I take the 210 bus up Crenshaw when I get off the Expo Line on the afternoons when I don’t want to walk home. I usually walk the rest of the way, as it’s a bit of exercise. But some afternoons, when I am tired, I’ll take the bus. Depending on the time, there are three old men who ride the bus together and who talk about the old days in Crenshaw. I eavesdrop because they are always interesting, with their memories of the the 1960s jazz clubs and 1970s discos in Crenshaw, now loooooooong gone. They must have been something in the day, these men, because they are very handsome now, and none of them is going to see 75 again.
One of them calls me princess; at first I thought it was some harmless teasing. White people are not terribly numerous on buses in LA. Actually, except when I lived in west LA, I’m usually the only white person on the bus. It’s so common I seldom notice any more.
But the Crenshaw buses are different; instead of the usual constellation of Latinos, African Americans, and Asians that keep LA Metro in business, the Crenshaw buses serving the little stretch between Expo and Washington are full of seniors, and almost all of them are black. They make for raucous buses with lots of familiar conversation among people who are easy in each other’s company.
The first time he called me “Princess”, I shrugged and gave him an “Ok, work on me if you want, I can take it” grin and kept my iPhone earbuds in–the iPhone, the perfect piece of transit armor.
He wasn’t having the earbuds left in. He was going to get me listening to him, period. The second and third time he called me Princess, it became my bus name, and I learned to take my earbuds out as soon as I see he’s there in his spot right behind the driver. His name somehow became “Mister.” We talk about the city and politics in the five minute bus ride I have, and we always end our interaction the same way.
“How ya doin’, Princess?”
“I’m doing all right, I can’t complain.”
“Me neither. What do you think of Obama talking about gay marriage?”
“Oh, I figure it’s about time everybody let that go. People do what they do, I guess.”
“That they do, that they do.”
“You be good, Mister.”
“I can’t be nothing else at my age.”
I have never really been anybody’s princess before. My social difficulties and my mother’s obsession with my weight/body prevented me from ever thinking of myself as anything other than “draft horse.” That carried to others and stopped anybody from treating me as something precious or fragile when I was little: I was too big and too strong and too independent to be anybody’s little anything, the way the other girls were. I did what anybody locked out of approval and acceptance does: I became an edgy badass who didn’t need anybody to treat me like I was precious, thankyouverymuch.
Now, I find that I rather enjoy being a princess.