Monday, October 06, 2008

Two V. Important Life Lessons

The other evening after work, I had just sat myself down on the back seat of the bus (somewhere where I never dared venture when I was younger because it always belonged to the cooler, bigger kids) and was raking through my bag to find my book when my eye caught sight of movement out the window.

It was a girl around my age, running to catch the bus before the driver pulled away. Nothing strange about that, you might think. And you'd be right. Except as the girl got to the back-end door of the bus (it was one of those freaky extra long buses with lots of doors. The ones that have a joint in the middle so that when you sit at the back you feel very strange indeed as you watch the front of the bus turn corners before the back end turns them.) the driver had already pushed the button to close the doors.

I, and about fifteen other people, watched as the girl stuck her arm in between the closing doors and I gasped. She obviously (and stupidly) thought that these automatic doors were like elevator doors in that they had a sensor so that if any arm or leg or...anything really, was in the way, they would open again and no limbs would get crushed to smithereens.

Well the girl, fifteen French people and I, all learned something that day. Bus doors don't have a sensor.

The girl's arm, complete with bus pass clenched in her hand, got jammed. The bus doors closed fully and her hand was inside the bus while her body was on the outside. The girl struggled, trying to pull her hand out but it wouldn't budge. I gave an audible and horrified gasp as the driver started to slowly move the bus forward, waiting to pull out into the traffic.

I looked around and everyone saw it, but no one was saying anything. Well, apart from the old woman in front of me who was rocking back and forth and kept repeating over and over in a quiet, slightly disturbing voice; 'le bras, le bras, le bras' ('the arm, the arm, the arm').

Without thinking, I called out 'STOP!' in a voice that didn't sound like mine. It was high pitched and squeaky and I felt like I'd been inhaling helium. I felt a little embarrassed as the driver and several people at the front of the bus turned to stare at me.

And it was only after I had said this that other people on the bus spoke up, as if they had all been afraid or embarrassed to be the first to call attention to it. Suddenly the whole back of the bus was crying out to the bus driver, 'Monsieur, open the door back here!' and 'Stop! There's a girl with her arm caught!'

But before the slow reacting bus driver had even opened the doors to let her free, the poor, terrified girl finally managed to pull out her arm and stepped away from the bus, her face a deep shade of purpley red.

I'm quite sure I could have written about this from a more humerous point of view. After all it's not every day I get to talk about someone else doing something stupid - usually it's me - but the whole incident left a bad taste in my mouth as I realised that had I not screamed out in the paniced, squeaky voiced manner that I had, I'm not sure anyone would have said anything until it was too late.

I've thought about this before. The fact that most people seem to be too shy or embarrassed or self concious to help someone who really needs it. If, for example, someone is sitting on a park bench, looking really ill, as though they might pass out at any moment, or even if they are crying, clearly upset, how many people would stop and ask them if they are alright? And I'm not trying to come across as a saint here, it took me long enough to shout out for help on that bus, and if someone else had done it first I wouldn't have done it at all, I'm quite sure. And I'm ashamed of that.

But truthfully what would you have done? Not what would you have done in theory, but in reality. Would you have been one of those to get help straight away, or to sit back and hope that someone else would do it first so that you didn't have to draw attention to yourself?

While you mull this question over (and please let me know your thoughts in a comment!) I will just say that there are indeed two lessons in today's post. One: Don't just sit back and hope someone else will help, give the help yourself - nothing can be lost from it. And two: Never ever stick a limb in between closing bus doors. There are no sensors!


Lesley said...

I would have shouted out. Absolutely. Definitely. No hesitation.
(I hate blood)

Micah D.L. said...

interesting, this first lesson of yours. i learned a similar one this weekend. one of my friends was having the worst week imaginable (ending with her dog in the hospital with internal bleeding) and while i'm not one to generally offer support (because i'm terrible in bad situations...just AWFUL. i'm a bit of a tool sometimes), you just gotta know that sometimes, you're the only one that's going to be there to offer kind words and what not.

fortunately, i knew her fave cookie and i'm a badass baker so i was able to offset any of my moronic statements with rockin' cookies...


Anonymous said...

I don't know if I would have shouted. Probably eventually, but it would take a couple of moments. I'm not good at emergencies!

And yuck. The thought of the arm stuck in the door is just revolting. Getting caught in a door is one of my greater fears (I think it stems from a time when I was about 8 and was getting into a car, when said car started to drive off. I only got a couple of scratches, but it was scary).

Diane said...

I know if I were in the US still I definitely would have shouted out, but in France...with me having to even THINK what the word for stop is, I know I would have hesitated. Since moving here I find myself acting differently in all sorts of situations. I dont feel equipped to help out anymore and feel akward in all social situations. That is why I get up early each week to go to class to learn french! ;)

T.D. Newton said...

