It was to be expected in any “major metropolitan city.” The inevitability of public transportation fucking you over on the regular. But most especially on the weekends. This weekend, Reg was eager to go into town to see the play of a friend who had been working on it for the past three months and had finally found a venue in which to showcase the work. Along for the ride was Reg’s girlfriend, Mia, who had a bad feeling about this “little” jaunt from the outset. She remained firmly of the 2020 belief that if one stayed home, one could stay safe. That would never be clearer than this evening, when, against her better judgment, she consented to accompany Reg on his ill-advised foray into Paris, fully aware that the lack of trains traveling back from the city due to “track work” would mean some kind of insane and unwanted “hero’s journey” in order to return. This meaning, of course, taking a bus of some variety.
Reg’s commitment to Paris had remained steadfast despite their recent move to “the country” (which refers to essentially any location outside of the city that isn’t la banlieue). Although he had naively believed it would be quite “facile” to go back and forth between locations, Mia had forewarned him that it would be a slog—compounded by his highly irritable temperament when things did not quite go his way. But Reg would not and could not be told. There were too many conspiring circumstances—cheaper rent, being closer to his workplace, etc.—that led him to the country. So they moved. And though Mia would have liked to say they hadn’t looked back since, it was nothing but looking back since. With Reg constantly finding reasons to go into Paris, Mia was often left on her own, actually contented with the countryside and all its fresh air/nature-oriented charms. She would only consent to going with him on these outings if something really enticed her. For it always proved to be totally unworth the trek in the end if she wasn’t compelled to go there for her own purposes. She wished that Reg could be “zen” enough to just surrender and remain in one place for longer than a day. Accept the fate that he himself had decided for them.
Mia did her best to push these thoughts out of her mind as they rode the completely packed “express” bus to La Défense. If this “packed like sardines” vibe was any indication, it was going to be even more cutthroat to find a seat on the return trip, for “country and country-bound buses” were famed for not allowing any standing room due to the higher speeds they had to go at. Thus, every ass had to be in a seat, and seats were very limited indeed. One would think that the “powers that be” in the realm of public transport would therefore increase the amount and frequency of buses arriving to pick up and drop off passengers, but no. Because most of the denizens who lived in this “neck of the woods” were working-class and/or people of color, it seemed as though there was no real concern or sense of urgency about “taking care” of their foiled transportation needs. Reg and Mia were simply white anomalies amidst the “average demography.” This much was made apparent when, as predicted, they found themselves in an overflowing line that made them come across as part of a game of “which one of these is not like the others?” after rushing back from the center of Paris to get to La Défense on time for the second to last bus out of town.
After waiting for twenty minutes like good little duckies in the stairwell portion of the line that led up to the bus, a major scuffle ensued as the queue was expected to somehow miraculously merge without incident. As if. For the people who had been waiting upstairs asserted their dominance to gain entrance onto the bus over those who had been waiting for the same amount of time in the stairwell. Alas, because of a lack of communication—with no employee present to direct or inform passengers of where they should be—the stairwell waiters, Reg and Mia included, didn’t know they were meant to go all the way up and wait behind those who made up an even more eternal queue. So it was that, as expected, not enough room was available to accommodate everyone who had been waiting like the complacent, helpless ilk that they were. Yet there were those who certainly weren’t complacent enough to let anyone interfere with what they viewed as their rightful place on the bus. Hence, the altercation that broke out in the doorway of the bus as someone who didn’t manage to get a seat refused to exit, blocking the egress with their ostensibly fat build as they sat on the stairs leading toward the bus driver’s seat. The bus driver who seemed to be totally checked out (probably accustomed to such venom and vitriol after so many years spent in his profession). Utterly unconcerned with enlisting his authority—he being the only source present that the mob might actually listen to—and say something like, “Get the fuck off my bus!”
Because he continued to do absolutely nothing but sit there and wait for the person—who neither Reg nor Mia could make out from their vantage point at the middle-end of the line—to magically decide to leave, someone (specifically a fellow [but different-colored] person of color) seethed, “Motherfucking nigger, do something!” It was in that particular instant that Reg and Mia looked at one another and could fully fathom what they had gotten themselves into via the ostensibly “innocuous” act of trying to see a play without incident in Paris when the train wasn’t functioning between the city and its outer reaches. With the brandishing of the n-word, it was as though the crowd was prompted to give in fully to its already-bubbling-to-the-surface savagery. For it’s true what they say (and what Lord of the Flies encompasses): there’s a thin (so thin!) line between civilization and savagery. And Reg and Mia were seeing it quickly dissolve before their very eyes.
