Thursday, July 20, 2006

Confessions Of An Angry Commuter

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a fat-ist.

I will be honest and tell you there is a woman who commutes with me in the morning who is very, very large and for whom I have little tolerance. I don’t know if it’s because I am discriminating or if it’s just because SHE IS RUDE. But here’s the situation.

This woman is obese. She walks, slowly, with a cane. I do not know if she has a condition other than obesity forcing her to use the cane and walk so slowly, but I cannot imagine it is easy to get around at her size in any case. She is an indeterminate age, probably somewhere in her forties or fifties, but with her light coloring it is hard to tell. Yesterday I learned she has a German accent. And, not to be obnoxious but the moment I heard her speak I thought she could pass for the mom or grandmother of Uter (the Germanish foreign exchange student on The Simpsons).

Anyway.

We wait for the bus in the mornings together, and when the it comes, she makes every effort to be the first one aboard. Yesterday morning she stopped short of elbowing me out of the way to go first. Now, I would find this to be rude behavior from anyone. But what about the disabled? Don’t I generally get out of the way for a disabled person who needs to board a bus? Yes, I do. Do I generally mind if they board first? No, I don’t.

But maybe her situation is different. She gets on the bus, and it takes her a long time to do so. There is no getting around her, either. She does not have a monthly fast pass which she could just wave at the driver, but instead she pays in coinage, which takes a long time.


[Yesterday, in fact, after she plainly stepped in front of me to get on the bus first, she realized she hadn’t gotten her money out, and so had to dig around in her change purse looking for fare. Apparently, she thought it might be a Spare the Air day here in SF and so wasn’t prepared to pay. It just made the whole situation more frustrating.]

Anyway, after she pays she sits in one of the front seats on the bus, the ones designated for the disabled and the elderly. And if there isn’t one readily available, someone always makes room for her. Always.

Now, I have no problem with her sitting up front. I am glad people move and allow her to sit as comfortably as possible. And also I have no problem with people who don’t have fast passes and who take slightly longer to pay in cash. It happens.

But here’s where I start to get annoyed. If she allowed the rest of us to board first, we would be able to wave our passes to the driver and scooch our way to the back of the bus where we can compete for seats or find a reasonable place to stand while she is taking her time to board. She would still get her seat, since it’s designated for her, and the bus driver isn’t going to pull away from the curb before she has situated herself (I am saying all of this based on experience, not out of thin air). WHEREAS after she has gotten on board first and the rest of us come after, the bus pulls away before any of us have found where we’re going to sit and so we do that bus-lurch, stumble-lunge to get to where we’re going.

Basically, I understand that she is incapacitated and I want to have empathy for her. I want to say, “Oh of COURSE you should board first and foremost and secure your seat as soon as possible and the rest of us should ensure your well-being before our own.” And you know? I think for someone with a broken leg, or in a wheelchair, or with an obvious affliction of something other than obesity, that is how I feel. But with her, I seem to feel differently.

Maybe it’s not because of her weight. Maybe it’s that I want to be nice to people, but not HAVE to be nice to people. If I see someone with a broken leg coming toward the bus, I want to get out of the way and say, “no, please, after you.” But I don’t want the person with the broken leg to look at me and say, “uh, excuse me, but I’m going to have to go first here.” As though I expect someone at a disadvantage to be GRATEFUL for my being a decent human being.

So maybe I’m not a fat-ist, maybe I’m just an asshole. Because the more I think about it, were I to see someone at a disadvantage behave as though he or she was entitled to special treatment, I would get annoyed. Should someone on crutches push past a crowd waiting to board a bus say something like, “EXCUSE me, coming through!” it would piss me off, in a who-does-he-think-he-is kind of way. Whereas someone with an affliction who seemed humble about it would provoke my empathy immediately.

On the other hand, I am certain it’s not just this woman’s sense of entitlement that annoys me. It’s that (and let’s assume for the time being that her only issue is her weight) I don’t think of obesity as an accident or an unfortunate circumstance that happened to someone unwittingly. Even those of us who have inherited fat genes aren’t without some recourse to keep our weight somewhat in check. Right?

So here I am, blaming this person for getting so fat that she has effectively become “disabled.” I think a lot of us think this way, huh?

But um. What if we see someone lugging around an oxygen tank? Do we feel the same way? That’s it’s that person’s fault for (probably) smoking? Or someone with a broken leg? I see someone in a cast and think, “Oh, that poor guy, breaking a bone sucks” and not “he was probably being careless.”

