Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Transit Trash and the Women who Hate Them

[We will return to mental illness after this brief message:]

During my high school years in Naples Italy, that city was listed as the third most densely populated in the world, right up there with Tokyo and Calcutta. You’ve heard about the Tokyo “people pushers” or whatever they’re called – people whose job it is to push on the backs of the people boarding the subways to stuff as many in as possible? The Neapolitans didn’t need that because they have no qualms about shoving each other, whether it’s a bus or a concert they’re trying to get into. I’ve had moments in Neapolitan crowds where neither of my two feet was touching the floor and I thought my ribs were going to break.

Fast forward to Portland Oregon, where only once every couple of years do weather conditions force mass dependence on mass transit. I’ve stood on a Portland bus that bypasses three dozen people waiting to board because the passengers inside WILL NOT pack together any closer than about six or eight inches of space around their bodies. I can’t imagine what it would take to make west coast Americans press the flesh like that. Maybe if we take direction from the rest of the world and overpopulate like rabbits, it’ll happen.

For the time being though, I’m loving that Portlanders won’t pack in to that ridiculous extreme. As a young woman, I suffered frequent disrespect in the middle of those kinds of crowds. I didn’t realize at the time that every other girl had the same problem. (Instead I felt embarrassed and didn’t talk about it.) Men took full advantage in such crowds to molest any young female they could reach --preying of course on the unsuspecting and silent young ones, knowing that any older woman would amputate their hand, or other offending body part, on the spot. Of course the filthy lowlife didn’t stop at wandering hands – they would press their whole body up against you, acting as if they couldn’t help it, pushed unwittingly by the swelling crowd. I could say more, but It’s really too gross to describe any further. I can’t bear it. Just imagine the most disgusting, and know that’s what I’m talking about.

That’s why I am beyond euphorically elated to read the following article about Mexico City’s answer to the problem – women-only busses. Here’s a link to it. I’ve read it several times. The women on those busses are ecstatic, and I am there with them. (I feel their gain!)

Getting back to my own experiences of lecherous transit trash, I had a final moment of delicious justice. In the summer of my nineteenth year shortly before I left Naples, squashed in the middle of a downtown tram, hanging onto the ceiling bars like everyone else, I felt a man’s fingers below. I managed to trace the arm they were attached to as it snaked through several bodies to an old man about three people away from me. Suddenly the tram stopped at Mergellina, the main train station, and when the doors opened, everybody between him and me popped out like jack-in-the-boxes. He was left standing there gaping at me fatuously, accused by the expression on my face.

He was just the right distance away for me to take out one of his knees with the most fabulous, Bruce Lee type kick – substituting the customary martial arts yell with an appropriate Neapolitan obscenity. I tell you that kick was sent by God herself. I certainly hadn’t had any kind of self-defense training. He disembarked as fast as he could, his face contorted in pain, limping horridly. I would be surprised if he ever walked normally again.

That was the last time I had to deal with it. Was that because I left Naples? I think not. I’ve been back, and I’ve been to plenty of other super crowded cities, Mexico City among them. No, it’s because after that, like the grownup girls, I was ready to amputate. I suppose it showed. No doubt I conveyed it with my whole body, wore it on my face. It’s a handy face to have in your wardrobe. I recommend it for the girl on the go.


At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my goddess, what a beautiful idea. I LOVE IT!
I, too was groped on European buses, but I was even younger than you-12, 13, 14. I was one of the silent ones back then. But I'll never forget, when returned to Italy when I was 18 and was on a bus, some Italian made the mistake of rubbing up against my friend Susie. Susie was one of those big, loud, gallomphing type of American girls, and she just stepped on the guy's foot-(right on the arch)-in a pair of distinictly spikey italian high heels. And when the offender dropped his man-purse and screamed bloody murder, she turned around and gave him a great big smile and said "Oh! Mi scusi!" Priceless.


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