“Don’t do drugs.” A high-schooler behind me said it to her friend when the commotion started. “Don’t do drugs.” A mom said it to her young child as they climbed off the bus with the first exodus of people. “Don’t do drugs.” A man said it to whoever happened to be within ear shot as we all moved down the sidewalk to board the approaching bus. “Don’t do drugs.” I think I heard that phrase uttered more tonight than in the entire 1980s combined.
I was sitting on the bus minding my own business, reading about verb usage in United Nations Conferences of the Parties decisions as I am apt to do these days during my commute, when a voice yelled out, “Don’t touch me!”
Not the most unusual thing for a rather crowded bus at rush hour. My passing thought was probably something along the lines of “it’s good she’s standing up for herself.” But the yelling continued. “Stop touching me! Don’t touch me!” Over and over. By this point, everyone on the bus was looking, and it was clear no one was touching her. The woman was sitting in the sideways seats at the front of the bus yelling into the bus in general.
But that changed. She turned to the man on the seat adjacent to hers and started yelling directly at him. "Don't touch me!" He tried calmly saying he wasn’t touching her, a few times. She kept yelling and started getting up in his face. Then he got agitated. “Stop touching me!” “Stop spitting on me!” “Don’t touch me!” “I’m not touching you; don’t spit on me.”
And then the threats. From her, all from her. She’d spewed a few into the air before, before she turned on this man, but now they were clearly all directed at him. They both stood up. I don’t know who stood up first, but she started swinging. He put his hands up, trying to block her punches. Some guys from the back of the bus yelled, “Don’t hit that woman." "You can’t hit no woman.” The man was trying to duck, but there was nowhere to go on the crowded bus. The bus driver tried to get them both of the bus. The man backed out, the lady still swinging at him, while he voiced the inequity of his having to leave the bus.
The woman sat down briefly. Then she jumped up and raged down the aisle towards a young lady who was standing near the back door, looking at her phone, not paying no mind to any of the ruckus. The lady saw the woman coming and froze in shock. A man in a construction safety vest jumped up immediately in between the two, blocking the woman’s arms from coming down on the surprised lady.
The man in the safety vest backed the woman up a bit, but she started to send jabs into his gut and swing for his shoulders. A third gentleman jumped up and tried to pin the woman’s flailing arms. She fell to the bus floor, both guys going down with her. They wrestled her off the bus as passengers off-loaded themselves by the back door.
Soon, half the bus was empty, the bus driver was outside with the woman, the two men who’d gotten her off the bus and the man she’d first attacked. The other passengers mulled around on the sidewalk at the back of the bus, waiting for the next bus.
Those of us on the bus waited a bit. The driver came back on, but he didn’t sit down. He pulled a bright green safety vest out from behind his chair, put it on and calmly stepped back off the bus. The woman was still yelling outside. Someone hollered that another bus had arrived. The rest of us streamed off the bus to trade our immobilized one for one that might actually get us to our destinations.
And then we saw why the driver hadn’t come back in, why he got his safety vest, why we weren’t going anywhere. The woman had thrown herself under the front of the bus, directly in front of the right tire. She was lying there, in the road, a limb flung on the muddy curb, yelling about how WMATA (the transit agency) better give her something. The bus driver just stood nearby, nonchalant, waiting patiently.
The rest of us moseyed on down to the arriving bus. “She spit on me and my daughter,” the man who was first attacked. “I’m just trying to get to work,” the guy who helped get her off the bus. “How she gonna hold everyone up like that?” a lady dragging a stroller up the steps of the bus. “Don’t do drugs,” somebody, to someone, to everyone.
Just another commute home in DC.