Am I a Mean Commuter?

February 2012

On a recent morning, my regular bus stop on the corner of Colfax Avenue and Josephine Street seemed busier than usual. Ignoring the crowd, I focused on the day's news piping through my earbuds as I waited for the 15L—my ride to work. A middle-aged man with greased-back blond hair, ripped jeans, and a tattered beige jacket forced his way into my line of sight. Reluctantly, I took the headphone out of my left ear. The man asked if I had a cell phone he could use. I politely declined, even though my cell was in my pocket, and went back to my news. It was an automatic response, and I could have forgotten the man and his simple request in a moment, but I kept watching.

Nonplussed by my denial, he approached others. A few people declined; and then someone didn’t. A young guy wearing dress pants and a pair of glossy black shoes pulled his phone out of his pocket. My heart sank: Why didn't I do that? The 15L pulled up a few minutes later. I got on the bus and watched as the businessman got on behind me, phone in hand. He had racked up some good karma points and was only out a few minutes on his cell plan. 

As we jolted down Colfax, I kept wondering about the first man—and my reaction to him. He asked for help, something I could have easily provided, and I ignored him. I consider myself a decent person—I donate clothes to schools, have volunteered on Thanksgiving, and even dish-out extra change from time to time—but, in this case, I didn't do the decent thing. Why? 

I started riding the bus to save a few bucks on gas and parking, but to commute on public transportation is to be part of a community (more than 300,000 people use public transportation in and around Denver every day). People, though, treat that responsibility differently. I've witnessed handfuls of people go about their morning commutes, heads down, no questions asked. (Some days, I’m one of them.) But I've also witnessed an impressive display of good manners, particularly towards the drivers of route 15L. People sit up front and engage them in friendly banter. And most riders make a point to thank the driver when they get off at their stop.

That kind of neighborly behavior is infectious, and reminds me that maybe I need a refresher on the Golden Rule (treat others as you want to be treated). What if I was the one who was caught without a phone, needing to make a quick call? I'd expect someone to lend a hand if I asked. But I shouldn't expect that kind of treatment if I'm not willing to dish it out myself. As a journalist, I try to make a positive impact on the world I report on. And, regardless of my profession, on this particular morning, I ignored an opportunity to do that. Lesson learned.