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The public rapper

Once a week I take my ~2 year old daughter on the 50, to visit her grandparents for the day. This week we were sitting in the front seat playing counting games on our hands and watching the urban charm of University avenue roll by.

At Snelling Ave., after the crowd of commuters got on, up sauntered a familiar archetype: the public rapper. In a loud voice he was grunting away some little ditty along the lines of “shooting bitches” and “ f*cking with the sh*t”. As he struted the front of the bus he looked left and right at the other passengers, presumably to ensure that we understood how audacious he was. Yes, a fine representative of his culture upon which my daughter can start to build her future stereotypes.

I have had a special place in my heart for these minstrels ever since one got on the 16 at Vandalia a year or so ago. He was one in a pack of other toughs who regularly board in the afternoon when the High School for Recording Arts (a “second chance” charter school) lets out. His ‘rhyme’ consisted of looking at each person as he swaggered the aisle, hands flashing signs, chanting: “Gunna shoot you in the head with my gat, with my gat. Gunna shoot you in the head with my gat.”

In that instance I called up and spoke with the principal and security director at the school the next day. The security staffer noted that there was nothing they could do about how their students act after hours and agreed “ya, you gotta do what you gotta do” when I suggested (I thought ironically) that if they could not control their kids, then perhaps a conceal-and-carry permit would be my best option.

This time however, with my daughter’s delicate ears at stake, I figured I had better confront the source. So, as he passed, I said: “Hey, watch the language please”.

He stopped. In a loud and rather unfriendly manner he demanded of the bus, “Who said that?”

Silence all around. Although all the passengers were boarded, the driver did not pull away from the curb. It may have been my imagination, but there seemed to be a general tension in the air. There was certainly tightness in my gut. I braced for a whack to the back of the head, made sure my daughter was sitting securely, turned so that I would see anything coming at me, looked him in the eye and replied, “I did.”

Now, if this was 11:00 at night and I was on the 16 I might not have been so bold. But if you can’t stand up for decency during rush hour, on a limited stop line, when can you? Plus, I suspected that if it came to blows, some of my peeps would have my back. A St. Paul City Council member had gotten on a few stops prior and was sitting somewhere back there. Across from me was a neighbor who boards at my stop. There were a few folks with suits who might stand with righteousness if it came to helter-skelter: swinging their briefcases with office-ninja aplomb.

The troubadour got in my face, “You got a problem? I was rappin’”.

“Yes, watch your language please, I have a kid here”, I returned.

He looked my daughter and I over a few times. I tightened my grip on the shoulder strap of my bike bags ready to swing back if it came to blows (incidentally, in addition to my daughter I was traveling with a replacement wheel for my sailboat trailer strapped to the outside of my bicycle panniers, so a hit from it would land like a medieval flail). He looked around the bus gauging the situation.

The bus continued to sit at the stop.

“Well, I was rapping. Didn’t mean to be disrespectin your shortie. Just singing my song”, he scowled, looking mightily pissed off at being called to task.

“Ya, OK” was about the best I could muster as an acceptance for his forced apology.

He turned, walked to the back, and continued ranting along the lines of “telling me what to do. Grumble, grumble, grumble…”.

The bus pulled out.

It took me a little while for the adrenaline to subside. My daughter was wide eyed. We went on to our next lesson.

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