Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The only problem with public transportation is the public

You know how everyone who wants to believe in psychic powers tells a similar story about a "friend of a friend" who had such a strong feeling of impending disaster that he or she got off a plane right before take-off, and the plane went on to crash, killing everyone on board? Confirmation bias much? Because I have that same feeling of impending disaster every single goddamn time I fly, and I haven't been in a plane crash yet.

The majority of mentally-ill people are not violent, and are much more at risk than posing a risk. Still, I'm not the one to make that call. Ever since the Reagan era, the mentally-ill have been dumped out of facilities onto the street, and not getting the care they need. It sucks, and it's just one more reason I'm not taken in by all the Reagan-worship that seems to be going around. The people who do work with mentally-ill patients, in spite of chronic underfunding, understaffing, and all-around under-resourcing, are heroes in my book.

So I was at the Transit Center today, waiting for my bus home, and I sit down on a bench, barely even registering that there was a young guy sitting on the other side. I'm just sitting there, minding my own business, when I hear a question, "Do you ever think other people hate you?"

"Uhh, no," I said, turning and noticing the guy for the first time. He was almost trembling with intensity of some kind, whether neurochemical, pharmaceutical, or what, I really couldn't tell. But clearly he wasn't really looking for an answer, because he kept going with the "yes" answer he wanted from me, rather than the actual "no".

"Do you ever wonder why?" he asked, his eyes boring into mine.

"No," I answered again, beginning to regret my choice of seat, and turning away in the hope of bringing the conversation to an end.

"Do you ever wonder whether people will miss you when you're gone?" he asked. Well, that was it. I had had a long, tiring day, traveling around taking care of a bunch of errands all over Seattle by bus, and I was NOT in any mood to play social worker. It would not surprise me a bit to learn the young man was paranoid schizophrenic, and this may well have been a cry for help; I don't know. I do know that it was starting to creep me out. I said firmly, "I do not want to have this conversation with you now," and got up and moved to another seat. From there, I saw him accost a man walking by, who just looked bemused and kept on walking.

My bus arrived, and to my dismay, he got on first, and headed for the very back seat. I sat down right by the driver, but I couldn't shake the feeling of anxiety this whole thing was giving me, especially since I saw him staring at me from the back of the bus. I decided, screw this, there's always another bus, so I told the driver I was going to take another bus, and added, sotto voce that the guy was making me very nervous, and why. She thanked me for telling her, and opened the door to let me off. It's the only time I've ever given into this feeling; normally, I just wait for take-off, and fill a prescription from Dr. Merlot as necessary.

This time, I went over to the other side of the transit center, and awaited an alternative bus. When it came, about 15 minutes later, my original bus was still sitting there. As we pulled past it, I saw that there were now three police officers on board talking to the driver.

I hope the young man will be ok, and I hope he gets help. Frankly, though, given how we deal with our mentally-ill, I really doubt it.


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