Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Monday, June 22, 2015

Citizens of 4F, June 22, 2015

It was one of those humid, hot weekends in early summer in the upper Midwest, and after a night of the atmosphere percolating, this Monday morning saw a number of thundershowers popping up. As a result, the morning 4F metro-transit bus into downtown Minneapolis was more full than usual, with some folks who normally walk or bicycle choosing to ride the buses instead.

I was struck once again this morning by the peculiarly Minnesotan politeness and grace you witness on the mass transit system around here. I have traveled a great deal for work over the last 20 years, and whenever possible I ride the mass transit systems rather than taxis or rental cars. After all, the people-watching opportunities are far better in places like the NYC subway system than they can possibly be in a cab ride from JFK to midtown.

When people use the term "Minnesota Nice," they clearly must have had exposure to how people behave on the light rail lines or public bus system. On this morning's crowded 4F, I see people right and left graciously sacrificing their seats to provide for the comfort of others. One man helps a woman who is struggling to get her umbrella closed.  An elderly woman points out to a young man that his backpack is unzipped, and mentions that its contents may get wet unless he closes it.  These are  standard acts that you see all the time, here. Not too long ago, a mid 20s young woman tried to give up her seat so that I could sit (talk about making you feel old), and this morning, each time a woman boarded the bus, at least three men leaped to their feet to offer up their seats. At each discharge stop in down-town, each passenger politely thanks the driver as they disembark, to which the driver offers each one, individually, good wishes for the day.

I can't say that I've seen this kind of behavior routinely in any other city in America. In the NYC subway, you could be on fire before anybody tries to help you, and then only if the flames pose a problem for other passengers. Usually, an act like this is the exception that proves the rule of generally self-centered boorishness, but in the upper Midwest, this is the standard behavior.

You get something close in the southern states, where there is a friendliness and helpfulness that is somewhat unique. Clerks and counter-help in places like Atlanta and Charlotte are notably friendly, and I've had waitresses in southern states frequently address me as "Hon," or "Sweetie." I wonder, maybe, if there's something about extreme climates, south and north, that fosters this kind of behavior; you don't see it in places like Chicago, LA, Boston or St. Louis.

Strangely, though, such politeness and consideration is not seen in solo drivers of cars on the streets
and freeways in Minnesota.  In Minneapolis, car drivers treat pedestrians like passenger pigeons to be hunted, and I can count on one hand the instances where a competing driver slowed to assist my entry onto a freeway.  Typical driving speed is at least 10 mph above posted speeds, and God help you if you block some speed demon's free path in the fast lane on the freeway. I've wondered a little bit about why this highway behavior contrasts so starkly with the behavior of people on the mass transit, or, for that matter, among pedestrians walking the streets, where holding the door for one another is common etiquette. The socialist in me has suspected that this is evidence of some kind of class difference—more working class mass transit users are inherently nicer to one another, while the wealthier management classes with their automobiles are inherently more selfish.

But my GOP friends would accuse me of Commie bullshit nonsense for that interpretation, and I think they'd be right.  The difference, I think, is in the anonymity that comes with driving alone and isolated in an automobile, where it is much easier to let your inner asshole see the light of day. In situations where you are rubbing elbows with your fellow citizens and looking them in the eye, as is the case on a public bus, a certain degree of sympathy and compassion is fostered.

I do know that arrive at work calmer and in a better mood when I ride the bus than when I fight traffic by driving myself. So whenever possible, it will be the 4F bus for me.


  1. An ironic name for such a bus.

  2. The behavior of your fellow riders is civilized and as it should be. Manners and mutual respect are important. If more people manifest them and if more children were raised with expectations to evince them, we'd be better off.

    We moved from Indianapolis to the central California coast almost 8 years ago and noticed a huge change in
    civility, manners and general good cheer. In fact San Luis Obispo has been tagged as one of the "happiest cities" in America. People are kind, friendly and demonstrate good manners.

    Your observation about the difference in driver to rider is fascinating. Must be that isolation and "me against everyone else" mind set that traffic can trigger.

  3. Well, I just got through nine days of living on and around the subways of New York and understand what you mean...