The bear and the boor


At the beginning of May, danger ran away from me. At the end of May, danger stood in my face. The first was a bear, the second was a boor.

May has been wonderful and horrible. I have been exploring new places and people, and as with any new terrain, whether on the outside to be seen, or on the inside of me, unseen even to me, the world can be full of beauty and anxiety.

On May 9, as my brother and I began our final hike to finish Canada’s West Coast Trail, our eyes caught the movement of a black shape scampering up the shore ahead of us, up into the woods and away from us. The bear saw us first and, startled, ran away. We were left on high alert – the bear we (might have) imagined each night on our trek, sniffing around our tent was visible. We had reason to have bear spray and knives on the ready. (The likely truth is, much smaller and more curious creatures were exploring our campsite at night. Not the bear that ran away.)

On May 26, my 12-year-old son was desperate to bear the holiday-weekend queues to ride the London Eye, the large ferris wheel aside the River Thames in London. After 20 minutes of standing in line to buy tickets, on the home stretch, a man cut in line ahead of people who had a 15 minute wait ahead of them. I stepped in to say this was wrong. There was a quick exchange between us, a few people behind me slipped in front of him and he was successful. Everyone behind us was oblivious.

After ticket purchase is the queue for the ride itself. After being in this line for 10 minutes, he cut in again. 10 minutes later, at a switchback in the line, he jumped ahead again. As my knees rattled and my belly turned, I confronted him. His responses: “I was in the wrong line.” “I need to join my family.” His words, “It’s not what it looks like,” gave me an opening to settle myself down.

I offered this: “It doesn’t look good.”

We agreed on that.

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In the heart of the city, in the throngs of people, I felt like a bear on the attack. Not curious about why he needed to jump the queue, but needing to say that everyone is having to wait a long time and it is not OK – or right – to jump ahead of people.

I’m still not sure who the boor is. It is equally me – I took him to task each of the three times I saw him jump the queue. No one else did. No one else seemed to care. Perhaps it is the Canadian rule-follower in me.

Our cities are full of beauty and anxiety. Whether the cut-in-man is the boor, or me, we do represent the challenge of living together in cities. As frustrated he was with me, he looked back at me at one point, across the switchback, and smiled. Could have been a smile to say, “look at me, here I am,” or “suck it up, lady.” Or simply, “hey, this is city life.”

While our values clashed, we remained calm and perhaps we both realized that this is just a ride we are waiting in line for. A reminder that the purpose of cities is to create the conditions for conflict.

Here’s the rub. After all his efforts to jump ahead, and my efforts to get him “in line,” he was only one car ahead of us.

Any value clashes in your city life recently?

Bear tracks on beach

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This post is part of Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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2 thoughts on “The bear and the boor”

  1. I, not so silently in my car, call other drivers who are weaving in and out of traffic to get ahead to task all the time. (Clair says I need a megaphone on the front of my car!) I always love it when I arrive at the same red light as them – proof once again that getting into a rush doesn’t necessarily result in arriving any earlier. Learning the meaning of civility continues to be a challenge for many.

    1. That’s great, Joyce. In many ways, I can’t believe I let my inside voice out on this one. I guess it was because I was a weary traveller and no longer had the stamina to bite my tongue!

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