Home > Life, etcetera, Sociology > chicago public transportation, safe space, the privilege, and crazies

chicago public transportation, safe space, the privilege, and crazies

Sunday, 7 January 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have had two rides now on CTA [Chicago Transit Authority] where I have experienced and/or witnessed mental illness. What is interesting is that no one knows what to do about this! On Friday as I was heading to the gym, a male person was allegedly harassing a female person who eventually complained to the driver. This male person also began to harass the driver of the bus, but the driver simply asked of this male person to politely and kindly keep to himself. However, when the driver did not respond in the manner the passenger requested, the passenger exited the bus when the passenger saw a CTA supervising worker monitoring the buses. The female passenger mentioned to the CTA supervising worker the fact that she was harassed and was not feeling comfortable on the bus. The supervisor then boarded the bus and proceeded to explain to the driver that whenever a passenger is feeling harassed, the driver has the right and privilege to “throw off” the harrassing passenger. The driver was clearly upset when the supervisor boarded the bus. She began crying; she sounded frustrated as she responded to the supervisor.

When I exited the at my designated stop, I asked a fellow passenger who also exited what was happening. Her response: “Well, you know those crazies!” I couldn’t believe it! I hadn’t heard that sort of exclamation in some time! Crazies, eh?! It took me back to a very particular place–a place where I knew I had to advocate for a different understanding. I responded to her that mental illness goes under-diagnosed and persons are severely under-served. As a result, we have incidents that unfortunately become an issue for many people and mental illness patients are furthermore stereotyped as “crazy.” This female passenger with whom I was speaking seemed to agree with me, and we promptly and swiftly went on our own ways.

A similar incident emerged this evening as I boarded a bus heading home from the gym! Tonight the incident was a bit different and had a religious tenor to it! A fellow bus rider was proclaiming how the Hindus’ temples were going to space and that for this passenger was good yet problematic. A seasoned rider tries their best to ignore the added drama of their CTA experience.  Today was one of those rides for this seasoned ride as I was a bit confused, and so I began listening to my iPod, Red.

You might think that perhaps this only happens when I’m en-route to the gym! Well, this week that has been the case! What is interesting to me is that as I watch folks response to this, these folks really aren’t sure what to do. Some are frustrated that these more verbal and dramatic customers are interrupting their CTA experience. Others, however, are amused–“Look at those crazy people…” What of public transportation and the varrying mental stability that is present or absent?  These two rides where I experienced similar incidents provided me with a platform to think about the space of public transportation and the variety of persons who occupy that space.

Public transportation is open to all who are able to pay the fare, and sometimes the driver of buses will actually invite those onto the bus who are unable to pay. The bus is a welcomed space for so many people, yet it is the privileged folks [the ones who are “with it”] who seem to manage the space in addition to being the ones who complain when they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This begs the question concerning safety and what it might mean to feel safe in the public space of public transportation.

I want to always encourage folks and help empower folks to speak up using their voice. I want to contribute to helping create safe space. Is public transportation, the bus in this case,  any different than the street corner or a shopping district? Should the level of safety be different or should our expectations of safety function differently in these public spaces? Can anyone speak to this and help me here?

Its the beginning of the week…I continue to feel trapped in my head!

Categories: Life, etcetera, Sociology
  1. Marcus Myers
    Sunday, 18 February 2007 at 9:56 am


    I’m currently writing an essay examining public transportation as a sort of open existential field of being (ala Heidegger & Sartre’s projects) in which other realities are exposed by the intermingling of persons from different cultural backgrounds (i.e. class, race, ethnicity). Less abstractly, it’s fascinating to me that on buses people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds come together to ride along on common routes through the same city yet have such widely varrying perceptions. The Kansas City that I see (as a white, educated, middle class male) through the bus windows has to be so different than the ones the other passengers see. It interests me to think that passengers’ perceptions of the city are altered just a little by our interaction, even if the interaction is passive and confined to mere reflection on these other realities via our reflective gazes at one another. Mostly, as a poet and writer, I’m intrigued by how public transportation is a human transaction through human space and time, where we come together and expose our grotesqueries–out weaknesses and deformities of mind and body–and out such honesty, such ugliness comes beauty. This project is very much in the spirit of Whitman who relished public spaces for the ways in which they exposed a common thread of humanity through all of us….

    Anyway, I think your question about the rules of behavior/norms established by the more affluent passengers of the MTA in Chicago is a fascinating one. As a public commons, the interior of a bus would have to be both similar and different from a street corner or a sidewalk. It would be similar in that each are public spaces, common places shared by all who live in or pass through the city. But each would be different, however, in regard to the unspoken rules maintained in our everyday comportment in them. A bus seems to be different largely because the passengers are enclosed in the space rather than passing through it. A bus would be more akin to a waiting room, and maybe the rules dictated by medical, educational, or governmental institutions have transferred to govern the rules of how we are supposed to act on a bus or train. So those who break these unspoken rules would be seen as deviant because they have broken the social contract of such a social commons, which seems to imply that each passenger should extend the courtesy of a quiet and undisturbed ride on the bus. I guess this rule insulates us from overstimulation in an already hyperstimulating environment. This rule can be broken, it seems, if two passengers have indicated a nonverbal openness to engaging in conversation or small talk. Signals are usually sent indicating the passenger’s status as available or unavailable for interaction (putting on your iPod headphones, for example). Again, I’m no social scientist, just someone who writes poems and personal essays, but I’m really intrigued by interactions in common spaces. Thanks for this excuse to consider a faucet of this topic I hadn’t really considered thus far.

    Marcus Myers
    Kansas City, MO

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