It’s a typical morning on my way to work, except it’s now cloudy and cold when I walk to the bus stop. It’s November. It’s supposed to be cold. I check my phone every few seconds to watch the updated transit tracker tell me how far the bus is. It’s still two minutes away, just like it was two seconds ago. But I still keep looking because I’m by myself and I need to keep my phone close by for the electronic bus ticket. The future is so convenient.
As the bus is about a minute away, a man in his late 20’s or early 30’s walks up to the bus stop. He wears a black beanie and many layers and has a cool nose ring. We both look at our phones until the bus is a couple blocks away. We both get on the bus, both completely unaware that we will be interacting today. And not because we choose to interact, but because another individual on the bus will taunt him.
I get on the bus first and we both head towards the back of the bus. I pull out my credit card to enter into my phone, so I can purchase a bunch of digital pictures to print from Snapfish. It was a really good summer and I’m looking forward to displaying all the pictures that I took. I overhear a woman in her late 30’s to early 40’s, I’m really bad at guessing ages, sitting in the corner near the man from the bus stop mumbling things under her breath. She has a bare pale face and her red hair tries to push out from underneath her winter cap. The man from the bus stop and I both turn towards her and quickly dismiss the mumbling at first, because in Portland there are a lot of “crazies” on the bus. So sometimes it’s best to just let them have a ball in their heads and enjoy the jargon that spits out randomly.
The woman continues to mumble and finally the man looks at her more intently, because he realizes she may be trying to speak with him. I mostly ignore this, while I’m trying to use my phone to enter my information. My brain tunes into the conversation when she says, “Why are you wearing so much cologne?!” Ok, a fair question. It is really unnecessary to wear as much cologne as some folks do. Ladies and gents, you only need one or two spritz – that means 1-2 quick sprays AT MOST. But, that’s not the problem with this story. The woman then follows up the “Why are you wearing so much cologne?” question with “Are you trying to hide shame? Do you not feel good about yourself?”. This is when my jaw drops. It physically drops and I look at the guy with my stunned face and open mouth. As she is about to burst out with another rude question, I stop her and intrude her outburst with my own punch of words by saying “Excuse me, you’re being incredibly rude! You don’t get to berate someone and dig into their emotions over a scent you dislike. If you don’t like it, sit somewhere else!”
At this point, the lady turns her seething, now bursting energy towards me. “I can’t move, because the bus driver is also wearing too much perfume and I shouldn’t be the one to have to move when my sinuses are being bothered. He should have to move.” As I turn towards the man, I politely ask “Do you mind if you come sit over here, so she can calm down?” He was already about to move and then said to the lady, “It’s because I’m Hispanic and the driver is Black, isn’t it?” The lady then quickly replied, “Oh, well that’s ironic! I’m Irish and feminist…it’s so typical in Portland to defend someone else…” This is where my brain couldn’t handle some of the craziness that continued to come out of her mouth. I’m not sure she even realized how ridiculous her statements were.
I was on both of their sides at different times. I understand what it’s like to have sensitivities towards smell. I actually have a crazy sense of smell, and I could smell his cologne. But, it was completely unjustified for her to go about it the way she did. She could have politely asked “Do you mind if you sat on the other side? My sinuses are going crazy right now, and the cologne you are wearing happens to be setting it off.” But, instead she chose the above route. After this debacle, she handled a phone conversation in a way a psychopath does, so that’s important to note.
He also didn’t need to play the race card. They were both responding poorly to a situation that could have been handled very differently with a much more pleasing outcome.
Her word outbursts didn’t stop until I finally said, “Can we just stop with this? He moved. You have the window open and it’s freezing in here because of it, but we’re dealing with it so that your sinuses can feel better. Why don’t we just drop this nonsense and try to have what’s left of our morning be delightful?” To which, she finally stopped talking and sat quietly until the psychopath phone conversation. I chose to use the word psychopath, because she used the word in one of her illogical tirades. I digress.
The reason for this story comes at a time when we, as a society, are so quick to blame each other and take offense to things instead of creating an open dialogue of understanding. Maybe if we tried to be more sympathetic to each other there could be more opportunity to see beyond race, color, politics and religion. You will not always believe in or understand what others value and choose to live, but maybe you could settle on a mutual respect. It’s also important to speak up and have a voice. If something bothers you, it’s ok to say so. But, there’s a way to be diplomatic about it.
We’re all humans trying to figure out our lives and find happiness in the little days we have. Let’s not spoil it with miscommunication and pointing the finger without trying to come to some understanding.