After minutes of violent, rage-ridden internal bus-rocking and various squabbles located at the front of the line, the person holding up the vehicle from leaving was finally deposited on the sidewalk. And who it turned out to be was rather surprising indeed: a plump white lady somewhere in her forties with a messy blonde bun creating a rat’s nest effect atop her head. Wearing a too-short shirt and too-tight jeans that allowed her belly to bulge out in all its pasty glory, she lay like a beached whale unconscious on the ground as a few of the people forced to stay behind gathered around her to appraise the severity of her situation. At that instant, however, a man of dubious “employ” for RATP asked who was headed to Cergy-le-Haut and a show of hands confirmed to him that he ought to tell the “runoff” passengers who couldn’t make it on the first bus they had waited for to go across the street and wait there for the next (and last) one.
So the cycle repeated. The illusion Reg and Mia held onto that, if they did what they were told, they would be rewarded for their patience (for that was what the white world always insisted would happen…with results only coming to those who were white). Granted, to further set themselves apart from the desperate, addled crowd forming an untidy mass rather than a line, they were tempted several times during their next round of hour-long waiting to look up the price of an Uber or a Bolt. Far too expensive though. Even if it was starting to seem more and more worth the price.
Whiling away the minutes with dreams of being upper-middle-class enough to demand long-haul car service on a whim, in their new position across the street from where they had been before, Reg and Mia (and the rest of those at the mercy of not living in Paris) watched as a slew of cops and a fire truck came to tend to the overweight white lady. And all as another riot was breaking out in the bus that had arrived in the quay in front of them. Seeing the blatant discrepancy in concern over one white woman versus a busload of black and brown folks practically murdering each other, Mia increasingly rued the day she had ever decided to leave her perch at home. When the bus they were waiting for finally arrived yet again, the runoff crowd from the already-parked bus in front of them bound for a different part of the countryside decided the bus heading in a close-ish-to-where-they-needed-to-go direction would be just as sufficient. Hence, their sudden bum-rushing of the bus that Mia and Reg had foolishly believed they were “sure to” secure a place on. But no, watching the hordes go at it like jungle animals (whatever racist connotations that turn of phrase might have in this context), they decided there was nothing they could do but back away and seek some other, far more circuitous route back home. In short, and getting to the “ugly” core of it, they were too white to compete for space with this crowd and not white enough to not need to rely on shoddy public transport substitutions.
So back into the bowels of the metro it was, taking a train that would lead them to a town much farther north than their own, but with the expectation that they could get an Uber from there at a much cheaper price. Or so Google had assured them. Unfortunately, Reality had other ideas in mind for this lot. Which is why, upon exiting the SNCF station, bearing a mocking Marcel Proust quote in giant font on its exterior that read, “We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it ourselves, after a journey that no one can do for us, nor spare us,” they were shocked to learn the price tag for a car had somehow gone up to sixty-two euros. For a twenty-minute ride. Was there no end to the discrimination against those who would “deign” to try living outside of Paris?
As Reg struggled to ultimately click “Book Now” on the app, neither he nor Mia could believe that they would have been better off surrendering to paying this amount roughly four hours ago, when their journey back home first began. It would have cost around the same price to order a car from Paris, after all. But they couldn’t think about that now. The sole focus had to be completing this final act of the needlessly arduous expedition (needless in that it never should have happened in the first place; Mia should have put her foot down about Reg’s obsession with going to Paris). And after numerous worrisome cancellations from every driver they tried to pin down, one at last consented to come—in twenty-five minutes. Oh well, what was twenty-five minutes more in what would be a five-hour travel time when all was said and done?
Waiting for the driver, however, the slowly passing minutes started to feel like hours as Reg and Mia suddenly realized how starving they were—not having eaten anything since before heading to that accursed play. It was then that they espied a Black couple walking out of a closing restaurant, the man holding a pizza box that was willfully emanating its potent aroma. The one that wafted almost cruelly into both sets of their nostrils as he approached their vicinity. Something about the scent being Proustian (that bastard all at once becoming a talisman for the night) enough to set them off in a manner they hadn’t known since the bus riots of earlier that evening.
Reg and Mia supposed that’s how they found themselves beating the shit out of this couple to wrangle the box from their hands, feasting on the contents like rabid dogs as the driver pulled up ahead of schedule to collect them. Yet, seeing what they were capable of, he just kept on driving right past them, not taking into account that everyone, regardless of color, turns feral when pushed to their brink. Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. ought to have used that in one of his speeches as a talking point for unity.