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Just The Two Of Us.

One of the tough things about public transportation must be that buses never stop running. Well, they do very late at night–in most cities I think it’s between two and five a.m.–but as long as the drivers are working they’re stuck in a non-stop loop. They’re not like taxi drivers who can sit in a queue at the airport or a hotel and maybe get a quick nap before someone jumps in and asks for a ride. Bus drivers have to keep going, burning fuel, even if they’re not carrying anyone.

I thought about this the other day when I got on the bus and I was the only passenger. This was a bit of a shock. There are always at least three or four other people already on the afternoon bus when I board it. And it’s not as though this was a different driver who was running on a weird schedule, causing everyone who normally caught the bus to miss it. In fact just the day before there was a substitute driver, a guy I’ve never seen before, who showed up at my stop about ten minutes early and the bus was packed.

It was the regular driver the day the bus was empty, a guy who’s considerate and recognizes passengers–he always pulls up a few feet past the actual bus stop to drop me off at the corner where I cross the street–but never talks to anyone. The rule is no one’s supposed to talk to the driver, but some drivers, even most, are chatty. They carry on conversations with people. Sometimes they even interrupt other peoples’ conversations to offer their own opinions. Once, as I was waiting at a stop, a driver went right by me without stopping. He then ran a red light and stopped on the other side of the street. I guess he thought this would compensate for his moving violation. I ran and had to tap on the door to get his attention because he had his body turned halfway around so he could carry on a conversation with someone sitting behind him.

It’s never really bothered me that the current driver on my route never talks. The other people on the bus act as kind of a buffer. If he’s not talking to them I just assume he’s not interested in talking to anyone and I can sit in the back and listen to my podcasts. With just the two of us, though, I was suddenly in a difficult position. What if he’s lonely? What if he’d like to talk to someone but just has trouble starting conversations? He and I may be strangers but we pass by each other on a daily basis. Maybe I should say something. I didn’t, though. I stuck to my routine. I sat in the back and listened to my podcasts, but unsure the whole time.

When we came to my stop he pulled a few feet forward. I walked up to the door and, as I always do, said, “Thank you very much.”

Normally he just nods at me. This day he said, “You’re welcome. See you tomorrow.”

Maybe that’s all he had to say.

 

Made To Happen.

We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened.

Huckleberry Finn

Nashville’s Charlotte Avenue has, for reasons I don’t understand, long been home to numerous car dealerships. Maybe this is because it runs more or less parallel to some of the city’s main thoroughfares—West End, Broadway—but Charlotte is also on the edge of the city and parts of it are still a little seedy in spite of rapid gentrification. Venture out that far and you’ll want to make sure you have a way to get back. The railroad also crosses Charlotte at one point, so whether it’s the right or wrong side of the tracks might depend on where you stand, although it’s increasingly becoming mixed. Pricey hipster restaurants rub elbows with Bobby’s Dairy Dip, a ‘50’s era remnant that still serves the best milkshakes in town.

The funny thing is the biggest dealerships, the ones that dealt in late model luxury cars, that have fared the worst while independently owned dealers of used cars—let’s face it, they’re not classy enough to get away with calling their flivvers and jalopies “pre-owned”—have stuck it out through thin and thinner.

Some areas around Charlotte Avenue are also thick with graffiti. The fence in front of one of the car dealerships is especially popular. I don’t know why this is or, for that matter, why the dealership has put up white plastic slats behind the chain-link fence. They might as well put up a sign that says “TAGGERS WELCOME!” Sometimes the tags get painted over but they come right back, as unstoppable as the trumpet vine that climbs over the fence.

Maybe there is no clear explanation for any of this. Maybe the way all these things were made just happened.

 

Summer Blockbuster.

Deleted scenes from Superman II (1980, directed by Richard Donner):

  1. EXT. DAY.

General Zod interrupts a bank robbery in progress and encourages the crooks to continue.

  1. INT. DAY.

General Zod insists that the White House Oval office be repainted a bluish-green color.

  1. EXT. DAY.

General Zod, visiting SeaWorld, takes a particular interest in the pinnipeds.

270. INT. NIGHT.

General Zod demands to be served the meat of a milk-fed calf raised in terrible conditions.

  1. INT. NIGHT.

General Zod accepts a delivery of satsumas and insists that everyone have some.

  1. INT. DAY.

General Zod acquires a dog and takes it to a training class.

  1. EXT. DAY.

General Zod conducts and outdoor group-therapy session for people with anhedonia.

306. INT. NIGHT.

General Zod orders Superman, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Miss Teschmacher to perform a traditional Scottish dance.

My Two Cents.

