one to select who doesn't deserve a seat that day, so I felt really weird asking. It would have been nice to have someone offer. I would have been grateful. No dice - from 4th street to 20th on the 12, not a single offer. 

The "to give or not to give" controversy is interesting to me, and people talk about it pretty much anywhere with an active public transportation system. I think the dynamic is very different. Here, I see so few people actually offering seats that I can see how someone might get offended. In New York, it is customary. You are sixteen years old and I am eighty holding this walker. Give me your seat.

Yes, we all pay the same $1.50, yes, we all have equal rights to that seat. But really, it's just kind. I would destroy someone if my grandmother got on a bus with me and no one offered her somewhere to sit. It's nice. She is old and tired and hopefully gave up seats in her day. Let the poor woman sit for sixteen blocks, for God's sake. I was still giving up seats even with the broken bone. I still felt like people needed to sit down, and it was clear that no one else stepped up.

So what's up, San Francisco? Am I totally clueless? Is offering someone a seat actually a dick move and I don't know it? Are there really nice bus lines where everyone just stands in the event that someone with a cane shows up, and I just haven't taken any of them? Tell me how it really is so I can judge fairly.


TK said...

I'm a big seat-giver. I generally give it up to any woman who appears older than me or is pregnant, any guy who looks, y'know, old, and anyone with an obvious physical impairment. If you look younger than me and appear to be ambulatory, sorry. I'm sitting.

I don't know about other cities, but I see people giving up their seats on Muni all the time. Maybe it's not universal, but it's pretty frequent.

New to the Bay said...

I follow a pretty similar theory - except I'm kind of young, so someone has to be a decent amount older than me. I like you, 30-year-olds, but you're not getting this seat. Plus, if someone offers a seat to me when I'm 32 because I look old and tired, I will cry.

I was hoping my experience was wrong. I seriously hardly ever see someone give up a seat, and it clearly bothers me. Good to know your experiences have been better. (Maybe people are just jerks on the 12 and 14.)