Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

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Riding the Bus with My Sister: 7. March: Streetwise Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Beth and Rachel walk down Main Street, hunting for a bathroom. This is often the hardest part of Beth’s day. She rules out the bathrooms at city hall, where a naked drug addict once screamed at her, and a local fast food restaurant, where the manager won’t let her use the bathroom even if she buys something. Rachel is furious when she hears this; she thinks about how disabled and homeless activists have sued to win equal treatment in such situations. Rachel also contemplates the changes in the formerly vibrant, industrial Pennsylvania city where Beth lives. She notices how recent Latinx and Asian immigrants have brought new culture to the city, while its Pennsylvania German roots remain.
Beth’s search for a public restroom may seem like a trivial anecdote, but it actually speaks to her enduring struggle to find inclusion in public spaces—and, by extension, mainstream American society in general. Rachel thinks about this struggle from a legal perspective, which speaks to how the disability justice movement secured important protections for people like Beth in the second half of the 20th century. However, Beth is so used to being excluded that she no longer tries to change anyone’s mind. In other words, she’s less interested in theoretical considerations about where she should be accepted and more worried about where she actually is. Finally, Rachel’s comments about immigration show how Beth’s city is slowly but surely becoming more inclusive.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As Beth and Rachel walk down Main Street, Beth points out a group of prisoners sweeping the streets and tells Rachel about the restaurants and stores they pass. At last, Beth turns into an office building to use the bathroom. But Rachel spends too long changing in the bathroom, and they miss the next bus. Beth rants that Rachel is too slow and has to speed up. Just then, they run into Olivia on the street. Beth explains that Rachel made them miss the bus, and Olivia takes the opportunity to do her monthly check-in. She asks if Beth is happy with the services she’s receiving (she says yes) and whether she’s going to see the doctor soon (she says no).
Rachel is again surprised at Beth’s savvy—she seems to know everyone and every place in the city. Following stereotypes about disabled people Rachel, her family, and likely many of her readers would have expected Beth to be the slow one. But in reality, Beth is the expert on her city, and Rachel is the one struggling to keep up. Thus, Rachel deliberately turns stereotypes on their head in order to highlight all of the abilities that Beth does have. Indeed, in her chat with Olivia, Beth again affirms that she’s living exactly how she wants to. Still, her refusal to see the doctor raises important  questions about how far her right to live according to her own decisions can extend.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Walking up Main Street, Rachel realizes that she doesn’t meet Beth’s definition of “cool.” Then, Beth runs into a series of friends—mostly homeless people and other misfits—and acquaintances, like a “creepy” man who offers her a photo album and a rude man in a wheelchair who begs for money. Beth explains that people get two chances with her: “if they’re nasty twice, then they’re not my friends.” Rachel realizes that Beth is far more streetwise than she is.
Beth seems to take care of herself and clearly recognize whom to engage with and whom to ignore. While she is kind and generous to strangers, she refuses to accept mistreatment, which puts Rachel at ease for the time being. Still, most of the people Beth knows live on the margins of society, which suggests that she does, too. This indicates that her disability still prevents her from finding full inclusion in her city’s public life.
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Rachel and Beth arrive at the corner where they’ll catch the bus they’ve missed. Then, Beth tells Rachel that she and Jesse got into a bad fight with a homeless girl and her boyfriend on that corner. Rachel worries about Beth’s safety, but Beth says that nothing will happen. Rachel can’t believe that Beth could be so careless, but she also knows that Beth will become even more stubborn if she feels like Rachel is being “bossy.” Instead of criticizing Beth, Rachel apologizes and just says that she wants to make sure that Beth stays safe. Their bus arrives, and Beth tells Rachel that she’s happy to have her visiting. Rachel asks her if she really means it. Beth tells Rachel to worry less and “try being more like me.”
Rachel seriously worries about her sister’s safety, just as she has throughout her life. Beth is remarkably “streetwise,” but she also seems to be putting herself in unnecessary danger that she doesn’t fully understand. Rachel struggles to reconcile her worry for Beth with her sincere belief that Beth has a right to make her own decisions. In fact, this points to the underlying tension between well-being and self-determination that is central to this book’s analysis of disability and inclusion. Whereas society generally accepts that non-disabled people have the right to make their own choices—including self-destructive ones—it’s less clear that the same principle should apply to people with developmental disabilities like Beth’s, because they may struggle to understand the consequences of their decisions. 
Themes
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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