The thin, high pitched wailing of at least 7 different tiny tortured souls causes my eyelids to flutter, but I struggle to stay under.
Thwack. THwack. ThWAK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK.
As my head bounces off the window again, I am jolted out of a neck twisting doze, blinking against fluorescent lighting and cringing as the sound of crying babies seems to increase. As I’m thrown forward again, I am sorely tempted to reach back and grab the tiny demon legs that continue to beat into the back of my chair.
The little guy looked cute enough to start out, with a handsome father in tow, but now, 75 minutes into our journey without once tiring of creating never ending drum solos on the back of my seat, I am less inclined to praise his adorable face. I blame the father, obviously, for the outcome of this demon child; and rightly so, as whenever I looked back in exasperation, eyes pleading for a parental hand to guide the situation, he would only flash a saucy grin and give me an appraising eye. Forty five minutes later, when my annoyed looks had turned into malevolent glares with attempts to burn the man with merely my stare, he remained unfazed and even tried to strike up conversation.
Sir, not only am I wearing sweatpants and a saggy bra, with hair mussed and headphones in,attempting diligently to type away on my computer while babies scream and your son causes typos with every kick of his chubby little feet; I am also giving you the most plainly evident ‘fuck off’ look that has ever been delivered. But perhaps I am not being quite clear enough. Should I get a sweatshirt printed, I wonder? With the two words printed in bold on the front and the back, to prevent my need to turn around? Or perhaps tattoo it across my forehead, so as not to have to worry about washing and packing the correctly worded clothing every time I travel? I do travel a lot…
This is a problem I often face, a conundrum that causes quite a bit of undue stress in my little vagrant world. It seems that many people have an incredibly hard time reading or understanding simple social cues. Even when these cues are made painfully obvious. Or perhaps they just don’t give a shit about them. Regardless of the reason, this makes for many a difficult interaction that I feel could be easily averted with just the tiniest bit of education and, of course, respect.
I recently traveled to New Zealand, the land of pure air, dazzling scenery and intelligent, satisfied residents. The Kiwis are educated and liberal, but the entire country has a down home, southern feeling that makes you feel welcome everywhere. What a treat it was to walk down any and all roads un-accosted, safe and free to wear whatever I chose.
Coming back stateside and settling in West Oakland was a rude slap back into American reality. No longer could I roam free, letting my mind wander to creative pursuits and soaking in the beautiful environment. Now I must travel with purpose, with intention, with fear, with a knife. I must walk directly, my eyes on the sidewalk but my focus on the imminent dangers around, my cell phone always at the ready, headphones on but music off. I must appear disinterested in my surroundings, bored even, and appear to ignore everything around me.
This is a survival technique, one I picked up in college in New York, but one I have perfected over years of traveling solo. It is something that anyone low on the totem pole will acquire, when living in or traveling through a rough neighborhood, but it is most often practiced by women. How sad that as a woman, in a land that boasts of personal freedoms and liberties, you cannot wear what you want, travel where you choose, or even react as you wish, out of fear for your bodily safety?
During my first week in Oakland, my car broke down, and thus I was forced to walk more than was technically recommended. One morning, at the delicate hour of 8 am, I had no sooner walked out of my apartment and hit the sidewalk when I met my first suitor for the day.
“Hey yo, Snow Bunny! Whatchoo doin’ in my hood?”
I had to give him credit for the creative nickname. Most of the men tended to stick with the safe choices like Blondie, Sweet Cheeks, Babycakes, or Mmm, That Ass.
“Darlin’ why dontcha come on in here? I’ll give you a riiiiide.”
As the man was driving a car, I respected the double entendre, but continued to ignore him and walk down the sidewalk.
“Come on baby, you so fine, I’d love you all the time.”
His comrades let out some whoops and hollers for the impressive almost rhyming. I doggedly continued on my path and turned the corner. They turned with me and idled along at my side.
“What, you just gonna be a bitch about it? What, you too fucking good for Red Dog? Red Dog would rock your fucking world, Snow Bunny, but now I’m not gonna be so nice about it. Gonna have to teach your tight little white ass a lesson first, don’t we?”
At this point, the gods intervened, and the ghetto brigade hit traffic and a red light. I ran, trying to block out the curses and names they were slinging after me.
This is just one incident. The details vary, but the result is always the same. At the beginning I tried talking politely to whomever was accosting me, hoping they would see I was just a kind human trying to go about my everyday life. Somehow, this always served to exacerbate the situation, and I learned the safest choice is just to keep your mouth shut.
Friends and strangers alike are constantly telling me how jealous they are of my travels, how amazing my life is. They're right, my life is amazing, but it doesn’t come without sacrifice. Being a solo female traveler with a very limited income often puts you in unstable situations. I face these head-on and survive through a combination of street smarts, adaptability, empathy, and large muscles. But each encounter leaves its mark.
The horrible concert on the back of my seat brought me back to my current reality. I couldn’t take it anymore. I turned toward the father and saw him slumped forward, asleep, with a bit of drool seeping out the right corner of his mouth and onto his oversized red Nike t-shirt. I whirled the other direction and wedged my face between the side of the plane and my seat, turning my crazy eyes upon the stress inducing minion of seat 27F. The tousle haired child peered back at me, looking much bigger than I originally remember and, to my agitated mind, now resembling something of a horned dragon with 8 octopus legs all doing their best to rattle me out of my chair.
Big brown eyes leaned closer and said, “Hi.”
I swallowed, emitting something of a growl as I tried to clear my throat and silence the vile words on the tip of my tongue.
“Please. Stop. Kicking. The. Back. Of. My. Seat.” I managed, whispering, but enunciating every word. “It’s not nice.”
The child pulled his face away from mine and disappeared from my line of sight. I settled myself back into my chair, reopening my laptop. I let out a deep breath and felt a sense of peace wash over me as my body began to finally relax. I had dealt with that fairly well. Assessed the situation, approached it in a civil manner, and effectively solved the problem. Perhaps this child just hadn’t been taught this social structure yet. Maybe that was the issue with a lot of people - perhaps no one ever took the time to instruct them in what was acceptable, and what was not. A small smile touched my lips as I organized my fingers over the keyboard, happy to have been able to help this little child turn into a better adult. I was able to type three words.
THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK.
As I braced myself against the window, I heard an evil little giggle.
THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK.
Was my social cue not clear?
THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK. THWACK.
Then again, perhaps this child just didn’t give a fuck.
I know when I’m beaten.