Steffanie Rivers

*Whenever I return to the Washington, D.C. metro area for a visit, I always can tell when I’ve arrived – not by my surroundings – but by the behavior of the people there. Just like the Mason-Dixon, there’s an invisible line of disregard for each other that sets that region apart from anyplace in the southern United States. It makes me thankful that my visits are brief.

Because my trips back to DC are for only a few days at most, I prefer to use public transportation instead of spending money on a rental car. But judging from the way people treat each other public transportation could be considered a punishment that’s not worth the convenience.

It starts with the mad rush to board an arriving bus or train. People who are waiting to board don’t have enough courtesy to get out of the way of passengers trying to exit first. Then when the entrance is clear everyone acts like circus clowns bum rushing the doorway all at once. I don’t get involved in the cattle call. Instead I wait until almost everyone else has had a chance to board.

On a recent visit I waited to board a bus to the airport with about thirty other people when everyone started pushing their way through the entrance. One young lady who looked to be around twenty years-old stepped ahead to board the bus and took the last available seat leaving four people including myself to stand. The fact that I didn’t get a seat wasn’t a problem for me, especially since I was about to sit for three hours on a plane. And just as I had posted up for the express bus ride to BWI airport the young woman spoke up.

“Do you want my seat? I feel bad that you have to stand.”

“No, I’m fine. You go ahead and sit,” I said.

Did I look old and tired enough to be offered a seat? I thought to myself, not realizing until later this was the same person who boarded in front of me.

Seconds later she spoke again.

“I would feel horrible if you had to stand,” the young lady said as she rose to her feet.

“What’s worse is the men on the bus don’t have a problem with me standing up while they sit, but you’re willing to give up your seat.”

I had blurted it out before I could contain it to my thoughts. As I sat down for the twenty minute ride I made passing eye contact with some of the men who didn’t give up their seats. They all looked to be of varying ages and racial backgrounds. And some wore military uniforms.

Maybe they had had a long day and needed to sit more than me. After all, they fought their way onto the bus for a reason. Under the right circumstances they might have felt the need to stand in my place. But that day was not the day.

I rode the rest of the way and vowed to myself (this was not something I wanted to blurt out. If they were ok with sitting while I stood they might be ok with cursing me out!) that if I ever have children I will teach them the common courtesies that have become the exception rather than the norm, especially in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at www.youtube.com/steffanierivers.