I stepped up, put my fare in the hole in the box, motioned with my hand that I wanted a transfer, lurched up the aisle and sat down. All this took only 5 seconds since I had mastered the intricate choreography of a veteran bus rider.
There was quite a crowd of people on the bus. Some were friends and were talking but most had assumed The Bus Rider Role: being silent, feigning interest in the things passing by, and looking at everyone with eyes that would quickly dart away if anyone looked back. The bus made its usual terrific racket - a disturbing sound you can't ignore and never quite get used to. Sort of a:
At this time of my life I was a stutterer and still am. This means that there are certain times when I can't say what I want to; when I can't make certain sounds easily. The most difficult speaking situations for me are similar to the one on the bus - a lot of strangers around, loud persistent noise, and distracting confusing surroundings. As the bus rolled on, that anxiety which precedes stuttering was growing inside. I didn't feel like striking up a conversation with anyone and luckily no one asked me anything. One rarely has to speak when riding busses so I wasn't too worried. I made myself comfortable and settled down to one of my favorite hobbies: observing my fellow man.
At the next stop someone got on. He was about thirty years old, was wearing sunglasses, and was carrying a long white cane. He was blind and although I pitied him because of his great handicap, I also respected him for braving the dark confusing madness of the city alone. He put his fare in the hole in the box, asked the driver to tell him when 7th and K came and then carefully went to sit down. A lady very kindly moved so that he could sit next to the driver. I watched and listened to all of this with great interest. The blind man was not entirely at ease. He listened carefully to the goings on and moved his cane several times to make sure it was out of people's way. He continually adjusted his sunglasses and fidgeted with the package. It took courage to venture into the city, but he was concerned about it.
I thought about the nature of handicaps as I looked at the blind man. Being blind, deaf, crippled, or whatever effects a person drastically. They live in a world where everyone else seems to be perfect. Everyone else sees bright and clear, has acute hearing, and moves with great speed and deftness. There are many things the handicapped can *never* do. Ever. In their whole lives. Others always have the consolation that they *could* if they wanted. Even the basic needs of day to day living become difficult to satisfy. The crippled can't go visit their friends when they desire company, the deaf can only make friends who know sign language, and the blind can't even see the smile on their friend's face. Their lives become cramped and are often wasted on a futile battle between themselves and their weakness. We "perfect" people should give them help whenever they need and want it.
I watched the passing street signs to see where we were. 11th and K, 10th and K, 9th and K. I looked at the driver to see if he was going to tell the blind man that he had to get off soon, but he just looked ahead. I looked at the blind man. He was fidgeting with his package, shuffling his feet, and listening close for the driver's voice. But he just looked ahead. 8th and K passed by and the driver had apparently forgotten the blind man. I thought, "I'd better help this guy out."
So I said, "Hey, uh, yyy ..." immediately that anxiety grew larger and reminded me that I was a stutterer. I became silent and went through the usual automatic actions of pretending that I hadn't said anything or had even tried to. I looked around at the other people and cursed the loud confusing noise. I thought, "Oh no. The blind man is going to miss his stop. I've got to tell him. Maybe if I speak quick and blurt it out without thinking ... But no, no. Damn it. If I try I know goddamn well that I'll stutter badly and have a hard time saying anything at all and make a fool and an ass out of myself. But THIS IS 7TH AND K!! and the driver is still just looking ahead. Maybe the blind man knows this part of town well and can find his way back. Ya. No. I've GOT to tell him. But ..."
Oh how I wished mental telepathy were a reality. I thought, "Hey blind man, hey driver. This is 7th and K. You've got to get off blind man. Hey driver, don't forget the blind man. He wants to get off here. HEY DRIVER! Hey blind man!
At 5th and K we stopped to pick up some passengers and the blind man asked the driver if 7th and K were coming soon. The driver said, "Oh, no! I'm sorry! We passed it two blocks ago. Get off here and walk back. I'm sorry."
So the blind man, gathering his package and his long white cane, carefully stepped off the bus and into the madness. I watched him as we moved away and saw a pained and worried face and in it the fear that he wouldn't be able to find his way back through the darkness to 7th and K.
I had successfully avoided making a fool and an ass out of myself and I did not suffer any social embarrassment, but the internal personal embarrassment was far greater, longer lasting, and more damaging. My handicap is not as great as the blind man's and I can absorb most of the trouble that it causes me, but when it brings trouble to others and prevents me from helping those in need, it is intolerable and demands serious attention.