Adventures In Busing.

Counting Daves.

Big Dave was an English taxi driver. I met him when I was a student in England and he worked for a local taxi company that shuttled students back and forth between Harlaxton Manor where we lived and had our classes and nearby Grantham where we went to pubs and threw up in the street, but that’s another story. We called him Big Dave because he took up most of the front of the taxi. And also there was another guy named Dave who worked for the same company. Little Dave. He was the exact opposite of Big Dave. It’s not unusual to meet two guys named Dave, even two guys named Dave who worked for the same small company, but they were so different it was as though they’d both been cooked up in some mad scientist’s experiment. Big Dave had straight black hair with a streak of gray and jet black eyes. He always wore a gray-green jumper—sweater on this side of the pond—so he kind of resembled a big mossy boulder. Little Dave preferred powder blue shirts and had curly ginger hair, and he wore glasses over his pale blue eyes. Big Dave was also chatty and always had a story, like the time he was bitten by the only poisonous snake in Britain, but Little Dave was quiet, and so small that if you sat directly behind him and leaned back you could almost imagine the cab was driving itself.

So one Saturday morning I was riding into Grantham with Little Dave and we passed a house that was covered with crows. Absolutely covered. There were so many I wasn’t even sure there was a house underneath. Maybe there was some ravens there too.

Source: Know Your Meme

“Did you see that?” Little Dave said. I perked up, unused to hearing Little Dave say anything other than “That’ll be £1.50” and “Ta very much.”

“The crows?” I said.

“Yeah, a lot of them on that house back there.”

I leaned forward. “Isn’t there some folklore about crows on a roof?”

And Little Dave started to sing, quietly:

“One for sadness, two for mirth;

 Three for marriage, four for birth;

 Five for laughing, six for crying:

 Seven for sickness, eight for dying;

 Nine for silver, ten for gold;

 Eleven a secret that will never be told.”

“There were a lot more than eleven on that house,” I said. “What does that mean?”

“It’s either really good for them or really bad,” and Little Dave started to laugh and didn’t say anything for the rest of the trip.

Send Out The Clowns.

That’s me under all that makeup.

Several years ago I had a small part in an independent film called Encounter. My first scene is pretty funny. The hero, a guy who’s seen a UFO, is complaining about how everyone thinks he’s crazy or a joke, and  the writer and director very cleverly had me start speaking off-screen, responding to the hero’s moans. Then the camera turns to reveal that I am, well, a clown—a drunk, angry clown doing shot after shot as I go into a foul-mouthed rant about how everyone thinks they’ve got problems but no one understands how bad I have it. Maybe I should preface that with a “spoiler alert” but, as far as I know, it was only released on VHS so the odds of anyone finding a copy, let alone having a way to play it, are pretty slim. I have a second appearance too, also as a clown—it’s a somewhat subtle joke; there’s also a guy in a therapy session with an I HATE CLOWNS t-shirt, which would explain why a clown really does have problems. And a lot of people do hate clowns, even before Steven King’s IT put a scary clown front and center, or rather in the sewer. There’s even coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. How many other professions can you think of that have their own phobia? Not even mimes have one and I think a guy trapped in an invisible box is a lot scarier than any clown, but that’s another story.

Some of us, of course, like clowns, and if you have a friend in the San Francisco area you can send someone a screaming telegram delivered by a clown, and you can even add some extras, like “cupcakes, to something more adult, like a bottle of Halloween Hooch served in a wrinkled brown paper bag”. Or you can order a video if they live elsewhere, although the ones delivered locally make me wonder how these clowns are getting around. Probably by car but still I think the only thing better than riding one of the city’s famous cable cars would be sharing the ride with a clown. Or maybe not. I’ve ridden the bus with enough bozos.

For extra fun send one to someone who hates clowns.

Source: Tenor

Here’s the trailer for Encounter and if you don’t mind a little adult language and want to see me in action you can also check out the outtakes.

Talking To Strangers.

Why can’t I ever remember the ending of Little Red Riding Hood? Maybe because there are so many different versions. The first written one was by Charles Perrault, and he ended it with Mam’selle Hood being eaten by the wolf, which is a real downer. He got the idea from earlier folklore versions which, from what we know, sound a lot more interesting. For instance there’s at least one from northern France in which the wolf still gets Red’s grandmother, but Red recognizes him, does a striptease, ends up in bed with him, and then escapes by saying she has to visit to loo, all of which wouldn’t go over that well in your average kindergarten. There’s also a Brothers Grimm version that ends with the wolf going down the chimney, falling into a pot, and drowning. And then there are numerous modern versions from Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves in which Red ends up sleeping happily in the wolf’s arms to James Thurber’s in which Red runs away because she sees the wolf in her grandmother’s nightcap and “even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lion looks like Calvin Coolidge” and there’s even a version Groucho Marx told to his son Arthur. Grandma, who’s got a hangover, lives on a golf course and she, Red, and the wolf all end up beaten to death by an angry golfer. That actually sounds closer to at least one version I remember from when I was a kid that ends with Grandma and Red devoured but a hunter slices the wolf’s belly open and they pop out alive and well which, for me, was an even bigger downer because it’s pretty ridiculous that a wolf would swallow anyone whole and I was just sad the wolf died.

