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Is the world just more mean-spirited today than it used to be? Am I imagining it, or do people seem more selfish and egotistical and, to use a word I hate, “bitchy?” I could say here, “I remember when things were …,” but that makes me sound like my mother who would use that phrase whenever I did something very teen-agy like playing “Tequila” extra loud on Mary’s stereo.

This latest musing on meanness surprisingly doesn’t involve a bicycle-on-the-sidewalk like most times I write about this theme. It does have to do with my goings here and there on public transportation. Now, right off, I must say that I am a big fan of good public transportation. I could easily get my banner waving for any program that would get more cars off city streets and more subways, streetcars and, dare I say the word, buses carrying folks hither and yon. (I’m not a big fan of the bus, obviously.) The operative word here is good which in my dictionary translates as arriving on time, not being over-crowded, getting you where you need to go and not costing so much that it’s cheaper to get in your car — if you have one, which I don’t. Once my old Volvo decided to kick-the-dust on Harbord Street many years ago, I have been a part of the public masses using the TTC — Toronto’s try at public transportation.

That is why I found myself, these past two weeks, riding the #7 Bathurst bus twice a day. As The Excellent Cat Sitter, I have to get to where my “cat clients” are waiting hungrily to be fed and loved and make sure their poop is scooped properly. They can be very demanding — not as bossy as mine though, that’s for sure. These particular sweet ones, were a longish bus ride away. Other than the ridiculous traffic, not the fault of the TTC, and the sometimes incredibly bumpy ride — they need better springs — the commute wasn’t bad. That is until Friday afternoon.

The bus was moderately crowded. I squeezed into the middle seat on the side bench. Not my favourite spot but it was the only seat available. I immediately took out my book and started reading. Then, a few blocks south, the fellow next to me got up to get off at the next stop. He stood by the front. This is when the stupidness began.

The driver said, safely enclosed behind his plexiglass gate — I wonder if it’s bullet proof — “Sir, stand behind the white line, please.” It’s the “law” on all TTC vehicles not to encroach upon the space beside the driver, but it’s only randomly enforced by the drivers which makes it understandable when people might inch closer to the door.

The fellow answered, “I am behind the line.”

Driver, “Sir, move behind the white line.”

Fellow repeated, “I am behind the white line.”

Now, there are murmurings from others on the bus, someone shouts out, “Hey, he’s behind the white line.”

The driver, obviously nervous about this guy being close, says, “You’ve been standing there all the time.”

Fellow, “No, I was sitting beside that lady.”

At this point, I raise my sweet voice to say, “Yes, driver, he was sitting right here.”

The driver chooses not to reply and repeats, again, “You have to get behind the white line.”

Now is when things get messy. The fellow yells at the driver, “You’re a moron, that’s what you are, a moron.”

I said, to no effect whatsoever, “Hey, man, cool it.”

The driver, still trusting the eyes in the back of his head, says, “You are not behind the white line.” Then, he stops the bus, opens the door and says, “I will not move until you are behind the white line.”

Now, there is an angry rumbling from the entire Greek Chorus sitting behind the white line. The two Russian ladies (I knew they were Russian because they kept saying, “Da, da” to each other) across the aisle from me, started shouting, “Go. Go. Close Door. Late! Late!” The driver was not moved to action. Another woman, gets up from her seat, pushes past the guy behind-the-white-line and points a finger at the plexiglass and orders the driver to move the frigging bus but the driver totally ignores her — maybe because she is now definitely in front of the white line. Then from the back of the bus. one young man, starts screeching, “F_ _K YOU! F_ _K YOU!” I wasn’t sure whether his threats were aimed at the driver or the guy behind the white line but his tone made me a tad nervous. I’m thinking, “Isn’t this how violence erupts?”

I couldn’t keep quiet, “I said, hey man, chill it.” He responded by screeching again, louder. I’m thinking at this point that maybe I should adopt my friend, Judith’s approach to traveling on public conveyances and begin chanting. She does it silently, but in this situation I thought it might be a good idea to do some, loud, calm, “Oms!”

But, before one Om could slip from my lips, the behind-the-line guy decides to up the ante, and yells at the driver, “You’re a moron. You should be shot.” Great, this is just great. I said to him, my former seat mate, “Now, come on, that’s not called for.” I sounded like his grandmother which I could have been. He turned around and apologized, “Sorry, ‘mam.” At this point some folks have had enough of the drama and decide that it may not be a bad idea to escape through that still-open front door. I’m looking around wondering if anyone on that bus has a gun and just might accommodate the guy-behind-the-line’s wishes. Call it my American paranoia, but crazier things have happened, even in Oh Canada. My brother, Joe, told me about riding the Cleveland Avenue bus in Columbus and seeing that some folks were “packing” protection for their ride downtown to work. The only thing Joe packed were cookies for the regulars he knew rode the bus — maybe even some of those guys with guns.

Now, at this point, I thought it would have been a very good idea if the driver had just moved on, but, oh no, he says, “So, you think I should be shot, eh?” Great. Male egos clashing, neither one wanting to yell “Uncle.” The still-behind-the-line fellow, yells, forgetting his promise to me, “You’re a moron. Yes, you should be shot.” This ignites the screecher in the back and increases the rumblings from the chorus to “Move the bus. Move The Damn Bus.” Finally, the front door closes and he drives the 20 feet to the stop at the corner. The fellow, still behind the white line, gets off without a backward glance at the driver. The screecher is silenced and the chorus goes back to not making eye contact with anyone on the bus and I re-read what I had read before the whole mess started. Om