There were a bunch of pennies on the sidewalk. Why someone left them there is beyond me, and I could have just left them, but instead I picked them all up. Hey, if you see a penny and pick it up all the day you’ll have good luck, right? And even though the day was mostly over and I was headed home I figured maybe it’s a twenty-four hour good luck and maybe it’s cumulative so picking up all those pennies I’d get nine or twelve days of good luck. I couldn’t use the pennies to pay my bus fare, unlike that time several years ago when I poured exact change–all in pennies–into a bus fare collector, but still pennies add up. That’s at least one reason I think the US Treasury keeps producing pennies, unlike our neighbor to the north Canada that abandoned the penny a few years ago. And that’s one of the few things Canada has done that bugs me a little. When I was a kid I was bitten by the numismatic bug, although the doctor gave me a shot and I got better. It was finding Canadian pennies in change that got me interested in coin collecting; it made me feel in touch with the rest of the world. Years later I’d get a job in a mailroom and the foreign stamps that came in turned me into a bit of a Johnny-come-philately, but that’s another story.

Coins even helped teach me some history, like when I first found a 1967 Canadian penny which, unlike the regular maple leaf penny, has a  dove. So it doesn’t bother me that my collection of Canadian pennies, large as it is, is still barely worth a loonie–even less than that, now that the pennies are no longer legal tender. It’s a shame the 2017 Canadian coins, which celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, won’t include a penny.

Still I wish Canada good luck on the sesquicentennial. Hey, here’s a penny.

 

You’re Baroque When You’re Out Of Monet.

VIOLA: Save thee, friend, and thy music: dost thou live by thy labour?

Feste: No, sir, I live by the church.

VIOLA: Art thou a churchman?

Feste: No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church.

Twelfth Night, Act III sc.1

Once when I was touring a European cathedral—I can’t remember which one because, well, even though I was a student and supposed to be studious they kind of tended to run together for me—the guide took the group to a collection of carved figures in one of the transepts. They were mostly demonic creatures—not technically gargoyles since gargoyles are outside and designed to sluice water—but one was a man frowning. The guide told us that this might have been a self-portrait or it may have been the artist’s caricature of someone he knew. It made me realize something that should have been obvious: behind every carving, behind every piece, was at least one person. The building of cathedrals employed hundreds and even thousands of people, most of them highly skilled artisans—so many that there wasn’t always a lot of oversight and artists could get pretty creative. In a different cathedral the guide gleefully pointed us to a nearly hidden carving of a couple in a 69 position, but that’s another story.

Baroque and Rococo design didn’t just add a lot of flair and frippery to cathedrals and other monuments. They provided work to artists, and an outlet for creative impulses. And I don’t mean to make flair and frippery sound like a bad thing either. Taking an ordinary object and giving it its own unique aesthetics makes it more interesting, maybe even more valuable. At the very least it gives artists something to do, which just goes to show that even if it ain’t Baroque it can still be fixed.

He Also Had A Hammer.

From: Kevin DuBrow, CEO, DuBrow Grains

To: All Staff

Subject: Company Morale.

Hello Everyone,

Word has gotten back to me that most of you are unhappy with my decision to fire James Alger, better known to everyone in the company as Jimmy. Well let me be perfectly clear about something: I liked Jimmy too. He’d been with us a very long time and from what I heard was always a good employee. Stories about his practical jokes got back to me. I’m glad he played a part in cheering people up even though I had to speak to him about not doing it on company time. There’s nothing wrong with a little fun. I know that better than anyone. I’m the one who hung up that poster of the cat hanging from the tree in the breakroom, the one that I then had to take down after someone wrote a bad word on it. But let’s make sure we focus on work when we’re working, people.

That brings me to my main point: the reason I fired Jimmy. His actions were bad enough but what really disturbs me is how the rest of you also acted. As you know we had a two and a half ton shipment of corn that Jimmy, for some reason, decided to run through the auxiliary mill. Now first of all every one of you knows the auxiliary mill is exclusively for wheat and millet, not corn. We have never used the auxiliary mill for corn and Jimmy’s decision resulted in extensive and costly cleanup. The corn was supposed to be delivered to the customer whole, since it was popcorn, and I’ve had to try and find a new buyer. If I can the corn will still be sold for a lower price. That will be reflected in everyone’s paychecks for the next quarter.

I’m really sorry about that but Jimmy used the mill when I wasn’t here, and I feel like everyone bears some responsibility. Nobody acted to stop Jimmy or tell him not to move that shipment of corn. No one stopped him from operating the mill by himself. Do I have to spell this out? Jimmy cracked corn and no one cared because I was away.

Everyone, we need to pull together for the success of this company. Please remember what my grandfather, who founded this company, used to say: There is no I in cooperation. We used to have a banner that said that in the breakroom, although I had to take it down when someone wrote a bad word on it. Maybe I should get another one made but banners are expensive. That’s why we only have one every year on my birthday.