It’s a popular and widely interpreted story because it deals with so many themes but mainly the risks of childhood independence and a warning about the dangers of talking to strangers. Some have even wondered why Red’s mother sent her alone through a wolf-infested forest. You’ve gotta cut the apron strings at some point, though.

When I was in junior high I walked home from school most afternoons. My friends and I cut through a complex of condos we also explored and we all knew there was at least one creepy guy who invited kids into his home. None of us never went in because, well, he was a creepy guy, although we never thought about what might happen if we did because this was decades before Law & Order: SVU premiered and even longer before it became one of those shows you can find on some channel twenty-four hours a day. I’m pretty sure even the Weather Channel puts on an episode in the middle of the night, but that’s another story.

I wouldn’t say Little Red Riding Hood was responsible for us not going into that guy’s house, but some vague memory that there were versions of that story that didn’t end well probably didn’t hurt.

Here’s another completely unrelated story: I was in an elevator on my way to a doctor’s appointment. A woman got in carrying a baby, diaper bag, cooler, a small safe, a bag of wool from a freshly sheared sheep, some juggling batons, and a Ming vase. And then she dropped the baby’s bottle. My first instinct was to pick it up for her but, well, under current circumstances that didn’t seem like a good idea. I did ask, “Can you get it?”

“Yes,” she laughed.

She got off the elevator first and the baby looked at me. I gave him a little wave. He had a pacifier in his mouth and I had a mask on but I’m pretty sure we smiled at each other. Sometimes it’s okay to talk to strangers.

Driving Emissions.

So I had to take the car to the emissions testing center for its annual tailpipe check. I wouldn’t mind that but there seems to be some kind of problem every time I do it. The problem has never been with the emissions—at least not the car’s emissions. I might be polluting the air a bit but I never get tested, which is a good thing because I’m terrible at taking tests. No, mostly the problems seems to be just getting there. Once I was on my way to the center and took a wrong turn and as I was turning around on a back road the car hit something and I got a flat tire. That’s when I discovered our car which we’d had for at least ten years and which we knew had a spare tire didn’t have a tire jack. Since I couldn’t hold the car up with one hand, or two for that matter, and remove and replace the tire, I was stuck until I remembered our AAA membership. Within half an hour two guys who looked like they could each hold up the car with one hand showed up, changed the tire, and we went our separate ways. Then there was the time I was on my way to the center and took a wrong turn, but I have a fairly good sense of direction. Or think I do anyway. I kept going, thinking I could find my way back, but eventually I stopped and asked my phone for directions. It led me not to the usual emissions testing center but another one, which told me I’d gotten really, really lost, but at least I was still within the state of Tennessee. That reminds me of the time I was in high school and rode to a science fair held at a school north of Nashville with a friend. We were on our way back and seemed to be taking a really, really long time, and when we passed a sign that said, “Welcome to Kentucky” I said, “Are we going the right way?”

“Yeah, it’s a part of Kentucky that juts down into Tennessee,” he said.

I didn’t remember ever seeing any such thing on any map and I was really concerned that he just didn’t want to admit he was lost. And it turned out we were lost, and if we’d tested the emissions coming out of his face he would have failed, but that’s another story.

Actually those are the only two problems getting to the emissions testing center I can think of, but they’re big enough that I’m always worried when I go and pretty much expect something will go wrong. Especially this time because, well, it’s not exactly like last year. But everything went fine. I wore a mask and so did everyone who worked at the center, and we all kept our distance. Then there was a problem with the computer. At least it wasn’t anything I did. The computer just couldn’t admit that it was lost.

Second Life.

Source: Wikipedia

A friend who lives in California sent me this story about the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit decommissioning a bunch of its old train cars, some of which date back to the start of the transit system in 1972, and offering them for sale. I think my friend thought I might be interested in owning one, and at between eight and ten thousand dollars they sound like a steal, even it would cost even more to transport it across the country, and I don’t have a place to put it anyway. Or maybe he just wanted to rub it in that I’m older than San Francisco’s train system, but that’s another story.

