I was riding the Halsted bus, seated toward the back. The bus was completely crowded. Every seat occupied and there was a full line of people standing in the aisle. It was the kind of morning where you wish you were out on a bike… but it was April in Chicago, so it’s still 30 degrees outside.
Standing next to me was a nice lady. It’s weird, and maybe the science is inaccurate, but you can tell a lot about someone’s personality by how they ride the bus.
You see a person with a tight-lipped expression, eyes-rolling at anything and everything, and I can just imagine that person screaming at a waiter for bringing out the wrong omelette.
The person reading a physical book is different from the person reading a Kindle, is different from the person scrolling through Instagram. The person with big ear engulfing headphones is different than the person with those dangling earbud things that look like little wads of floating toilet paper.
And sometimes, I’m guessing most of the time; my bus judgment is wrong. The woman nodding off in her seat could be a new mom, or last night’s happy hour got a little too real. Or maybe it’s both. The guy offering his seat could be a really nice guy, or the person next to him just farted. It’s hard to know for sure.
So, without knowing anything more about the woman next to me, other than her posture and generally happy facial expression, I was still pretty confident saying she was nice. She looked like the kind of person who would volunteer on election night. Or bake Rice Krispie treats for her co-workers on a random Thursday. She stood pretty close to me, but not in that throat clearing, ahem, type of way hinting at my seat. She looked content. Pleasant. And so I offered her my seat.
She said thanks, but no thanks, with a smile and continued to stand right there. A few minutes later, someone from the back of the bus got up for their stop, and she went back to sit in that seat. But, before leaving, she tapped me on the shoulder.
“Make sure to tell your mom that she raised a gentleman.”
I smiled, and I assume I said something awkward in reply; some gargled mix of “thank you” and “Oh, I, uh.”
My initial bus judgment was right; she was as nice as I expected.
And then I chuckled because I imagined actually making that phone call.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Is everything alright?”
“Oh. Yeah. No, everything’s great. Um. So I was on the bus just now and.”
(My mom wouldn’t do this, but I’m adding it in for dramatic effect. On a national level, the news about Chicago is always negative, so everyone outside of the city views the entire place as a borderline war zone)
“Did you get in an accident? I heard last night on the news about this bus in Chicago that rolled over twenty times on the highway and–”
“No, no, everything’s good. I also don’t know if that happened. But, anyways, so this lady on the bus, she told me to call you, and uh, well she told me to tell you that you raised a gentleman.”
“Well, I could have told you that. Here, I’ll put you on speaker phone. (hear Dad walking in). Honey, listen to this.”
I would immediately feel the need to embellish the story. You call your mom to tell her someone called you a gentleman. You call your dad to tell him you did something macho. You want your mom to know she’s raised a gentle man; you want your dad to know he’s raised a manly man.
Back to the fictional phone call:
“So what happened on the bus?” Dad asks.
“Oh, um, nothing really. Just a compliment I got. I don’t know. Whatever.”
“A woman called him a gentleman,” Mom says, proudly.
… silence …
“And you called to tell us that? Want me to re-purpose one of your participation trophies downstairs?”
… silence …
… thinking …
“Oh, and then this fight broke out on the bus and I totally beat the crap out of this one guy who pushed a pregnant lady out of her seat.”
“There we go!”
One thing I’m guilty of
This happened more to me when I was living in a small town where you’d run into multiple people you knew every day; be it the mall, restaurant, filling up gas. Someone would say, “Tell your mom I said hello” or “Tell your folks I said hello,” and I’d forget. I just wouldn’t remember later that night to say, “Oh, by the way, so-and-so says hello.”
I wonder if there were ever any consequences from this error. Like were parents using kids as their carrier pigeons for the, “Tell your folks I said hello” message? And, when I broke the chain, did the original person feel slighted that another child-carrier-pigeon didn’t return with the message of, “Hello.” This was the technology pre-Facebook and I was serving as a bad wifi connection.
I’m using this post as my pre-Mother’s Day reparations payment. One big game of catch-up.
Mom – There have been a handful of people over the years who told me to say hello, and that message got lost in the mail. Or, like this bus situation, I thought the call would be too weird to make. But the more I think about it, the more I like this system. Small town or big city, I like the idea of people passing these notes around, creating a deeper sense of community. It’s like 100x more meaningful than a Facebook poke.
So, I’m re-enlisting as a carrier pigeon. Send your hellos to me and I will Amazon Prime ’em out there, guaranteed two-day shipping. Calling it the Mother’s Day special.
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