You know this already, right? You know it intuitively. If you put your hand on anything while on a bus, or reach out to steady yourself, you can be assured that thousands of other people have also had their hand where ever you are putting yours. And who knows what may linger on the surfaces of public transit vehicles? You just know, primally, instinctually, you better wash your hands as soon as you get off the bus.
Because, ew, right? Humanity. You could sit for your entire ride and wonder what the hell kind of substances have been deposited on the seat, on the handles, on the windows, on the floors, on the ceilings, and worst, in the air you are breathing right that very instant. Bus aroma? Someone’s sneeze spray? Flu virus? Farts?
So you just sit, or stand, holding a rail, and you count down the seconds until you can get to a sink and some antibacterial soap.
I’m a new daily commuter on public transportation. I work downtown, so not having to drive in traffic and pay for parking is wonderful. The bus I take is full of other commuters and is generally pretty clean and fresh smelling. And while I am gaining familiarity with the same faces on the bus every day, I don’t trust them, or their hands, and where they may have been. I am certain everyone on the bus feels the same about me.
Last week, on the ride home, I found a seat on my busy rush hour bus. It was starting to get crowded, and people were standing in the aisles, getting squeezed with every new boarding. I noticed a young man get on the bus and press into the crowd. His clothes were clean and new, his hair was clipped short and tight, and he stood with his back to me in the aisle.
I would not have noticed him except something, something about him was off. An expression on his face, some little movement, some kind of hint that he was odd. This is a pretty standard experience on the bus, so I didn’t think anything of it.
As the bus started rolling, the young man had his hands on both ceiling railings on either side of the aisle. And despite the bus being crowded and not having a lot of room, he began to rhythmically sway back and forth as he stood next to my seat.
Ah! I thought. He’s high. The swaying was not a move you would see from a functioning adult. It was quick and persistent, like a child rocking themselves, or like a high suburban kid on the bus. He did it for a while. It wasn’t particularly disruptive, but it was enough for me to shift away as much as I could, and to wish his ass wasn’t in my face.
Then. He stopped rocking. He unhooked one of his hands from the railing. And he shoved his hand down the front of his pants.
Okay. So I’m not a guy, but I can guess that there is an unspoken masculine art, developed over a lifetime, on how to subtly attend to the kibble and bits. That’s not what this guy was doing. There was nothing subtle about this. He was digging. He was going for the gold. He reached way deep down in there. His back was to me, but there was no question what he was doing. It was more than shifting. There had to be scratching also. I shudder to think what else.
And he did it for a long time! Forever! Again, I knew something could not be correct with this guy, because no one in their right mind so obviously and thoroughly and fastidiously shifts their junk around in a public place.
I could not squeeze into my seat any further without being in my seatmate’s lap. And then I’d be the weird one.
Forever. Forever is how long this guy had his hand down his pants. The ride was a blur. It seemed like blocks went by. I wished my eye had floated elsewhere, so that I might not have noticed, so that I might not have been keenly aware of how long this young man kept his hand down the front of his trousers.
He eventually withdrew his hand. And casually, he reached up, and grabbed the railing that hung from the ceiling.
And there. That is why you should always wash your hands after you get off the bus.