Etiquette Episodes

A bicyclist and I came to the same narrow passageway in the sidewalk on Maynard in front of Ambrosia and Madras Masala at exactly the same moment today. (There were people at the outddors tables in front of Ambrosia, making the sidewalk even more crowded.) Should I have yielded, or should he have? Neither of us did, and he almost ran into me as he barreled past.

On a related subject, it still surprises me when people cuss on the AATA buses here and the bus drivers yell out, “Watch the language!” Tonight a tough-looking guy used a relatively common cuss word (you might hear it on TV, definitely not network but assuredly cable), not one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, and the bus driver scolded him and blared the bus’s automated profanity warning message (I didn’t even know there was one).

Mister Tough was surprisingly apologetic (even cowed). One of his pals chuckled and said that in California the inappropriateness of the profanity wouldn’t have even been an issue. He was right.

There are signs posted on buses in Oakland’s transit system warning against profanity, but any bus driver who risked enforcing the ban would court bodily harm. There aren’t any anti-profanity signs on San Francisco’s MUNI system, period. I’ve heard profanity on AATA buses, to be sure, but I think I would have heard more swear words on a single day in the Bay Area transit system than I’ve heard on AATA in six months. I still remember the morning I was sitting on MUNI on the way to work and being forced to overhear an entire conversation between two crackheads, carried out in graphic language (they were in some sort of dysfunctional relationship), about their sexual difficulties.

All of the energy that’s spent on trying to stamp out profanity and “wardrobe malfunctions,” it seems to me, could be much better spent on far more egregious breaches—road rage, for example. Some would say it’s all part of a continuum, and I would find it hard to disagree with that argument. But the “no profanity” rule on buses seems an awful lot like using a submachine gun to try to kill a gnat.