October 2002 San Francisco
Ok chilrens, lets get back on our favorite bus line, the rolling home of all that is unsavory about public transit, the #22 Fillmore. Today the theme is Beat-Downs.
I rode home one night with the evening after-work crowd: office workers, students, working men and derelicts. Not as colorful as the late-night crowd, just a standard cross-section of urban rush hour in the city. A leathery old black man was sitting up front in the handicapper section, with his light-weight aluminum walker folded up next to him. He would not shut up. He talked loudly and repetitively about anything and nothing, and generally made a crowded ride less bearable. Clearly he was undermedicated and overserved, a common sight in an idealist town that rolls out the red carpet for all of America’s marginal populations. No way to hush this guy without a big free dose of methadone, right?
A skinny young skateboarder got on, and not seeing a regular seat, sat in the wheelchair seat across from Ol’ Mudfoot. The old man fixed a cloudy, baleful stare on the grommet, and immediately commenced to badgering his new target. Nothing was off-limits: the skater’s possible lack of a job, his generally unkempt appearance and metallic enhancements, his posture, and his audacity to sit in the broken-down peoples’ section up front. Skate-boy ignored, stared out the window, adjusted his piercings, and finally turned and said: “Man, why don’t you just shut the fuck up, old man?”
Oh, Jesus H. tap-dancing Christ. It felt like the set of an old Western movie, when a shadow fell across the wooden sidewalk. Saloon doors creaked and spurs jingled, as the skirts and orphan children scurried out of sight. Passengers shifted uncomfortably, coughed, changed seats and edged toward the exits. Even the piano player stopped.
“WHAT?!?……WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY TO ME?!?….YOU ROTTEN PUNK!!”
In one motion, skater-boy seemed to shrink by half, and the ancient geezer was up on his gnarled old feet and over that kid like a brown paper bag on a bottle of malt.
“YOU SHOW SOME RESPECK!!”
a sharp poke to the head
“YOU RESPECK YO ELDERS!!”
a finger-jab to the neck
“YOU YOUNG PUNK!!”
a shove into the window
” I AM 73 YEARS OLD!! THIS IS MY BUS!!”
a withering smack to the head
Skate-boy put his forearm up in defense, but the old man took it as a push-off. Up came the walker. Down came the walker. Again and again on the skater-punk, on a crowded, moving bus. This was no small athletic task, but he was just warming up.
“YA BIG STUPID!!”
crash! walker vs. skinny boy
crash! walker vs. skateboard
“YA BIG DUMMY!!”
crash! skate-punk grabbed the walker and held on.
backhand to the head.
another stinging backhand.
punch to the ear.
“MY BUS!! YA HEAR ME??”
Finally, the driver pulled over, the skater jumped up and crouched near the door trailing blood, fear and remorse. The old bastard was wheezing but not dead yet. Some other riders heckled and hollered. For the most part, it seemed the horror-stricken vegetarians nearby were buried in their newspapers, sporting rigid commuter-face, and wondering who was next in line. Pacifists. I had fallen halfway into the aisle, laughing so hard I thought I would vomit up a rib. I have witnessed funnier scenes, but really, I cannot remember when.
I suppose the bus driver called the bus-police. He opened the exits and the kid erupted out the back door and smudged away into the greasy night. Most other passengers exited, muttering about a cursed, wretched bus. I floated home. Ol’ Mudfoot did not wait around for the transit cops, to everyone’s benefit. He walkered his way through moving traffic, down an alley and into Fillmore lore. He is still out there I suppose, riding the public transit lines like the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, administering social justice for ‘cappers everywhere, one smash at a time.
(artwork by Walter Koning at MuniShirts.)