There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Rap on the train

I am old enough to remember when transistor radios were all the rage. Imagine, a radio you could hold in your hand. In much the way smaller is better today with cell phones, the transistor radios shrank and shrank until they nearly disappeared. And then ... along came the boom box.

The bigger the boom box the better. Teenagers who had discretely listened to music from transistor radios were now sharing their music with everyone within a mile radius, often while walking down the street with the huge entertainment center perched on a shoulder.

The disturbance became so pervasive that signs warning against the playing of loud music became commonplace, especially on buses.

Which brings us to today's commute.

I left a half-hour early so that I could swing by the SuperCuts on 16th and P streets and get a haircut. The commute went well, but what a difference a half-hour makes in the bus schedule.

The bus I regularly take gets about a dozen passengers while I'm riding. Most are headed for Sac State. The earlier bus I took today had every seat taken and the aisle filled with standing riders by the time we arrived at Sac State.

But back to the story. From the bus I boarded a downtown train, planning to go one extra stop and get off at 16th Street. I got my book out and started to read.

At 29th Street four young black men boarded the train. Three of the men took seats on either side of the train and the fourth stood between them in the aisle. When the train pulled out of the station the guy in the middle started to sing an improvised rap song -- very loudly.

Now, I've got some previous experience with transit rappers. Not long ago, on the way home, a young man started rapping as a friend accompanied him using a cigarette lighter to tap out a rhythm on the wall of the train. It was a very impressive improvisational display, and it was appreciated by the riders on the crowded commuter train.

This guy was just annoying. There was a lot n-word this, and n-word that. There was something about women and slang that had obvious implications even if the explicit meaning was lost on me. He rapped about shooting and killing and all sorts of general mayhem.

I kept thinking if this guy was playing a boom box, someone would have asked him to turn it down. But somehow it just doesn't sound the same to say, "No singing on the train."

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