Anyone that has ever worked retail knows how coveted closing time is. From the time you clock in which is always a terrible 12 or 1 pm to your “lunch”, an ill-fitted 3 or 4 pm, and the slow lag of robotically ringing up customers and answering questions like “can you lower the price a little for me?”; ma’am I know you are trying to be charming and hope your gross desperation will shave a few dollars off but sadly this is not the swap meet.
FINALLY, 10 minutes until our doors close! I loved watching the door and toweringly denying customers entry; come back later bitches I wanna go home. All that needs to happen is to shoo away our last remaining stragglers who most of the time either do not understand social cues or just straight up refuse to leave (did I mention that home is waiting for me?). On a good night, we sweep all non-employees out at least within ten to twenty minutes past closing, it’s like a race every night that no one asked for.
A wave of calm comes over you as you straighten every single piece of merchandise that has ever existed in the world, clear the debris from the day that has accumulated behind the counter, and cautiously check the public bathroom for homeless people. This hour between closing time and your shift ending is a quiet pre-party, where you can reflect on the day you had while making fun of customers with co-workers, and looking forward to your night ahead of you.
Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for, THE CLOCK OUT. Everyone rushing full speed to the clock in device, I actually don’t even know the correct name for it; just picture any video you’ve seen of Black Friday at a Wal-Mart. It’s THAT exciting! The last piece of the puzzle to freedom is getting your bag checked by your Manager to make sure you didn’t steal anything. In a flash, everyone is gone, and you rejoice. A layer of yourself has been peeled off, you feel light and airy but also rejuvenated like you can conquer the world for a moment. Then you head to the bus stop.
You made sure to pick the perfect song to walk to as you pass tourists, other retail mongers, homeless people, and tech bros on the street as you make your way down to your stop. Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” seemed like the perfect ode. Now to check your wait time; SWEET under ten minutes! Nothing can ruin this night. Your bus arrives…oooh a crowded bus (womp womp).
You swoop onto the bus via the back door because you are #blessed with a prepaid pass. Eagerly, you scan to see if seats are available, one window seat left just for you. This night is literally perfect. You’re still listening to Robyn as it is continuing to fuel your happiness. A couple stops in, two loud white tech bros board the bus, which causes an involuntary eye roll (they are really messing with Robyn right now). They sit down on a backwards two-seater that just relieved itself from the butts of vintage clad hipsters. Before I continue, let me explain these majestic two-seaters on San Francisco’s electric buses; there are two pairs that face each other, one pair faces the front of the bus, the other pair, is a nauseating carnival ride that faces the back, meaning your body is moving in the opposite direction of the bus. In short, complete strangers are forced to gaze into each other’s eyes the entire ride or use all of your energy to unnaturally stare elsewhere. I am seated in the normal two-seater on the opposite side of the bus, perfect for discreet side-eyeing.
Five minutes of side-eyeing later, an elderly woman enters the back of the bus, struggling to walk up the steep three steps of the bus, as she finally gets on, her eyes spot one of the tech bros, to which she asks for his seat, and let me take a moment….HE DECLINES. At this point Robyn has disappeared and my soundtrack is now this debacle that is about to play out. A WOC seated directly across from him, with manners and natural social skills offers the elderly woman her seat. Here is where this two-seater pair positioning serves its purpose; she now takes the opportunity (for lack of a better term) rip him a new one as she is seated directly across from her enemy.
“Why couldn’t you get up for me?” she asks sincerely.
He talks at her, “I’m not the only person seated on this bus, why did you single me out?”
*MY BLOOD STARTS TO BOIL
“You obviously aren’t from here. People from here don’t act like that.”
“How do you know I’m not from here? That’s rude to say.”
“It was rude of you to not give your seat up to an elderly woman. Go back to where you came from.”
“You know what, you’re right. I’m not from here. But I live here now and I’m allowed to have…”
“Hey, HEY…shut the fuck up.” I interject, not side-eye but full on looking at him eye. He has ruined my celebratory perfect closing night. The layer the peeled off upon my glorious clock out has grown back as a shield.
Tech bro 1 and 2 look at me offended. “Listen I…”
“No, I don’t think you understand, just shut the fuck up, like shut up, SHUT UP.”
As more and more passengers look at him and irritatingly tell him to stop arguing, his privilege recoils; his vest isn’t as puffy, his checkered shirt isn’t as crisp, his watch isn’t as shiny, his white skin doesn’t blend in like it did. All eyes on him. We all sit quietly for a while, each new passenger that enters, unaware of what has just taken place.
I almost miss my stop as my anger blurs my vision. I get up and as I cross the tech bro, our eyes lock, mine say “fuck you” and his are blank, devoid of any personality, as these types normally are. This isn’t the first time I’ve called out privilege and it wasn’t the last.
What really bothers me is that he will exit this temporary ride and his life will return to normal. Nothing that was said will affect him in any way, he’ll live his life unaware of the privilege he holds and it will continue to plague most people he encounters. He won’t feel the heat of eyes on him like he did on that bus, the heat that so many POC feel everyday of their lives.
I guess what happens on the bus, stays on the bus.
Love you, Elisa!