Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said he felt “sick” and “angry” after watching a YouTube video uploaded by a city transit passenger depicting an Ottawa bus driver verbally harassing another passenger. The passenger was apparently reading aloud from a sexually explicit play he had written; he also happened to be autistic. “Shut the f–k up,” “Shut your ignorant f–king cake-hole,” and “If you don’t shut your f–king face I’m going to stick my fist in it!” are just a few of the driver’s alleged correctives caught on tape (unfortunately the video only captured an image of the victim, not the perpetrator). The passenger, who described himself as “mildly autistic,” can be seen giving a very meek apology and darting off the bus at the next stop. Mayor Watson is shocked and appalled. I’m not—shocked, that is. Say what you want about city transit employees—they’re overworked, underpaid, overtired—but you can’t deny that they are, by and large, an unapologetically surly bunch (except, in my vast commuting experience, the ones in Nova Scotia, where everyone is delightful). And it’s about time someone told them to snap out of it. Being miserable is all well and good when you’re a Subway sandwich artist or telemarketer (two of my own previous occupations, coincidentally), but when you’re a public employee and your job requires that you deal daily with the elderly, infirm—and yes, some of the 35 million plus tourists who visit Canada each year—it should also require that you check your surliness at the folding doors.
I might not be so harsh on transit workers if they would only discriminate. But they’re equal opportunity churls: they’re mean to everyone. An immigrant with a hard-to-comprehend question, an old lady with a bundle buggy, a homeless guy with someone else’s recycling, a serial teen-mom, a puppy—you name it, they yell at it.
I am not mildly autistic, nor am I prone to reading aloud in public spaces, suggestively or not, but I do take (Toronto) transit to and from work every day, and I know what it’s like to be spurned by a driver. In fact, I know so well what it’s like to be barked at every time I ask what the next stop is—or, God forbid, if I might possibly have a transfer—that I’ve compiled a list categorizing transit workers according to their three main misanthropic styles:
The Catatonic. Usually a woman of considerable size, the catatonic isn’t so much livid as she is barely alive. Ask her a question—any question—and her answer is “End of the line.” She does not make eye contact.
The Grinch. By far the most common driver/churl, the Grinch is never happier than when you give him the chance to be unhappy, and to subsequently unload on you—perhaps a little less profanely than the Ottawa bus driver, but with the same requisite fervor. He has a stain on his uniform and a sizable beard; in fact, he could be the body double of every apparent drifter or ne’er-do-well he regularly kicks off his bus/streetcar.
The Führer. The Führer can be fat, skinny, tall, short, moustached or not, possibly even friendly, so as long as he fulfills his duty of sitting on the bus or streetcar for 15 minutes with the door closed while passengers wait outside in below zero temperatures. As soon as the temperature rises, so does his reaction time. Coincidence? I think not.
Am I being unkind? Probably. Do I have an enormous advantage over every bus driver who’s ever bitten my head off? Definitely: the same advantage as any other passenger—I can get off the bus. But I shouldn’t have to: this summer, a Toronto transit driver tried to remove a woman from his streetcar because he “didn’t like her attitude” (she asked why he was 40 minutes late), and last year over 100 Montreal bus drivers refused passenger requests to stop texting on the job; excellent grounds to reconsider your mode of transportation. A quick Google search of B.C. Transit led me to a Facebook page called “Vancouver is Over Populated with A–hole Bus Drivers.”
Overgeneralization, though, can cover a host of sins—in this case one of mine. Common sense says not all city transit staff can be placed in one pigeonhole, or even three. Which is why I’ll add a fourth characterization to the ones listed above. Here goes:
Stanley. In his late 40s, an African-Canadian with a goatee—I know this because I met him just yesterday. Stanley is the single driver who, more than any other, emphasizes just how surly most drivers can be. Why?
Because he’s actually nice.