Where Los Angelista Harasses a Trolley Car Operator...

In another lifetime, I used to go around Chicago with a mini-cassette recorder and ask folks who looked interesting about themselves, their work and about social issues of the day. It still amazes me what great conversations I had with total strangers on top of El platforms across the city. And it still amazes me that more folks didn't tell me to go somewhere with my nosy self!

For better or for worse, my inquisitive nature hasn't changed much over the years.

This past Monday when I found myself riding a trolley car in San Francisco, I was positively dying to find out more about the guys operating it. At first, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to ask this gentleman, other than how he got into running trolleys. But as I talked with him (and he was so kind as to humor my request for an interview), I found myself thinking about the African-American unemployment rate and how it's officially at 13.4%. And of course, black men are especially hard hit by the recession.

I began to wonder how more black men could learn the art of running a trolley.

It was interesting to hear how the racial demographics of trolley operators have changed over the years. I wanted to ask him whether there are racial tensions within trolley operator circles or does everybody get along pretty well despite the shifts from majority black and white operators to black, white, Latino and Asian operators, but the brother was working and clearly didn't have all day to chat.

Still though, it's an interesting slice of life and maybe next time I'm in San Francisco, my path will cross his again.


Anonymous said…
He probably enjoyed someone asking him something other than what stop to get off on.
Liz Dwyer said…
I didn't have to ask that because I was riding to the end of the line! :)
Anonymous said…
Los Angelista,
I know I’m going off track here some. But it really does relate. Not to the particular topic. But about you. About human interaction. And how you handle your blog.
You are obviously a real person (in many ways, more so than so many). You desire to interact with people. You must have decided somewhere along the line of life that people are the most interesting and important part of our world. Yeah, we might like new tech stuff, cool gadgets (and even Depeche Mode), but its human interaction that makes life, well, LIFE.
It is so noticeable in your blog. I’m not much of an internet guy, don’t spend much time reading blogs or websites (except for a few work-related, sports related or a very few just interesting ones), but what I quickly discovered about the vast array of blogs/personal websites is that they have nothing to do with human interaction. That’s kinda sad. The internet did hold the possibility to really expand human interaction way beyond those you could ever physically run into. But alas, just like how .com traffic is now mostly (disgusting) porn; or worthless “argument”-rooms for people to spew hate of all kinds, blogs mostly lost its way too. They are for the most part people just talking about themselves, listening to themselves talk, ‘cause you know you so smart and interesting to listen to! Many times comments or responses so clearly show they’ve never even read or considered them. It’s like people are a radio, tuned to “their” station and just blaring away, oblivious to anything else.
But you, you are so markedly different. It hasn’t escaped notice than you really respond to the comments left. You read them, think about them, answer back, just like a real conversation. You even always take a “positive” stance; there have been some times you could have gone on ‘attack mode’ or get defensive or just miss the point. But you don’t. You always answer with some appropriate level of positive feedback, handled with respect and courtesy. That is unusual for this very selfish, self-focused society we live in.
It’s exactly why the Trolley guy would communicate with you. He sensed a sincere person, interested in the human interaction. Your honesty of person must really shine through, face-to-face.
And it’s why I daily check your blog. It’s about real life. It’s interesting subject matter. And even some real (abet small) personal interaction with us faceless “commenter’s”.
Anonymous said…
Dear Daniel - thank you for putting my thoughts into such lovely words!

Los Angelista - please keep connecting us to eachother in your amazing and wonderful ways.
That was very cool. I hadn't thought about interviewing the cable car operators before. Most of them are very friendly - if you know what I mean! I've gotten lots of free rides from some of the regulars.
Shiona said…
I'm sure he definitely didn't see it as harassment
Phi Sister said…
Why can't a girl operate the train too?
Anonymous said…
When I was a local journalist many many years ago I was also surprised at how willing people were to talk about themselves and how few told me to get lost. I don't know whether it was narcissism, politeness, feeling important, loneliness or whatever but people were very responsive.
sippinwineman said…
What Daniel said is true, but. . .

It's difficult for man to ignore a woman who comes up to him asking personal questions in a friendly manner. And make that an ATTRACTIVE woman?? A lot of men wouldn't know WHEN to shut up. lol

You had a real purpose in asking your questions and that kept in on a genuine professional level. I could see the brother thinking.

good post. really
Liz Dwyer said…
I don't know what to say... except thank you. Thank you for even taking the time to write your thoughts out. It is very, very kind of you and incredibly appreciated. I should print it out and read it whenever I feel some blogging/writing discouragement -- which is quite frequently.

Back in the Dark Ages when I first began to get online I would never have guessed the internet would turn into arguing/debating/porn central... you are so right. And I want no part of any of that. I just know that deep down when we look in our hearts, we all want the same things, and those are the things that truly interest me in people. Anyway, I guess I better scratch that post that was all about me... ;)

And thank you to you, too! :) I promise, I will continue to be nosy. I don't think that's going anywhere anytime soon!

There was a bunch I wanted to ask them, they were so cool. Sadly, on the car I rode to Chinatown, there was an operator who just tore into a young woman in a wheelchair because her chair didn't fold up enough for him. She burst into tears and I hugged her half the ride up there. I wanted to tell him off SO bad and my kids were totally pissed off... I wish I had We talked smack about that dude after we got off the trolley. Sigh.

I hope not! My husband totally was all, "Leave those dudes alone! They're trying to work!" and then he ditched me to go to the cafe up the street!

Phi Sister,
Great question! I'm sure women probably do operate the train as well as men. But I really believe in grown black men mentoring black young men and ... and as a mother to two black boys, the state of the black male is on my mind a whole lot!

Maybe it's the kind of questions. Last time I got stopped for an interview, I said yes because it was something I was interested in, but if they'd asked me to comment on something totally random, I would probably have said no. Also, I'll bet you have a great approach to people. You're so thoughtful on your blog! :)

Haha! You are too funny... but it is interesting to think about how far looks get all of us in such situations. It's like those statistics that show the overweight person gets the promotion last.

Come to think of it, I once interviewed Chuck D and the guy who founded Cross Colours, and afterward, one of them said they had not expected the depth of questioning. In the end, looks can open the door but being an idiot can close it faster than I don't know what.
Anonymous said…
You know that brother was just trying to pick u up!!!LOL
Liz Dwyer said…
Stop it! LOL!
BlackLiterature said…
Were you on a cable car??
Liz Dwyer said…
Black Literature,
I'd just finished riding it to the end of the line. So I was standing on the ground while doing this interview, but I had a great time hanging off the side and riding.

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