I hope you will all reflect on this and I hope I can trust you. Don’t forget that my door is always open when I’m not in a call or really busy and I am always here if you need help or want to talk. Except next week when I’ll be at a conference in Duluth.

Thank you, and let’s all pull together to do a better job.

Kevin DuBrow, CEO, DuBrow Grains

P.S. Casual Fridays are cancelled until further notice.

Window Seat.

I like the window seat. In fact I prefer the window seat, even on airplanes, in spite of the possibility that on a long flight I might need to go the bathroom and potentially inconvenience the person sitting next to me, but that’s never happened. Maybe if I flew first class where they give you unlimited beverages and fresh fruit and play soothing waterfall sounds it would be a problem, but I usually fly steerage where the one ersatz soft drink and package of salty pretzels has never been enough to even wake up my bladder. The only time I’ve ever had a problem with my seat on an airplane is when we flew over the Grand Canyon and the captain tilted the plane so everyone on the left side could get a good look. I was on the right side and all I got a good look at was clouds and sky and tried to ask him if he could circle back around, but that’s another story.

On the bus I like the window seat too, but it bugs me that most buses are now covered with advertisements. Sure, they’re perforated so I can see through, and if I wanted to stick my tongue out or make other rude gestures at drivers going by they probably couldn’t see me. The seats on the bus sit higher than most cars so I get to look down on people in their cars and think, “Playing Words With Friends, eh? Did you notice the light changed?” And I like to watch the neighborhoods and businesses roll by. Things are always changing and it’s fun to see a new business or building going in or sad to see an old one go.

Still I get it that in order for public transportation to continue serving the public it has to be profitable and that fares–currently $1.75 per person–don’t come close to covering even fuel. So buses get to be moving billboards, mostly advertising lawyers which sometimes makes me wonder if I could sue for an unobstructed view. I’d probably have better luck against the airline for depriving me of a view of the Grand Canyon.

This post brought to you by DuBrow’s Hard Gravy. Celebrate summer responsibly by pouring it over fruit or your other favorite foods. Or drink it straight from the can. As long as you don’t sue us we don’t care.

 

Plays Well With Others.

I used to listen to BBC Radio 4 at my desk at work. Sometimes it got too distracting and I had to turn it off, but I always made time for—and would sometimes schedule my day around—the show Just A Minute. It’s a hilarious show in which four panelists are given subjects to talk about for a full minute without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. And from the very first episode Paul Merton, whose birthday is today, stood out to me. That’s partly because I remembered him from the original Whose Line Is It Anyway, but he’s also one of the best players and most frequent guests—only Sir Clement Freud outnumbers him in appearances.

Some comedians like to work solo, but, as Merton said when he was interviewed for Richard Herring’s Leicester Square podcast, he’s never been comfortable working on stage alone. That explains why most of his work—and why he’s at his funniest—when he’s improvising with others. He’s also a scholar of comedy, having written a book on  early silent film stars. For Paul Merton comedy is a conversation.

Here’s a great episode of the TV version of Just A Minute from a few years ago, and the best part about YouTube is you don’t have to schedule anything around it.

Uncontained.

Some people associate graffiti with crime and economically depressed areas which is why it’s funny to me that a lot of the graffiti I find—I’d even say some of the best graffiti—tends to pop up in Nashville’s nicer neighborhoods. Take, for instance, the Hillsboro Village area which puts the “hip” in “hipster”. Or maybe the “ster”, whatever that means. It’s got fancy boutiques, a funky local coffee shop, an indie movie theater, a used bookstore, and a nice park nearby. It’s adjacent to Vanderbilt University, and it’s home to many university staff and faculty. And it’s got Friedman’s Army Navy Store, a place that specializes in camping and other outdoor equipment and where I’m pretty sure my high school chums got the weathered army jackets they wore in all kinds of weather. You can’t get much hipper, or maybe more hipster, than that. And then there’s this storage container currently taking up multiple spaces in Friedman’s parking lot.

That’s some impressive work. Not the container itself, I mean, although that is pretty good engineering. I’m talking about the graffiti. Here’s a closer look.Someone, possibly several people—this identifies it as the work of Fish Club, a tag I’ve seen in other places—put some real effort into this.

What does graffiti really say about a neighborhood? I’m tempted to compare Hillsboro Village to London’s Soho, New York’s Greenwich Village, or even Florida’s Key West, places that, because of low rent, attracted starving artists whose presence made the places a destination, a locus for hip and hipster alike, making them desirable and driving up prices. I’m not sure if that’s an apt comparison, although the area has seen worse days. The Villager Tavern used to be home to a rough crowd whose only weakness was sunlight. Its conversion to a friendly neighborhood bar that’s even been known to host poetry readings could be a metaphor for the changes wrought on the area itself. The appearance of graffiti, though, suggests there’s still a dangerous edge, something wild, something about the area that’s still hip.

 

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