I ride the bus multiple times per week myself but I've yet to see a limb get stuck anywhere. I have, however, had to shout to the bus driver to open the back door or make sure he waited for me to get my bike off the front rack.

The thing is, each bus load of people kind of becomes its own society. I think the issue you ran onto was that there was no clear "leader" in your busload and you had to grudgingly take up that spot. Had the doors been locked indefinitely, you would have no doubt become the "Simon" character in the new and updated Lady of the Flies.

Having shouted at bus drivers in the recent past, I'm sure I would have shouted something about the arm being caught. But, since I don't know any French, it might have just made the driver laugh and mash on the accelerator.

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Aha Lesley! That's a good enough reason as any! I can just imagine that in the newspaper article celebrating someone's heroic actions - 'What were you thinking when you dragged the man off the railway lines to safety?' 'I was thinking I really hate blood'. Hehe!

Micah cookies (and also chocolate - even better; chocolate chip cookies!) make everyone feel much better and that's a scientifically proven fact, or at least it should be. Good girl! I can be a bit of a tool at these times too, I panic a lot and something else kind of takes over my body until the bad situation has passed or is at least being managed by someone who seems more adult-like than me (preferably my mum). Please, tell me the dog is okay?

Jenn Argh! That does sound scary and traumatising! Luckily you read this post then, because now you know never to try to get on a bus when the doors are closing! I've just saved you from a second terrifying trauma involving vehicle doors.

I'm no good at emergencies either. Apart from the other day, I don't think I've really been involved in any emergencies except the ones where I am the casualty (many, many times), so I don't have a clue how I might actually deal with an emergency in reality. Sometimes I worry about that.

Diane Awww don't worry, you're certainly not alone in feeling that way. Anyway keep on with the French lessons and it will all come in good time! And by the way, you can just say the word 'stop' in France because they use this word too, they even made it into a verb (stopper)!

TD I have had to call to the driver to wait for me to get off the bus too, or sometimes he doesn't even open the door for me and I have to ask him, which I've always found super embarrassing, but I don't know why! I mean really, it's not embarrassing at all!

I think you make a good point about the little temporary societies on buses, and not only in buses but basically everywhere. I suppose people do sit back because they think their role is not the leader, that someone else will play that part. Interesting, very interesting!

Micah D.L. said...

the puppy is all well and good after a stint in the hospital and some good TLC at home...thank God!

T.D. Newton said...

What can I say, I'm a student of human nature. Riding the bus on a regular basis has definitely been an odd experience for me - seeing how some people who look like they should be courteous are not and others who look a little weird being totally nice. Public transportation tends to stand some stereotypes on their heads while reinforcing others.

And yeah, don't be embarrassed - that never solves anything. Audacity is the best way to handle yourself. It impresses and intimidates people while inspiring confidence in you. People tend to move out of your way if you appear to know what you're doing, even if you really have no clue.

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Micah Good! I'm relieved. I dislike stories that don't have happy endings.

TD as a daily bus rider myself I have seen some rather odd things taking place on the journeys. The arm jamming incident was the worst though. But I do really enjoy people watching, and I also enjoy getting mad and aiming bad thoughts at men who don't give up their seat for elderly or pregnant women.

As for the embarrassment thing, I think it's a whole lot easier said than done to act confident. It's true that if you act it eventually you will feel it, at least a little anyway, but it's maybe because I'm British that I have trouble doing this. The British are a nation of embarrassed people.

Anonymous said...

After reading this post, something that happened finally clicked in my brain.

I was in a crowd of people who were waiting to get in to a concert and this skinhead out the front began savagely beating his dog to a pulp. No one said anything. I made my husband call the police but all the others did jack. I thought they were afraid of the psycho guy with his chain but now I think otherwise..

Princesse Ecossaise said...

Rochelle oh god...oh god, oh god, oh god, that's simply barbaric! Who would do that to an animal? It's possible people were scared of the guy, if he could hurt his dog he could hurt a stranger, but everyone should have called the police, like you got your husband to do. Well done for doing something, I'm sure it spoiled the rest of the evening for you, but at least you can be safe in the knowledge that out of all those people it was you and your husband to act first.

Zhu said...

I think Canadian buses have sensors, at least the newest ones. Still, I'd keep that in mind.

I would have shout... I always end up shouting at the bus driver for a reason or another: "we can't MOVE back, there is NO room", "let her go on, she is pregnant" etc. I'm sure they all hate me.

Ksam said...

I definitely would've shouted "La porte, la porte!!" - but then again, I do things all the time that would be considered inappropriate by French people, lol.