What I'm saying is, I almost never blame the victim. Unless the "victim" is someone whose affliction is being fat.

Hmmm.

So okay. Maybe my issue is as simple as: Hey, if you’re going to take a while to get on the bus and you don’t have your money ready and you have a seat guaranteed, maybe you could let others go first?

But maybe I am a fat-ist, too.

28 comments:

  1. ok...here are my thoughts..myself being a large almost-50 year old person....yes..my weight is my fault...but I dont see myself as this "entitled person" you speak of either, however, it is very hard for some such person to even STAND for any length of time (how many people are in line for said bus?). That said, there are SOME people that just live this ENTITLED life you speak of and although it makes the rest of us angry I just try to think that I am a better person and allow these people to go first. And why the hell doesnt the bus driver wait til all of you are seated? Someone should possible talk to him/her? Or maybe just slap him/her.

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  2. yes, you are right. i definitely have issues with ANYONE who decides they are somehow more entitled than the rest of us.

    the woman who waits with us walks at least two blocks to get to the bus stop, so i am pretty sure she can stand for a full 3 to 5 minutes, though.

    how many people varies, anywhere from 3 to 6 or 7 people.

    and it's not just this bus driver, it's all bus drivers in the city. once the last person has boarded, the bus takes off.

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  3. just be glad you don't ride the bus through chinatown each day, where hardly anyone is obese or overweight, and everyone, even the ones who are young and spry, feels it's their right to bowl you over, hell, even push you out of the way to stand exactly where you were just standing, step on you, hit you, put their really smelly bags of food on you, yell at you in languages you don't understand for even being on the same bus with them, hold up a bus full of 100 people for 5 minutes as the busdriver screams at them, because they want to squeeze just one more person into the stairwell you can't stand on if you want the bus to move, even though there is an empty bus 1 block away.

    No ... I'm not bitter. Not at all.

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  4. I don't know. It's tough when we see something that isn't necessarily a positive reaction within ourselves.

    I would like to think of myself in a similar situation that I would be reacting to the sense of entitlement, rather than the person's weight. But who knows?

    Plus, I mean it's pretty easy to get frustrated during commutes involving public transportation and people, and lord knows I can't deal with anyone, not even the people I love the most in a courteous way before about 10AM when the caffeine starts rushing through my veins...so it could also be that.

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  5. Skip Cunningham1:23 PM, July 20, 2006

    Fuck. I wish I hadn't had the fries at lunch now.

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  6. it's entirely possible that she got fat because of a medical condition that made her less mobile in the first place...

    i'm just saying.

    that said, i can't stand rude people on muni or elsewhere. people who aren't remotely aware of or concerned with the feelings or needs of others.

    aagh.

    and you've perfectly described that stumble-lunge maneuver....

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  7. Perhaps many people (even MOST people) that become morbidly obese have some recourse to keep their weight somewhat in check. Try to remember that not ALL people do. That you cannot tell a persons true disability simply by looking at them.... that sometimes obesity is a result of something much more silent and not so obvious. Yes, I speak from experience, and Yes, we can see the stares and hear the giggles and the snide remarks... and it hurts... a lot.

    I don't weigh as much as I used to, so perhaps I can say that I have gotten my weight "somewhat" in check. I used to weigh over 400 lbs and now I "only" weigh close to 300 (I am almost 6 feet tall). I was born with a congenital heart defect that prevented me from being very active, on top of that I had a thyroid disorder that remained undiagnosed until recently... neither of these would be things you would know or see by looking at me, but you would see that I am fat. It was always assumed by people that I must eat a lot... I don't. I have always eaten less than average, but with my other health problems (and after a bout with anorexia that literally screwed up my metabolism) there was not a lot I could do.

    I don't like myself the way I look. I am embarassed when I go out. I certainly do not feel entitled to anything, nor would I push my way to the front of the line at the bus stop, but even if (or especially if) I just walked 3 to 5 blocks to get to the bus stop, I would be tired... my heart would be racing, my legs would feel as though they were going to give out, and my lungs would be burning... and I would want to sit as soon as possible, but I would wait... so as not to draw attention to myself... so that maybe people would not look at me as the disgusting fat lady today... and I could somehow blend into the crowd.

    I can't say that I would react any differently than you or anyone else reading your blog. When I find myself making assumptions (which may indeed be true) I try to remember that I don't have all the facts... and that there is a real person, with life experiences and emotions and baggage that I have no clue how to comprehend.

