Chicago Sun-Times

Move that bag! -- Speaking up on the L

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On the Metra, conductors roam the cars, collecting tickets, making sure muddy feet stay off the seats. On the CTA, except for the lonely employee driving the train or the bus, we're on our own. If some tough has his radio on too loud, or is hogging two seats, we have to police ourselves. The question is -- when is a good time to step up to be the L Scold?

I'm an L Scold, though I'm not as bad as I once was. If someone's playing the radio so loud I can pick out both lyrics and bass line, I'm not afraid to ask him to turn it down. If someone's using one of his seats for bags on a rush-hour train, I'm not afraid to say, "Hey, please move your stuff!" I'll stand up for pregnant women, people on crutches, parents with children, and the elderly. If I'm standing, and no one gives up a seat for someone who needs it, I'll ask for a volunteer.

Usually it works. People are usually polite -- they're just oblivious. They need to look up from their magazines and their piped-in music to see what's going on around them. When I was pregnant, I didn't stand forlornly in the aisle, hoping someone would notice me. I would ask, "Can someone please give me a seat?" and three or four people would leap up. Usually, people do the right thing, and everyone's happy. You get the best smiles from your fellow riders if you successfully get a teen to turn down his tunes. You're the L hero.

But it doesn't always happen, and then it's just depressing. It seems to be getting worse. Last week on the Brown Line, I kept getting knocked in the chest by a tall, tailored, six-figure-salary type with a 200-pound "I must carry everything" bag. After the third breath-taking blow, I asked him to please put his bag on the floor of the car. "See, that's where I keep my bag," I said, pointing helpfully. He sneered, "It will get dirty!" And he didn't apologize. The people around me shrugged in sympathy, while I fantasized about smearing the bottoms of my boots on his creased trousers.

I didn't, but I wonder if my days as an L Scold are numbered. I'm getting tired of it. I'm getting tired of the rudeness and the defiance. These days, if the loud radio player is a tough looking youngster or a vacant-eyed scruffy who rocks in his seat, I'm not saying anything -- I just move to another car. I don't want to get shot. If someone keeps knocking me with his bag, I don't want to say anything. I just want to roll my eyes and offer it up for Jesus, as they used to say in school. If someone is getting hurt, I'm definitely calling the conductor and 911, and helping out if I can. But I've started to let the other stuff slide.

Are you an L Scold? Or have you hung up your verbal weapons and resigned yourself to sit in silence as the rudeness batters against you for the 30-minute ride? Please let us know.

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26 Comments

I was on the Blue Line coming back from O'Hare last weekend. Service was interrupted between Jefferson Park and Cumberland, so there were shuttle buses. I was carrying a 40-lb bag of dog food, my carry-on bag, an open cardboard box with a ceramic cookie jar and an over-sized bubble envelope. It was really too much stuff to carry and no one helped me - a special thank you to the O'Hare CTA agent who laughed at me struggling through the turnstile - but didn't expect it anyway, and I handled everything just fine on my own.

On both the train and the bus, I (and all my stuff) managed to occupy ONE seat. So to all those jerks with the backpacks and/or bags that they just can't manage to/from work every day, I tell you there IS a way to not annoy just about everyone around you whilst hauling around the equivalent of a one-bedroom apartment.

Shaun- All those people with tons of suitcases riding the orange line are going to Midway. So, while being an L-scold, or whatever it is you call it, is fine, expecting people going to the airport not to bring their suitcases with them is just dumb. If you're so passionate about enforcing public-transit courtesy, I'd assume you'd ride it enough to know where the orange line goes.

I live on the northside, and I take the red-line everywhere, but Howard after dark is pretty sketchy neighborhood, but that's why I rock a purple mohawk and combat boots.

People judge me for being some kind of angry-looking 'scruffy' youth, but I'm not a jerk, I just don't conform to *your* standard of beauty. I will say, the one thing that makes people smile at me instead of frown at my numerous piercings, is when I blow bubbles while waiting for the train. So if you ever see bubbles floating around an El stop... you can assume I'm around.

K

Um, Shaun? It's called Midway Airport. You may not know this, but some people who fly out of Chicago use the Orange Line to get to Midway Airport, and sometimes people who fly require three suitcases.

If I have to take the L to an airport (which is just about every time I fly because I can't afford a taxi or parking near the airport), it's difficult because sometimes when I travel for work I have to pack more clothes than usual, plus a laptop. However, I do my darndest to not take up more than one seat with myself and my bags.

You're welcome.

LOL! Thanks for that Douglas you made my day and I agree the problem is we're raising a nation of jerks people who won't move for the pregnant or elderly are not taught proper manners and think they own the world and can act like fools. Mostly because noone puts them in check and especially when they see adults do it I once had a guy on the Blue line sit in front of me and just push his suitcase behind him[in my way]and not bother to check if anyone was in the seat behind his. So I kicked it when I was leaving sometimes YOU have to be the jerk to deal with jerks sad but true public transportation in Chicago SUCKS!

