Wednesday, June 13, 2007

People are strange, or vignettes from life

Twenty-eight years of living in Chicago haven't filled in all of the blanks left by my sheltered upbringing. The behavior of people still surprises me. I don't mean things like the utterly incomprehensible actions of parents who kill their children. I mean the things that people do every day that simply make no sense.

A car sideswiped the bus I was on; I didn't feel or hear it (earplugs), but I could see an impressive scrape along both doors on the car's passenger side, where the rearview mirror was also dangling. The light was red, so the bus driver got out and looked at the bus (no damage, he declared) and pointed out to the car's driver that the mirror had been knocked off and that the doors were dented and scratched. I don't know what she replied, but she opted not to get out to look, and as soon as the light changed to green she drove off with the mirror still swinging away by a few wires. According to the bus driver, who was shaking his head in amazement, she'd been talking on her mobile phone and hadn't noticed "this big old bus." How will her insurance claim work, I wonder?

There were the two women, strangers to one another, who boarded a bus on a busy downtown route and promptly planted themselves back to back on either side of the aisle by the door, with only a few inches between them for anyone behind them who wanted to get on (me) or to get off. Only when a blind man tried to get past their human barrier did one of them move but only to the other side of the aisle. This freed up some room, but not enough for others to get by without contorting themselves. "I'm on, and all that matters. Now don't you dare bump me."

Walking north on State Street, the lone woman was gesticulating angrily to someone only she could see. "Don't raise your voice to me," she said loudly, stomping obliviously forward while stabbing the air with an irate finger. No one looked, even surreptitiously, at this mad display, for of course a cell phone was flipped open at her waist, and no doubt a Bluetooth device was planted in her ear. As with so many similar one-sided public quarrels, we'll never know what the offending tone of voice was.

When I walked out the front door of The Flamingo on Saturday, I heard the unmistakable, eardrum-shattering noise of a motorcycle. It turned out to be a tiny one, with a little boy, perhaps eight years old, in the driver's seat. I could mention that he's going to suffer hearing loss, if he hasn't already, and that this is a weird lesson to be teaching a future generation in an age of dwindling resources and climate change. Even more basic than that, however, he was riding his little motorcycle on the street, a street which culminates in a busy parking lot where cars are continually pulling in and out. The motorcycle was so small that most drivers could not have seen him. If his parents were nearby, it was hard to tell because no one seemed to be paying attention to him. I tried, but I could not make myself understand how or why the parents could allow this, let alone encourage it, or imagine how they or the unfortunate driver would feel if the worst happened. Is this the norm for acceptable parenting? Am I so much of a relic that I find this, at the very least, irresponsible?

People are strange. Their behavior is strange. What goes unremarked or unnoticed is strange.

Or perhaps I am strange.

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