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  8. it's rude people that suck. it's just easy to associate the behaviors we dislike with the fatness that, as a society, we also dislike. it's pretty commonly believed that the heavier you are, the lazier and less worthy you are of breathing air and other stuff. That said, if someone is so big they need a cane just for that.... seems like they should be hospitalized.

    I read a study once that said that men would prefer dating a woman with terminal cancer over a woman who was slightly overweight.

    Rude people should go jump off a bridge, and really seriously overweight people should get medical help. anyone who feels entitled to anything at all, be they fat, thin, tall, short, disabled, or purple, just makes the world less fun.

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  9. I love your blog...and almost never reply....but you have hit some sensitive issues for me with this one.....

    You say that you have some recourse to keep your weight in check, but as one weight-struggling person to another (who writes so prolifically about it), I don't think you believe you have 100% control of whether or not your going to be fat. While you may have more control over your situation than others, it can't be complete. Given that, I think you could understand that there may be people with more or less control than you (with or without physical limitations) and wouldn't that make obesity (for some) a disability in itself?

    Also, as a person battling very serious medical problems (not weight related), I can say that not all disabilities are as obvious as those with wheel chairs and leg casts. I may be one of the humblest people I know, and would never be first on the bus not would I ever display entitlement even when need for privileges may be apparent outwardly. Though, I do know what most disabled people go through....and its A LOT! So, if some of them develop some sense of entitlement, it really shouldn't be any wonder. Some of them actually deserve it.

    I realize your post is more about rude people than fat or disabled people and I really don't want to sound or be contentious. Its really more about patience than anything.

    1 slow fat person
    ten commuters
    then bus leaves

    is the same amount of time as

    ten commuters
    1 slow fat person
    then bus leaves

    Its only costing you one stumble a day, and that's really the bus driver's fault, not the slow, fat commuter's.

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  10. Ericha2@comcast.net3:04 PM, July 20, 2006

    K-

    I gotta say I know what anonymous from 1:58pm is talking about. I am very much the same. Big all my life. Not the biggest girl in the city, but probably close. I used to MUNI to the Financial District every morning and by the time I made it to the bus stop from my house I was sweating (regardless of the weather) and all I wanted to do was melt into the background. Try to find the space on the bus where I could kind of squeeze myself in and try not to touch the people on either side of me because they'd just give me "that look" like my just existing bothered the hell out of them.

    I do agree with you too, though. I know my obesity is at least partially my fault. I know what works and what doesn't. If I don't have the willpower or desire to follow through, that's my fault. Maybe I deserve the looks. And even though I've felt the way I do about myself, I too have found myself looking at someone bigger than me and thinking, how could you "let" yourself get to that point? Sad, I know.

    Please no one take offense at what I'm about to say because I am not at all racist or culture-phobic or what have you but I always found that it was the non English-speaking crowd that had the largest sense of entitlement. I can't tell you the number of times I've been stepped on, pushed, shoved, bumped, etc. by little ladies yapping at each other, who believe it is their right to stand exactly where I happen to be standing, even though there is an empty space 2 seats down. That always drove me nuts.

    Ok...enough...your blog, not mine.

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  11. hi other,

    i understand what you are saying, and i understand that i could be -- without question -- more patient.

    i basically posted this because i found myself very annoyed (without thinking about it) when i was essentially pushed out of the way, and wanted to explore whether my sentiments were justified or not.

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  12. Kiki ~

    Good for your for being brave enough to exploring this topic with radical honesty. I believe that looking at things in an unflinching way is the only way to grow.

    I would suggest a things:
    1)Okay, you feel annoyed, but the question is "what's under THAT feeling?" Explore what's under that and then ask again "What's under THAT?" again.. do it a few more times until you get to the REAL heart of that matter. It could be connected it could be totally different.
    2) We are most repulsed by what we are afraid we will become.
    3)You do not know what her story is, all you see is the fat. I bet if you talked to her for 5 minutes and heard her story, you would be able to tap into compassion.
    5) To this woman, darling, YOU are the "skinny bitch" you were talking about in your green shoes post. She’s dying to be your size, to breeze up to the bus stop without being out of breath, to wear those cute clothes and shoes she can’t fit into.

    Get it?

    ~Tonya

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  13. Consider your reaction the opposite way of how you are - instead of imagining how you would feel had she a different disability, how would you feel if her behavior remained the same but she had NO disability? It seems to me that the problem isn't her getting on the bus first, it is that her actions have nothing to do with her physical needs - she is merely being selfish. Her size does not predicate her getting on board first, any more than a deaf person would have to get on first. It certainly has nothing to do with her being so inconsiderate as to hold up the entire line while counting her change instead of having it at the ready. A blind person who can't see what he is counting would have an alternate means of taking care of this - like your bus pass. So no, you are not fatist or an asshole - you are just fed up with a very inconsiderate person.