Please, yes! Speak up on the L! I have had the same issues with men and women who insist on cramming their backpacks to the limit (it seems with computers and concrete bricks) and then wear them on the bus/el. I love it when they make minimal effort to lean an inch or two forward to let someone pass by and then look irritated when they get bumped around.

We're entirely too nice here in Chicago. When I was in London, I saw people get yelled at - really laid into - by other passengers when they didn't take their backpacks off. And not just by one individual, but usually many people would join in. There were even signs and announcements on the tube about putting backpacks and bags on the floor and not taking up seats with your bags.

And I don't buy that people are oblivious when they leave their stuff on the seat next to them. They're just playing dumb until someone calls them out. I had one girl who tried to tell me that she didn't want to put her bag on the ground - as if her bag deserved to ride in comfort more than another person.

So for the businessman who clearly believed the welfare of his bag was more important than leaving his fellow passengers free of bruises, don't hold back. Let him/her know before some Londoner gets on and really lets him have it.

it depends, i pick my battles. The young people today are just rude, ignorant and depressing, to think this is the generation thats to take over corporate america someday. Sad, just sad. Older people are angry and bitter due to life and its circumstances. So again, i pick my battles. If it's an emergency situation than i most certainly will get involved, if not, than i'll leave those individuals right where they are "in Hell"

I think we as a society have lost the compassion for the human condition. Young people want to be thugs and will take advantage of any situation to be rude as they perceive it as cool.

The bus drivers, conductors, feel they are notpaid enough to be the police force, so they allow the behavior to occur. The average citizen just wants to stay out of it and be left alone.

People have becoem so tolerant that it is now a nuisance.

Just be careful as some of these people have no problem responding with violence to the perceived "diss" of their character.

Posted rules might help, but then again, people become numb to their surroundings.

Good luck, stay safe.

Welcome to the city of broad shoulders! The meatheads that inhabit chicago will never change unless you put some DNA altering chemical in the water and hope nature takes care of the rest. Of the many times I have been 'lucky' enough to go to Chicago and the surrounding areas, not once have I been disappointed in meeting some Joe Blockhead from Chicago. They wander the streets looking for trouble and get in your business at the slightest opportunity. Good luck getting Chicago knuckleheads to change anything, they are too consumed with themselves to worry about others. City of Bad Manners it should be called...

It's sad when people have so many complaints about the CTA service, but no comments about their fellow riders. I for one Ms Wisniewski, have witness and gone through the same story you mentioned hear.

**********
I'm getting tired of the rudeness and the defiance. These days, if the loud radio player is a tough looking youngster or a vacant-eyed scruffy who rocks in his seat, I'm not saying anything -- I just move to another car. I don't want to get shot. If someone keeps knocking me with his bag, I don't want to say anything.

In the previous paragraph you state you are tired. I am too! So that means some days I will be belligerent as the next rider, but I don't take it out on someone minding their business. After many years of riding CTA it is easy to spot the those who purposely have too many bags, taking up two or three seats, crossed legs in narrow aisles where the person can put there dirty shoes on you or sometimes literally kick you while trying to get by.

I am not looking to get shot nor really fight over a seat, I simply not going to stand up nor be frighten into not going to the rear of the bus where there are seats. In other words, "MOVE OUT OF THE WAY, if you are afraid to go back there!" Excuse me can only be said to people who understand manners, respect and have diginity about theirself. There are others who you simply have to bull your way past with a clenched fist and be prepared to do battle.

Once while riding CTA on Mother's Day, elderly ladies got on the bus, but the youngster's (or young fools) acted as though they didn't have to get up and let them sit down. I find that appalling not to get up and let someone who seems as though she is old enough to be your grandmother and not offer them your seat. To make the story shorter, I hollered to the front of the bus, "These ladies are old enough to be your mothers or grandmothers, GET UP AND LET THEM SIT DOWN!" Majority of them stood up which were young males sitting and cursing by the way. Would you believe this young knucklehead seated next to me in the back told me to tell the young fellows thanks so they know to do it again. I told him "if your punk azz wanted to tell them thanks so be it, but keep your mouth quiet when you view something as normal as giving your seat to the elderly and afraid to speak up." He closed his mouth, turned his head and continued looking out the window.

Presently, I still give my seat to the elderly if need be. It is sad to watch teenagers sitting in the front of the bus and will NOT GET UP to allow the elderly to sit down. Though bus drivers make me angry, because of a surly attitudes,I do understand what they have to go through daily, and try to empathize when possible.

