Just Call Me Karen

That’s right, I’m a Karen. Yesterday I called 911 to report a black man.

We had walked downtown, then to Pioneer Square, then got on the streetcar to come up to First Hill. Our first stop had been at a gelato cafe, one of our favorite stops downtown. We are pleased that it so far has survived the pandemic. It’s still only open four days a week, but it’s always busy when we are there. Sadly, the street it’s on, Third Avenue, is not a very friendly street. The drug store next door closed because of incessant shoplifting. Homeless tents come and go along the street, but the drugs and trash remain. 

On our walk from the gelato cafe to the street car, we got to the Pergola in Pioneer Square to find the square full of tents. People were milling around. One black man was pulling a wagon with a large speaker turned up loud with some hip-hop tune calling “Nigga, Nigga, Nigga” over and over and over. 

From there, we got to the streetcar, figured out how to pay our fare, got on and started home. The streetcar route goes through the International District (aka Japantown, Chinatown, Little Saigon, and then turns past an elementary school that is full of kids who need a lot of support. From there, it goes uphill past a low income housing project, Harborview Hospital, Swedish Hospital, then on toward Seattle Central College, where it turns around. 

Lots of Asians, especially older people, use the streetcar to get to the large Asian grocery store and other Asian specialty stores in the various parts of the ID. No one thinks this streetcar was a good investment for Sound Transit, but it’s definitely more comfortable than the buses that travel similar terrain. For us, it’s an easy way to get up the hill after walking downtown, so we have used it many times.

All of our buses and other transit “require that all passengers wear masks.” This was my only my second transit ride since Covid. It will be my last for quite a while because there’s no enforcement of the mask rule, and some of our residents are determined to flaunt their “freedom.” We sat near the front, across from a black man who was wearing his mask under his chin. I looked at him and gestured for him to put his mask up. I have asked other people to mask up in close quarters without it being an issue. But not this guy. He began berating me, going on and on about how “free people don’ wear no masks,” and “yo a bitch,” and many variations on this theme. 

He spat on the floor, made a point of blowing his germs in my direction, and then, for no reason, decided to poke my husband who was trying his best to ignore it all and wishing I had never looked at the guy. When he poked Charlie, I dialed 9-1-1. Boy did I get a lesson from doing that. 

Our 9-1-1 call center is who knows where. I told the operator that I was on the First Hill streetcar on Broadway near Swedish Hospital and that a man was harassing us. Turns out our 9-1-1 people don’t live in Seattle, don’t work in Seattle, don’t know what the First Hill Street Car is, don’t seem to know where First Hill, Broadway, or Swedish Hospital are, and were useless. 

So, why hadn’t I talked to the driver of the streetcar as my first option? Well, the streetcars are designed like airplanes with a locked door separating passengers from the driver. A sign on the door instructs people not to knock when the streetcar is in motion. I guess if you are at a stoplight and not moving you could knock, maybe? Well, that’s why I didn’t talk to the driver, and why I called 9-1-1. 

After I hung up out of frustration, the police called me back on their nonemergency number. People from the back of the car had also called in. I explained where we were (this person seemed to understand me), that no one was injured yet, but that I wanted this guy off the streetcar. By that time, the driver had become aware of something going on behind him. He stopped at a light, came out from his cave, and called his supervisor. 

The maskless black man got off, started to walk away, then turned around and got on again through the back door, then got off and came to the front door. More ruckus ensued, and he finally walked away for good. But, since the driver had called the supervisor and I had called 9-1-1, the streetcar now had to stay put until someone showed up. 

By this time, I’m mad at myself for starting all this, mad at the man who wouldn’t put his mask on, mad at 9-1-1 for not figuring out where I was calling from, and just generally mad at Seattle for becoming such a shoddy mess of a city. 

The transit supervisor eventually showed up, made sure things had calmed down, and asked if we wanted to wait for the police. We got off the streetcar, thinking we would wait for the police, but after 20 minutes, we figured that since no one was bleeding, they’d never show up; we walked home making sure to go in a direction other than the one our maskless man had taken off in. 

When you see those signs flashing on all our buses, streetcars, light rail, and commuter rail saying “Masks Required,” don’t believe it. And my advice: Do as Charlie wishes I had done, and just leave it alone if someone won’t mask up. Get where you can by walking. Be glad you can still do some of that. Ugh.

And, yeah, just call me Karen. 

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