    But, you know, patience is a virtue, be charitable of those less fortunate, blah blah blah.

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  14. i think regardless of the weight issues, the whole thing with people getting to the front of the line without being ready to pay is very irritating.

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  15. older and wiser5:08 PM, July 20, 2006

    Tonya, I think your suggestions are all on target.

    K, you're brave to voice your own prejudices. I empathize with your frustration over the woman's rudeness, but you haven't walked a mile in her shoes and I think it's a waste of your energy to stress out over her behaviour. In situations like that, I try to simply be grateful that I don't have an "affliction".

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  16. o&w,

    it probably is a waste of my energy to 'stress' about her behavior, but i don't know that i do. someone pushes me out of the way, i get annoyed and let it go. someone does it repeatedly, and it becomes a nuisance. then yesterday/today, because the bus was too crammed for me to read, i had a considerable amount of time to dwell on why i was feeling upset and raise all these questions.

    as caroline pointed out, i would be annoyed with *anyone* who behaved in a way that was, from an observational standpoint, selfish. i guses another way of looking at this is asking if someone who has health problems is "allowed" to be selfish?

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  17. shewhomustnotbenamed7:07 PM, July 20, 2006

    Here's what I don't understand. Why does she even want to get on the bus first? Because if I was obese, the last thing I'd want to do is shove my way to the front of the line so that I can treat everyone to a view of my fat ass as I hoist myself up the stairs and then rummage for change.

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  18. older and wiser9:15 PM, July 20, 2006

    I'd figure that the woman probably has a tough time in life (just getting around, for starters) and if getting on the bus first is that important to her, so be it. We could all guess a lot about her circumstances, but only she has the answers. If you have a real problem "allowing" her to push to the front, why don't you ask her why she feels it necessary to do that?

    P.S. Shewhomustnotbenamed, perhaps the bus is the only means by which the woman can get anywhere.

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  19. I do think that if it were truly important to her to get on the bus as quickly as possible and sit down, she'd be counting her coins while waiting for the bus, so she could get to the sitting part almost immediately, and glide past all other shenanigans. That's what points me towards "rude" as opposed to anything else. As a fat girl who has to squeeze into her coach seats on the plane, I know that I do what I can to make the people next to me comfortable. But my fatness is entirely my own fault, and not attributable to any medical condition, so I try to take responsibility for all the delicious pizza I eat.

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  20. I've just come across your blog and liked the title so I stopped for a while.
    Here comes a bit of psychobabble: you spend time and energy keeping your weight at a reasonable limit and for that you get to get on the bus last and are thrown around when the bus takes off. She who has apparently "let herself go" gets on the bus calmly and slowly and is pretty well guaranteed a seat.
    Thus she is rewarded for her lack of self restraint/discipline and you are "punished" for the opposite.
    But at least you get to wear cool clothes!
    Why don't you talk to her, explain the situation then if she doesn't agree to get on last, you are free to hate and resent her all you like. Or you could just trip her up.

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  21. I think the real issue is she is rude. Fat may not have one thing to do with it, she is just rude. And what is worse? She is rude to the same group of people that she sees on a daily basis. There is this weird fine line in our society about weight...it is often either acknowledged or treated as invisible. This woman seems to be making her weight the issue when it's really not. Good Venting!

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  22. Stop riding the bus, get a Hummer,.. not the "fuel efficient" H3, but one of the big deisel ones. Problem solved, and you can feel good about yourself by giving Uter's mom a ride once a week.

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  23. It is quite possible that this woman is so hardened and bitter from years of obesity that she does exactly as you say and bombards her way to the front of the line and then passively aggresively makes everyone wait for her to bumble around her change purse.

    I know these people...I have been this person, however never on a public transportation situation. I would simply be too embarrassed to do that.

    I think I understand though...the embarrassment over the years has turned her mean and selfish and humiliated so she has just jumped into that role and probably will never return to her authentic self, who if she is obese with a cane, probably started out just as precious as the rest of us. It's sad but true.

    I can't fault you for your response to her...I would and have thought the same thing when I've been thin and fat.

    It is what it is...and it sucks to the bus bumble...

    Thanks for your honesty...

