The sullen man next to me on the bus made me uneasy. He was dressed in less-than-clean clothes and didn’t appear to have shaved for about a week. I had the distinct impression (reinforced by his sotto voce mutterings) that he was irrational. I was stuck, though – the seats were full and people jammed the aisles, shifting and dodging in a nearly Brownian motion at each stop. I exchanged a glance, and raised eyebrows, with my other seatmate over the man’s bowed head. The third member of our happy little group was the sullen man’s polar opposite – Hugo Boss, clean-shaven and just, well, clean; he nearly looked like he was spit-shined. Ex-military, I’ll bet, I thought briefly, and pushed aside everything to try to order my workday before I hit my desk.
This was a long ride, all the way down Lakeshore Boulevard and then on the freeway to East Ninth. I’d missed my usual express bus, which got on the freeway right away. I wouldn’t do that again.
The squeal of the doors at yet another stop broke into my reverie. A pretty lady in a business suit and heels got on and shifted into the mass of standees. She was pregnant – at a guess, about five months. She grabbed the overhead bar – which she could just reach – and balanced herself with the briefcase in her other hand.
The spit-and-polish businessman gave her one look – just a glance, really – and went back to his iPad. Just as I was about to stand and offer her my seat, the man next to me beat me to it.
In a gentle voice that I could barely hear over the noise of people’s voices and MP3 players whose earphones leaked a cacophony of music, the man, with a sweet smile that completely changed his face, said “Please, ma’am, have my seat.”
The Allegory of the Long Spoons (look it up) talks about the difference between heaven and hell being that in heaven people feed each other and in hell, they only worry about themselves. For me, from now on, there’s going to be an Allegory of the Bus Seat. And maybe, too, a lesson about impressions and how misleading they can be.