When you crave human variety, the S buses that go up and down 16th Street fill the bill beautifully. Aboard one S2 or S4, it's nothing to see three Hispanic families, 16 perfectly dressed Yuppies, five Bible-reading black women and a few camera-clutching tourists thrown in for good measure.
Best of all, it's a courteous bunch. People are forever giving seats to one another, or apologizing for stepping on toes. One time, some regulars even bought flowers for a driver on her birthday. Let's just say it could never happen in New York.
But the other day, a bit of New York came to 16th Street. The star of the show was a punker.
She might have been 18. Then again, she might have been 25. How could you tell? Her hair looked like the business end of a broom. On her top half, she wore a faded denim jacket that looked as if angry monkeys had splashed it with bleach. On her lower half, she wore a pair of billowy pink surfing pants. In each ear, she wore many, many earrings. Sunglasses garnished the mix, too, of course. And on her left lapel, she wore a button that read: I HATE PEOPLE
Well, okay, it's a free country, right? If she wants to hate people, and to blare that fact at a busful of commuters, that's her business.
But another passenger soon made it her business. Innocently, curiously, she leaned down and asked the punker, "Why does someone as young as you hate people?"
The punker could have shrugged it off. She could even have been polite, in time honored S-bus fashion. But no such luck. The punker glared through her shades and proceeded to tell her questioner to mind her own everloving, multisyllabic business.
Now, I'm a big boy, and I've heard all the everloving, multisyllabic permutations and combinations many times. But this rendition was so venomous, so passionate, so much a curse in the old meaning of the word, that I was shocked.
Same went triple for the questioner, who quickly buried her head in the Style section, and who will probably never ask another punker another thing if she lives to be 100.
I'd have to award a share of the blame to the questioner. Would you walk up to a kid who was wearing an I LOVE BEETHOVEN button and try to talk Sinatra to him? The questioner should have taken the "HATE" button at its word.
But the punker was a punk. She blew it. She took an annoyance the size of a gnat and nuked it with a 40-megaton warhead.
You can hate all you want, and everyone you want, my punk friend. But no harm was meant by the question. What's more, civility is still practiced -- and desired -- aboard the S2. Go soak your head. Then go clean up your act.
Not all bus drivers are angels, either.
"JFB" of Adams-Morgan was walking to work one late April morning. As he crossed Rhode Island Avenue NW at 14th Street, "I saw the driver of an empty Metrobus (No. 6623) pull up and stop, get out, place an empty styrofoam cup on the curb, go into the 7-Eleven, return with another cup, get back in the bus and drive away."
No excuse, mister. I walked over to that corner and took a look. There's a trash can right on the corner nearest the 7-Eleven. And if it wasn't good enough for you, what about the plastic trash bag hanging from your farebox -- the one into which you toss used transfers?
This driver might as well wear a button that reads: I HATE CLEANLINESS. He's doing as much for the quality of life in this burg as the punker in the story above.
Some cab drivers, on the other hand, are heaven-on-earth material.
Sid Jaffe, the national accounts manager for a little company called AT&T, was getting into a cab on May 1 on Capitol Hill. Whoops! His pantleg snagged a piece of the cab's trim. The next sound you heard was a heartrending -- and budget-threatening -- ripppppppppppp.
Sid pointed out to the cabbie that he'd worn the suit only 10 times, and it didn't look as if it would ever be up to an 11th. Sid asked for damages. The cabbie asked how much Sid had in mind.
Sid said the suit had cost him $200, but he'd settle for $50. The cabbie said that was a lot of money to a cabbie, and he'd have to think about it. Sid figured that meant, "Sorry, Charlie." He resigned himself to, as he put it, "trying to make a blue pin-striped jacket look like a sports coat."
Sid's still fighting that uphill battle. But to his amazement, he has 50 extra bucks to keep him company. Raymond Mitchell of Southeast, the cabbie, felt so guilty about the rip that he paid what Sid asked. In less than two days.
Darn nice of you, Raymond. As Sid says, "You hear lots of D.C. cabbie stories. But you don't hear them like this one."