Sunday, November 9

Hope and a fist

I boarded the subway in my usual crazy rush-hour manner: breastpump jet pack on the back, lunch bag and work files in a shoulder bag, and a big ol' baby girl in my front carrier. I hobbled over to the last remaining empty seat and plucked down in it. Only you can't really pluck with this get-up; it's more like you teeter on the edge of the seat and hold on tight to said baby.

Across the row, there was a large man listening to headphones. Well, I don't know if he was actually large--he was one of those men that take up all the room they want regardless of how crowded the train is. The kind of fellow T passenger I despise. With a vengeance. This particular one was lazily taking up three seats in a standing-room only train.

When the train finally started moving, it stops suddenly again and announced there was traffic ahead. I groaned silently. It was Election Day and the polls closed in less than two hours. I'm quite sure many of these civic-minded individuals were hoping to make it to the polls after work, and I was worried they wouldn't now. Thankfully, I cast my vote prior to work--and walked uphill one mile to get there.

As always, the crowd maintained their code of silent so that when anyone does actually take it upon him/herself to speak, everyone listens. Or at least I do. And breaking the silence after several minutes was the lazy seat-taker-upper. He reached out across the two seats he was taking up and handed the young white guy with a nice watch a stick of gum. "Obama," he said, nodding to the guy's pin, and they both grinned. I couldn't help but grin as well--the pride in this black man's voice was too much, even if he did take up a trillion seats and cause other passengers to sway against each other in locomotion. They did a little fist-to-fist handshake and returned inward, while the train finally started moving again. Good thing, too: Bean was getting restless.

At the next stop, a middle-aged white woman with unruly curls popping out of an Obama baseball cap stepped onto the train and took a seat next to the seat-taker-upper. He grinned again, got another stick of gum out from his bag, and repeated, "Obama." She nodded eagerly and clumsily at once, and accepted her token gift. He reached over with his fist, ready to repeat his gesture, and she fumbled around it, acting as if he meant to drop another gum in her hand. She held hers palm-up underneath his fist for an awkward second before he realized she had no idea what he was doing. He reached out and made her hand into a fist, which she interpreted as possibly dangerous in her awkward, submissive sort of way. They clumsily clunked fists and seconds later, he stood up and got off the train. "Obama," he said quietly, full of pride.

Is this the improved race relations I've heard so much about? The world commends us on this symbolic election, and having the first African-American U.S. president is certainly nothing to take lightly. How many more generations will endure awkward cultural exchanges before it becomes commonplace? Before a fist is a recognized gesture of friendship?

Good for this woman; she was scared to try but try she did. And she learned.


Anonymous said...

Awkwardness is fine and to be expected. It's the trying that matters.

And with excessive seat occupiers, I sometimes smile, say "excuse me," and squeeze myself next to them forcing them to take up less space.

(Ha! WOrd everifictin is woophist. That's what the guy was offering a "Woo!" fist.)

Mallikarjuna said...

I liked your blog

nakeddrunklava said...

great story karen. i wonder what would happen if someone ever tried to get a fist bump from my mom?