“Public Transportation, Not Public Property”


This is a short story I wrote for my nonfiction class over the summer.

“Public Transportation, Not Public Property”

By Ali Bukowski

When I got on the Brown line at Belmont I found a seat, and then I felt it.  The eyes staring at me from the opening by the door.  I was riding Chicago’s elevated train, or the “L”, one of the forms of public transportation.  His eyes were at just the right height to see between the gap of the clear plastic and metal barriers by the door.  The man had small, dark eyes; dark hair, about two inches long and messily strewn about his head.  He looked to be in his late twenties, but the sharp angles of his face made him look as if he could be older.  His skin was a light brownish color and his clothes looked to be a few sizes too big.  He was staring right at me.  He’s looking at me, right?  Yes, he is definitely looking at me and maybe the woman sitting next to me as well.  I look away but after a minute or two can still feel his eyes on me.  I glance back and we make eye contact.  Oh God, I think, and look away quickly.  I fix my gaze out the window, trying to not freak out.  So, this man is staring at me, I think.  People stare all the time on trains.  He’s just being really forward about it.  Okay, maybe he stopped.  I glance back.  Nope! He is STILL looking at me.

I give him a disgusted look before looking away with no intention of making eye contact with him ever again.  Okay, okay, okay, what do I do?  A man boards the train and stands in the doorway, leaning against the barrier and blocking the creeper’s view.  Oh thank goodness.  Now he can’t see me anymore.  I look to the woman next to me to see if she notices his invasion of privacy, but she is completely unaware of what is going on.  Apparently I’m the only one seeing this, I think as I glance around, only to find everyone absorbed in their own activities.  Turning back, I see that the creeper has gotten up and is moving seats.  He’s moving seats?! What the fuck is this guy’s problem? He has moved back to a seat that sticks out more towards the center of the car than his previous seat that lined the wall of the train, so that he is in plain view of me again.  WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?!? I want to yell.

Why is it that people have no sense of personal boundaries when they are on public transportation?  Just because you are riding the “L” doesn’t mean you have the right to treat other passengers like public property too.  I was always taught growing up that it isn’t polite to stare at people.  That doesn’t mean I don’t do so from time to time, but one of the unwritten rules of public transportation is to not stare at people or make eye contact, unless it is accidental.  If you ever do make eye contact, you pretend you were looking past them or turn your attention to someone’s bag or shoes, like you’ve never seen a bag or a shoe before.  Clearly this guy has never learned this etiquette because he only broke eye contact to move seats.  Doesn’t he know that he is violating my personal space right now?  It’s almost like guys like this creeper feel that women are a public product to be consumed.  Disgusting.

My mind starts racing.  What if this guy stays on the train until I do and then follows me and I have to beat him off or sprint home or use my mace on him? Well, actually I would thoroughly enjoy pepper spraying someone.  Especially this dick.  The woman next to me gets off the train and I move over to the seat next to the window.  I lean against the window, getting as far out of his line of vision as possible.  Unfortunately, he can still see me but I am turned completely towards the window so he doesn’t have a good view.  I contemplate changing cars.  But then what if he follows me and what if I don’t get on the next car in time because everyone takes their sweet ass time getting on the train and I get left on the platform and he is there too and then he tries to do something??  Okay, so moving trains is not an option.

My stomach is churning and I feel my heartbeat quickening.

We are at Rockwell, two stops from Kedzie, where I get off.  There are few people in the train car at this point.  And yep, he’s still staring.  Okay, I think.  This is it.  One more stop until I might have to exit the train with this guy.  “This is Francisco” the automated train voice says from the ceiling.  This is it, I think.  The moment of truth, where I will have to decide if I am going to have to run for my life, and hope that something absurd doesn’t happen while exiting the train.  What if this weirdo tries to push me onto the tracks?  Which rail is the one that electrocutes you again? What if he grabs me and tries to flee, leaving me no choice but to beat the shit out of him?  He is a tiny little piece of shit after all, much smaller than me.  Maybe it’s a compensation thing? He’s trying to appear tough because he feels insecure about being four and a half feet tall?

The guy stands up.  He’s getting up!!  Oh no, he’s walking towards me….What if he comes over here?! At the last second the creeper turns to his left and GETS OFF THE TRAIN! HALLELUJAH!  I’M SAVED! I don’t have to fear for my life anymore!!  I’m not much of a prayer, but in this moment, when I feel like I am going to throw up because I am so relieved, I say “Thank you Jesus!”  Yep, I said that out loud.  Oh hey lady who is the only person left on the train.  Yes, just celebrating Jesus.