Having just sat through a lecture on rhetoric theory and discourse communities, I got a first-hand immersion in at least 3 different discourse communities bumping up against each other on the 72 bus from the U district to downtown yesterday.
U-District, 3:45 pm
The bus is full, packed tighter than usual. I move in line further and further toward the back of the bus, where a pack of hispanic teen-aged girls is giggling maniacally. Loud sighs from riders around me signal their frustration with the girls’ noise level. They go on, oblivious or maybe defiant. I stand with one hand on the rail, keeping my balance, keeping my eyes on the city streaming past the window.
A young black man to my left suddenly shouts at them to shut up and they respond with racial taunts. The man lets everyone know that he’s a pimp from Vegas who’s done time and he won’t put up with this s—.
Ahead a few feet, a young white man with long hair pulled into a ponytail turns around and identifies himself as a Rastafarian from Tacoma. A few muffled laughs, a guffaw, some disparaging snorting rises from the riders around him. He says he knows when it’s time to chill out. “Settle down, little brother,” he tells the black man.
The pimp yells, “I’m not your m—f—ing brother. I’m black! You’re white, man.”
The Rastafarian smiles and says, “Yeah, but I’m also half Sasquatch. You learn anything in prison, little brother? Like how to modulate your voice in public. You need to mod-u-late your voice, man.”
“I’m a g-damned n—! I ain’t gonna lower my f—ing voice. I’m a snap some necks on this f—ing bus and not give a f—. That’s what I’ll do.”
The girls in the back of the bus start in again on their sing-song chant about charcoal. The black man roars for them to shut up and I move a step away from him, careful to be casual. I’m an accidental player on this stage with no desire for spoken lines.
The white Rastaman reaches in his jacket pocket and pulls out a gun.
“This is a Captain Hook squirt gun,” he says as the bus erupts with tension into small screams and roaring laughter. He lectures the pimp on how he only uses a water gun, how he doesn’t kill. He’s still going strong when the black man throws up his hands, says he’s had enough, and steps off the bus at Convention Place Center. The Rasta exits also. The bus driver, miles away at the front of the bus, drives on.