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  24. I have all kinds of things inside my head I'm embarrassed of, and also things I struggle with on a moral barometer level, so I think it's pretty brave for you to write it down, work it out.

    MOSTLY! Though, I have not been able to post comments on your website in days, so I had to tell you how much I adored your green sneakers post. I heart you.

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  25. I think Caroline hit the nail on the head - it's not her disability/obesity/whatever that's bugging you - it's her lack of consideration for anyone but herself. What happens to many of us is that we feel poorly about being angry at a person who we perceive to be less fortunate than ourselves.

    I agree with you - it's the sense of entitlement that agggravates - not the disability. People who want to be treated "just like anyone else" should act just like anyone else. Manners included.

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  26. Great post. It is very difficult for us to think of ourselves as possibly prejudiced in some unreasonable or unjustified way. I would also be annoyed by this situation, but I think mostly because of the sense of entitlement displayed. Entitled, rude people get my goat more than just about anything else, regardless of their size, gender, color, blah blah blah. I am not so presumptuous as to think I deserve special treatment over anyone else, so I find it aggravating when others do.

    I also do not like to wait I am impatient. I walk rather quickly, and get easily frustrated when slow people block the entire sidewalk. I probably look like a total bitch when I pull a maneuver to get around them and speed off. But hey, I’m trying to get somewhere and I don’t care. At the grocery store I will lug a 50 pound basket rather than get a cart because I don’t want to risk getting stuck in the cart jammed isles. If I need to I can lift my basket and squeeze through. I basically try to modify my behavior so I will feel inconvenienced as little as possible, and try to remind myself that most of the people that I feel are in my way and slowing me down are not actually doing anything wring and I have no reason to be upset with them. Unless they are being blatantly rude, like it seems this woman is being. OK, I just went on about that way too long about that.

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  27. It is quite possible that this woman is so hardened and bitter from years of obesity that she does exactly as you say and bombards her way to the front of the line and then passively aggresively makes everyone wait for her to bumble around her change purse.

    I think it could be this -- or it could be that she honestly just forgot to get out the money first (if she normally does get it out first). Or she could be concerned that she'll drop it if she takes it out and holds onto it before the bus arrives. She would not be able to pick it up off the ground if she did drop it.

    I do agree with the beginning of the comment I quoted above: that the poor treatment she has undoubtedly received by people over the years BECAUSE of her size has led her NOT to expect people to help her. She probably does not expect or assume that people would voluntarily accommodate her, so she has to look out for herself. It's probably quite stressful for her every morning to face the bus ride: having to make sure she gets on early enough to get a seat, having to cope with the humiliation of people staring at her and possibly making comments to her or near her...

    And that she walks a few blocks to the bus stop does not mean that it is not difficult for her to stand. When I hurt my knee, I *could* walk a few blocks, but it hurt.

    I appreciate this post of yours, Kristy, because you are trying to reflect honestly on your reaction to her. You know the politically correct reaction to have, you didn't have it and you are not trying to pretend you did. At the same time, you are willing to explore the topic and address your own biases. We all have biases and unfairly negative reactions to people and it's always good to examine them.

    She may be flat-out rude or her behavior may be defensive as a result of her own negative experiences out in the world. Or maybe it's a little bit of both.

    I'm closely connected to a community of people with a particular physical disability. They need help when they are out and about. The ones who are able to live the most independently are those who DO feel entitled to be helped and are not shy about asking for or even demanding help. The sad fact is that most people are not paying attention to those around them enough to consider whether someone else needs help. So it becomes important that those who need it demand it.

    Someone using crutches for a broken leg is a person who you can imagine is "just like you" but had an accident. But you cannot fathom letting your body become so obese that you cannot walk without difficulty. So you already have to strain to find empathy for her before she even does anything.

    Is she more rude than most people you encounter? Aren't a lot of people rude? I hate the people who crash into me while I'm walking down the sidewalk and don't acknowledge it.

    I think it's safe to assume that nobody actually wants to be that obese. (I know I know -- I'm sure there's some story out there about people who do want to be so obese they're incapacitated, but you know what I mean.) Personally, if I were that size, I think I'd be in a really crappy mood a lot of the time. And most unfortunately, it's probably pretty hard to motivate to drastically change your life when you're in a crappy mood.

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  28. i can only imagine that this woman on the bus suffers from problems invisible to the eye. mental illness, other diseases may plague her and imagine what a compassionate smile, a helping hand might do for her day. Like you, i know how it feels to battle extra weight, Kristy. in learning to love what we hate, we change. take care.

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