Sunday, November 11, 2007

Compromise, compromise, compromise

Two Tuesdays ago it was a bumpity morning. From the moment I stepped out of the front door, I was stepping on feet, knocking my backpack into people, and hitting a girl in the face with the backswing of my arm as I walked up the steps to the El platform. So, when I topped the steps and saw the accumulation of travelers that indicated that a train hadn’t come in awhile and would be really full when it got there, my eyes glazed over and I crept inside myself in defeat. As the train approached, I queued up to board using the second door of the penultimate car, like always. It’s always a gamble to guess exactly where the roulette ball that is a train door will stop but on the days that I win and those double doors slide open with me centered exactly in front of them, the internal payoff of feeling victorious is fantastic. Tuesday was not one of those days. So, other people got the first chance to board the crowded train and as it got to be my turn, I realized that I would have to push to get in. Unlike the Japanese, we have no uniformed white-gloved attendants to pack us in like sardines. After the havoc I had already inflicted on my fellow commuters, I decided I’d wait for the next train. Just as I had resigned myself to this scenario and had begun congratulating myself for my moral high-ground self-sacrifice to assuage the internal payoff of feeling defeated, a man about my age rushed up, angled in front of me and made to mount the train. I had my headphones in, so I think my dismissive inside thought was accidentally audible: "cute." Whether he heard me or not, he swept me up in his embarkation, placing a hand firmly on my backpack, his momentum forcing space on the train for both of us. My whole countenance changed and I thanked him. I loved the world again and my clunky place in it. I loved the smell of everyone's shampoo and the metaphor suggested by the fact that with so many people on the train, I didn't actually need to hold on to keep from falling.

Now, I know a lot of people who don't like the old gender expectations of gallantry for men and subsequent helplessness for women. I agree with them wholeheartedly. When either gender does not have the choice to live the most fulfilling life possible - either because options aren't available or because available options never occur to them because society keeps their thoughts in the box - then our societal experience is sub-optimal. But often I'm comforted when a man's actions communicate with confidence, "Relax. I've got this one." My feminist brain and heart have learned to accommodate this visceral response by assuring themselves, "That doesn't mean he has to get it every time. I'll get it next time."

I don't think that's an unreasonable compromise.

3 comments:

Arloa Sutter said...

I love this post! You are a great writer/observer! Miss you!

Dave said...

here's a fun story... when I was working down at the south loop campus, I rode the blue line to the jackson stop every morning... and yep, about once a week I was greeted by the very same crowd at the station and the very same thought.

even worse was when I would get to the station only to see a somewhat empty train pulling away, found a good standing point where I assumed a door on the next train would open, only to find the next train's door open right in front of someone who had been waiting for a much shorter amount of time than myself.

so, occasionally when I was headed for my ride home at the jackson stop, since the underground station stretched to the next stop north as well, I would think about chasing after the recently-departed train. I wasn't sure when the next train was coming or how full it would be, and the thought of chasing after the train was somewhat thrilling, but I always thought better of it.

but then... one day... I was just pissed off enough to try it... and much to my surprise, a guy behind me did the same. we both chased the thing down and made it just in time, sliding in the back doors as they were closing. a guy who had definitely seen some better days must have seen us running after the train because he managed to wake up enough to clap for me and the stranger.

and that was the day I chased down a blue line train rather than wait 5 minutes for the next one.

PrincessMax said...

Dave,

That's the type of thing bards sing about in the future when 99.998% of all media has been destroyed in the apocolypse, so the population reveres whatever is left because it is the only link they have to the past.

I miss you too, Arloa.