The BART has already recycled some of their old train cars, and they say they’re offering the old ones for sale because “legacy cars have a tremendous sentimental value with passengers in the greater San Francisco Bay Area”, and, I’d guess, pretty much anyone who likes trains. Maybe some of the older cars, which I’m sure have been updated over the years, could be restored to their original look, which is getting into Theseus’s boat territory. But there’s also a formal application process because they’re not just giving the cars away. They want creative ideas for how the cars will be used. They could become anything from museum pieces to housing—which isn’t a new idea. Back in 2018 a London businessman got the idea to start refurbishing old double decker buses into homeless shelters, as well as kitchens and learning centers.

It’s just really cool to me that public transportation doesn’t have to stop serving the community when the vehicles wear out.

Take A Hike.

It’s been a long time since I took a really long walk and at a work meeting several of us got into a discussion of exercise. One of my coworkers mentioned that she’d definitely gotten the “quaran-ten” but had lost three pounds so it was closer to the “quaran-seven”, and I realized I was closer to putting the “teen” in quarantine and I really needed to get some exercise. So this weekend I went to Radnor Lake to take a long hike. And I made the mistake of leaving the house late and a bunch of people, mostly families, had gotten there ahead of me. So I decided to take the Ganier Ridge Trail, which is the longest trail around the park and, true to its name, extends up and along a high ridge so it’s slightly more difficult and I figured it would be the least used trail. And I was right.

First, though, I stopped to look at the lake.

You can’t tell from this picture but I was about to start the steep climb to the top of the ridge. I took the mask off when I was alone but put it on around other people and for the obligatory selfie.

It was a sunny day but there were signs of the recent rain.

This is the view from the top of the ridge. You could see for miles from here if all the greenery and trees weren’t in the way.

Have you ever started out on something and realized that it might have been a terrible mistake? That happens to me with pretty much everything I do, and I started to feel that way as I was climbing the trail. I haven’t been getting as much exercise as I used to and I was really starting to get tired. I seriously thought about turning back when I reached this.

It was the halfway point of the trail. And with that I felt a lot better. I could do this. I kept going. The trail extends a good way along the ridge and then it’s all downhill.

And then, having finished the trail and on my way to the car I saw this. Hey, do you feel like we do?

Roadside Attraction.

Source: roadsidesenryu

So I’ve captured a fair amount of roadside art over the years but this takes it to a whole new level. Some anonymous artist is putting up roadside signs with senryu, a form of  Japanese poetry. Although senryu tend to be seventeen syllables (with some exceptions) they’re different from haiku because while haiku traditionally evoke nature, particularly the seasons, senryu are humorous or satirical. Here’s an anonymous one I remember reading back in college:

As he loves her up

She talks only

To the cat.

Yeah, it falls short of the syllable count, but I think we can let it slide because it’s hilarious and says so much in just a few words.

The ones popping up around the country use the same design and shade of blue used for government road signs for services and recreation, which I think is also hilarious, and it’s why I’ll let it slide that not all of the signs are humorous or satirical. Some are thought provoking, poignant, even profound.

You can see the complete collection of signs at the website. And because there’s a website it’s technically possible to track down the artist but, as with some poems, I think it’s best to let the creator be anonymous.

Source: roadside senryu

Moot Court.

It happened again.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to be called up for jury duty every three years for the rest of my life. On the one hand it’s an annoyance. On the other hand I guess it could help me organize my time if there were something else in my life that needed to be taken care of on a triennial basis.
The last time I got called up it was kind of exciting because it was the first time I actually had to go, and I assumed, with a name close to the end of the alphabet, that I’d be excused early and could maybe spend a little time exploring downtown before I headed home. Nashville is a growing city but it’s not a big city and downtown, especially the riverfront, is compact enough that major points of interest are within easy walking distance of each other. And if nothing else I could grab a cup of coffee and hang out at the downtown library. Except it didn’t exactly work out that way. I was eventually excused but only after a grueling day of bored waiting. The only spark of excitement came when one of the defense attorneys asked the potential jurors if any of them watched Star Trek and I got kind of giddy at the thought that the case might actually involve debating the merits of Deep Space Nine versus Voyager.
Since my wife and I are both working from home right now this time getting jury duty presented some new questions. There was a possibility they’d hold the proceedings remotely, letting all of us go to court through Zoom. If they made me come in I’d have to figure out how to get there. I could drive but parking downtown is a nightmare. There’s a parking garage specifically for the courts but it tends to fill up and even if it doesn’t I’d have to figure out how to get my parking validated.
The best option, having thought about it, would be to take the bus. And I was looking forward to that. It would be a chance to sort of return to my old routine, with the extra bonus that I’d be riding the bus all the way downtown. I rode the bus to jury duty last time. The buses are still running and, while I’d want to be careful, it would be interesting to see what the new protocols are. Among other things I doubt they’re taking cash anymore–in fact the fare has gone up to two dollars, from $1.75, I guess so they don’t have to make change anymore. Also I thought, hey, it’ll be something I can write about, which, I confess, is a motive behind too many of my decisions, but that’s another story.
In the end, though, I didn’t have to go. I got another letter saying that under the circumstances I was excused, and I celebrated by grabbing a cup of coffee and spending a couple of hours Googling pictures of downtown Nashville.