You call it L-Scold, I call it L-Bold! If you are bold enough to put your feet up in a seat and see people need to sit down, I am BOLD enough to knocked them off and prepare to do battle. I am TIRED of having someone think it is okay to put their feet up in a seat next to you. I am tired of those who cross their legs and swing one leg out to kick you and try to tell you excuse me or give you a dirty look like you did something wrong. I have entered el cars and people will NOT moved their feet, legs in the aisle. I don't see being polite to your ignorance is the way to go. MOVE YOUR DAMN FEET!

Don't expect to hear "Excuse me!"

If your feet were not in the empty seat(s), then there is no reason to lock eyes over this simple feat of sitting down after paying my fare.

AND WHERE IN THE HELL ARE PEOPLE GOING WITH THREE SUITCASES? The Orange Line is ridculous with folks doing this! What the hell on the el do you need with this many suitcases?

Anyway, happy elbowing, pushing, shoving and yes look ugly in the face just to sit down.

Lighten up, you old bag! I have as much right to listen to my music as you to do move away from me if it's bothering you. Someone knocking into you is unacceptable, but you should just move. Get over yourself...the rest of us are not merely living in your world.

i learned to be a linebacker going up the staircases at the EL Stations. in the more entitled neighborhoods people descending the staircase act as if the person ascending needs to wait until they come down. I want to let out a huge EL SCOLD. I want to say, "Do any of you drive? remember the PURPOSE of TWO LANES?" and in case you don't it is so EVERYONE can travel to their destinations. like yourself, instead of scolding, i move like a linebacker up the stairs and force them out of my way. I am amused at the TSK, TSK, that is voiced, as if a reminder that i was supposed to wait! Yah right!

Unfortunately you have to be careful, unfortunately, more youth/young adults (females included) are armed and the shooting is no longer a moral dilemna so the risk is too great.

I was on a northbound subway train once where there was a guy who refused to move his bag so a pregnant woman could sit. So I picked up his bag and through it out of the train at a station. He chased it, and both me and the pregnant woman got to sit.

Why should anyone feel wrong about doing the right thing? Keep on being an L-scold. I know I am!

I am an L-Scold, and I grow tired of the people that ride the CTA. While I do agree with you, it is getting worse: people pushing to get on trains before people have exited, no one giving up seats to handicapped, pregnant or the elderly. Moreover, they are not oblivious, many riders lookup from their magazines or red eye newspaper, only to drop their heads as quickly as possible and pretend they did not see. I cannot count the number of times I have made comments to riders that they please give up their seats or turn down music, move their bags, or allow people to exit the train. However, the people around me do not look at me as an L-Hero; they look at me with disgust, as if I am in the wrong for pointing out rudeness. I wish the people of this city would learn manners, learn to respect others around them, and maybe just for a second show an ounce of education and class. Nevertheless, I do not think that is possible in second city, which is what it will always remain, second-class to all the great cultured cities of the world.

I'm an L scold. And its gotten me into trouble once or twice. Once, someone made a really nasty comment that I responded to and it escalated into a 20 minute verbal fight before I got off at my stop. Maybe it wasn't worth it. Another time I asked someone to get up when another woman with a child had a hard time standing with all the bumps and jerks. He told me that wasn't his problem. I wanted to pinch the back of his arm until he moved... but I just asked someone else

I used to be vocal about the same things, but never as a "hero." The one thing I could do was give up my seat, but rarely challenged any of the ignorant or the thugs to do likewise. The appreciative smiles I would receive were heroic enough. I did at times offer someone a $1 to allow someone that needed the seat to sit down, but that wasn't practical. Especially since so many willingly accepted the dollar. But after a few physical confrontations and being left to my own, I stopped encouraging anyone to offer their seat. Now, I don't even ride the L anymore. The service and unruliness aren't worth the travel.

I ride the red line and over the summer these guys would get on and start playing music thru their phone. I'm talking loud, obnoxious N-Word blaring music. Everyone sat and rolled their eyes and wished they'd get off but no one said anything. AFter a few stops i was grinding my teeth and finally had to say something.

"Hey guys, that is really loud. Would you please turn it down?"

Everyone on the train looked at me, the two guys seemed surprised and stared at me but you know what? They turned it down without complaint.

Sometimes you need to choose your battles. Some folks seem ok, others seem like 100% jerks and you should just turn you head and hope they get off sooner rather than later.

I tend to put the emphasis on self when it comes to self-policing on busses and trains. I will give up my seat for someone who appears to need one more than I do, and I always let the people out before I head on into the train. Maybe it even sets the occasional example.

The thing to remember is that, unlike scolding your kids or your spouse, there is probably little long-term payback in scolding those who pass like ships in the night on the L. So what you need to look for in performing the act of correction is what our society is now built on - instant gratification. If it gets you the seat your feets need - go for it. If a gentle prodding will end the relentless poking - say something, by all means. If you've had a lousy day, and you want to unload some angst before bringing the thunder into your gentle home, let the boor have it with both rhetorical guns blazing. Unless, of course, there's a chance that you will be met with actual guns blazing...in that case, hold on to that feeling. There will be another bozo on which to vent a little further up the road. You can count on it.

I am guilty of these offenses. You know why? Because after years of listening to stupid conversations and sitting next to mashers, I am tired of those train riders who make my ride less enjoyable. So when I sit, in my slacks, tailored coat, and gym shoes, listening to Jay-Z so loud that I don't hear the train moving across the tracks, I'm having a good day. Everyone knows I don't want to be bothered. I know it’s annoying but sorry; I need to escape on my way home so that I am a calmer mother when I get there.

South Side Rider (Green Line)

Mary, I have asked people for their help and consideration of me and others while riding on public transport. I never thought of it as my scolding them though.

In fact, recently I did tell a woman sitting next to me using her cell phone on Metra that until I looked up from my mag at her holding a phone, I didn't think she was using one since she was talking so loud, I thought she was talking to someone sitting elsewhere on the train. I mentioned to her that I have seen people at O'Hare who actually cover their mouths when they talk on their cells so as to muffle any sound that may get through.

I have actually scolded the parents who give permission to their children to stand in grocery carts. Many parents acknowledge that it was not a good idea since there is a place for the child to safely sit. Usually upon my pointing out the danger of children standing in a cart,most parents do ask their child to please sit down. If they don't, I do ask them if they love their child. That question usually brings assured safety to the child. However, I have run into parents who point out to me that it is their child and I don't have a say in the matter and they allow their child to continue to stand. I point out that DCFS could have a say in the matter though!

BTW, I have actually seen a cart tip over when a child was standing in it.

If it's any consolation, I try to remain conscious enough on the L to get up when I see someone who needs a seat. I suppose I live in fear of getting an L scolding. Better to remain on my toes!

I don't have access to the L right now, but when I am on any form of public transportation I try to speak up to maintain a status quo of politeness and courtesy to others. By deciding to be the type of person who speaks up we also take a risk - of being ignored, berated or worse. However, we also get to take a form of moral high ground, which has its own rewards. If no one says anything, we end up worse than those who offend us. I think that what I fear most is a society where our fear overrides our insistence of common decency. I am not asking anyone to put him or herself in harms way, but simply to continue to speak up when you can. Keep fighting the good fight!

Maybe times are changing and the good fight needs to change with it - to campaigning for conductors.

I'd save it for when it really matters, and sometimes I try to point out that I'm doing them a favor, such as when I told a couple of guys there's no smoking in the Clark/Division station, and they should put out their cigarettes before getting caught. Turned out they were high as a kite on something, but they complied.

Part of me wants a plainclothes officer to come aboard trains at random and nail every violator with a $50 fine, and I pass the time figuring out what the fine haul would be from the car I'm in: three eaters, an emergency-door opener, a loud iPod, and a two-seater. That's $300. But none of those violators matters enough to say anything to. I used to think I would stop the next person who tried to open the emergency door if I was sitting next to it and ask them what the emergency is...but then I figured they're on their way out, so let 'em go. I encountered an empty car with one guy smoking cigars, and I figured it would be worse to deal with the smoke than it was worth to yell at the guy, so I just went to another car (good deal for him...he gets where he's going, has some good smokes, and has the car to himself).

So for the eaters, I guess I wouldn't say anything unless I see food dropping to the seat or floor. A bunch of people joined me in yelling at a woman standing in the aisle and dropping chicken bones.

I still think random enforcers would help raise awareness and give people another reason to follow the rules. Riders shouldn't have to risk being ranted at or worse for pointing out violations. In general, people seem to need to be told these days how to be considerate of others; it's a bit sad.

Nice post. I'm an L Scold too and wish more people were. I spent some time living in Germany and always admired the old ladies who scold their fellow citizens to set better examples. More than once I was scolded for "setting a bad example for the children" by J-walking.

I don't understand why more people don't do that here. Chicagoans could use some grandma-style education on basic social etiquette and being a good citizen. When I see someone leaving their trash on the train, I'll tell them to please not leave their trash all over the place. When someone stands blocking the door or the precious aisle standing space on a full train, I'll ask them to please step all the way into the middle of the train. And for big bags, I recommend holding your bag in front of you.

What I find more frustrating though is that many people won't speak up for themselves. If you're elderly or pregnant and need to sit -- speak up for yourself. I'm glad you did, but I see other people who say nothing and then act annoyed. I think Chicago needs to learn a lesson from New York about being assertive.

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Wisniewski published on February 20, 2008 10:13 AM.

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