Pedal To The Barrel.

Source: visitmusiccity.com

Starting in September Nashville will start allowing “transpotainment” vehicles, which were shut down in July, to roam the streets again, and I know enough to know that means the infamous pedal taverns that, for some reason, roam the streets around the neighborhood where I work. If you’re unfamiliar pedal taverns are sort of rolling bars, a contraption that looks more like a trolley where people sit along the sides and power the vehicle with their feet while drinking. And while for some reason I assumed pedal taverns would just serve beer they’re apparently fully loaded and, from what I’ve seen, the riders are too. Once when I was just out taking a break from work, ambling down a quiet alley, a pedal tavern came up behind me and all the guys on it—they were all guys—started yelling, “Uh oh! Stranger danger!” because I guess they thought I was some kind of threat even though I wasn’t the one pedaling around drunk at two in the afternoon. Another time my wife and I were in the car—she’d just picked me up at work and we were going somewhere–and we got stuck behind another pedal tavern, and I mean stuck. The tavern was trying to go uphill and the riders were having a little trouble with it.

Supposedly the person in charge of driving the pedal tavern—or rather steering since technically the riders provide the power—is supposed to stay sober, and I say supposedly because the only reason I can think of for them to find their way into the neighborhood around my office would be if the navigator was drunk. Downtown would be the natural environment for pedal taverns where the streets are already clogged with tourists and the streets are fairly level close to the waterfront. Around where I work it’s more hilly and the cars move faster. There also aren’t that many interesting landmarks around, although maybe I’m wrong for thinking most pedal taverners are tourists looking to take in the sights. Maybe they’re tired of the honky tonks and saloons of, well, downtown, and are looking to spread out while taking the honky tonk with them.

It’s not that I have a problem with consuming adult beverages. I like a drink as much as the next guy—if the next guy happens to be Dylan Thomas. I just think consumption should be savored, and that takes attention. You can roll out the barrel but do you really want to drink from it while it’s still rolling? Pedal taverns just seem like too many different things wrapped up together to be enjoyable. I can walk and chew gum at the same time but I prefer to do it after the gum has lost its flavor, which usually happens even before I stick it to the bedpost overnight, but that’s another story. A friend of mine took a walking tour of Scotland which included stops at distilleries for a tipple or two of their finest single malts along the way, but the important thing is she stopped before drinking. Imagine sampling whiskey while you were walking the rolling hills of thistle and heather. Even with only a bit of a buzz you’d forget whether you were on the high road or the low road and maybe if you were even in Scotland.

I don’t want to harsh anyone’s mellow, and I know people are looking to get out and do things. If you think transpotainment is entertainment that’s great. Pedal taverns have been shut down in Nashville for a staggering less than two months and I’m sure doing vodka shots on your stationary bike just isn’t the same. I just think taverns should stay where they belong.

Dream Train.

There was a story on the news about a historic stretch of train tracks being restored but I can’t find it now. Maybe I dreamed it. I was dozing off on the couch with the news in the background. Every once in a while I take a short power nap in the afternoon after I leave work for the day, and it works. I’m alert for the rest of the day, although there’s not a lot going on these days, and I’m still able to sleep at night. It’s not like when I was in high school and I’d sometimes come home from school and take an afternoon nap and then I’d be up all night and a wreck the following day. Although one semester I couldn’t make it through the morning anyway. I had Mr. Blankley for algebra and he had all the energy of a concrete block. He never moved from behind his desk and would drawl, “Studentssss today we’re going to take a quizzz…” and that was it. I heard that half the parents fell asleep when they met him too, but that’s another story.

Anyway it would be kind of strange that I was dreaming about something as specific as train track restoration. Then again all my dreams lately seem to have been transportation-themed. I’ve dreamed I’ve been on buses and in cars, or just walking, going somewhere. Usually I dream I’m going to work. I’m not actually at work which is good. I have no idea how long these dreams last so it would be hard to figure out how to record them on my timesheet. And I might get in trouble for sleeping at work although work time is kind of flexible these days.

The stranger thing is that in all my transportation-themed dreams lately there are always obstacles. I take wrong turns, find locked doors, have to find another route. Something I’ve noticed about recurring dreams is that once I write about them they go away, though, and maybe the same thing will happen here. So watch this space. Next week I may write something about a recurring dream about Mr. Blankley. Or sooner. Believe me—I’ll write about that as soon as it happens. Or as soon as I wake up.

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