Adventures In Busing.

Have A Drink.

A taxi parked in front of a liquor store. I guess he’s the designated driver.

I have a thing about drinking and driving and that thing is that I don’t. There have been times when I probably could—the other night my wife and I met some friends after work and since I was driving I just had iced tea, and we ended up hanging out long enough that I could have had a beer and passed even the most sensitive breathalyzer, but hindsight never wears beer goggles. And it’s just a personal thing—most people, I assume, are responsible and know their limits, although my own wariness of mixing a drink and a drive mostly comes from a night that my wife and I were driving home. Well, she was driving and I was riding. It was a dark and stormy night and as we approached a hill we could see a car coming toward us. Then it swerved into our lane.

“He doesn’t see us,” my wife said.

She stopped. He swerved again and drove off the yard into someone’s front yard.

We got out and talked to him a bit. He was a young guy and he admitted he’d been drinking. He worked at a bar and had a few during his shift and probably a few more before he got in his car to drive to a friend’s house. He may have even been underage: in these parts you have to be twenty-one to drink alcohol but only eighteen to sell it, which is why whenever I buy beer at the grocery store I always head to the oldest-looking cashier I can find, but that’s another story.

It also came out in our brief conversation that my wife was right: he hadn’t seen us. He thought we’d come up behind him and only stopped to see if he was okay. He didn’t realize that, if we’d kept going, he would have hit us at full speed and the odds were pretty good I wouldn’t be around to tell you this story.

Anyway that’s why this ad campaign for the Nashville bus promoting a beer route tickles me so much. There are twenty small breweries in Nashville by my count, and eighteen of them listed on this bus tour promotion—and most of those are right on a bus route, although Yazoo, which is currently within walking distance of where I work, is moving to nearby Madison, Tennessee because it’s expanding.

Nashville’s buses are notoriously irregular and for some reason they haven’t put any of this information online—the local MTA ain’t exactly what I’d call tech savvy even though they’ve added wifi to pretty much all buses now. Also does it strike anyone else as weird that you have to be twenty-one to visit most brewery web sites? Check out the Jackalope Brewing site–because it’s got a cool story and they make really good beer, but it’s not like you’re going to drink any of it from the website. Or if you know a way to get beer through a website please share it because it’ll make my afternoon commute a lot more interesting. Anyway it’s just weird to me that you can pick up this flier advertising local breweries on a bus regardless of your age, but visiting the Black Abbey Brewery web site requires you to be at least twenty-one.

The important thing here, though is that the idea of letting someone else do the driving is something I’ll drink to.

Traveler’s Rest.

The design of benches at bus stops bugs me. I know I’m very lucky to be at most slightly inconvenienced by the design and that most of the time it doesn’t even affect me because I can stand, but maybe it helps if I speak up along with people for whom it is a problem, and most of those people are homeless. I know homelessness is a growing problem in many cities, and while I don’t have any answers I do know that making homeless people’s lives more difficult isn’t an answer, which is why the bars in the middle of bus benches that make it impossible for anyone to lie down bothers me. The half-benches in bus shelters are even worse because they only have enough space for two people at most so if you have three people who need to take a load off their feet someone’s outta luck. Even the design of the benches, cold perforated metal that I’m sure has been calculated to be just big enough for the average posterior, is unfriendly. It says, “You can sit here but don’t think about staying here.”
This is always on my mind whenever I’m at a bus stop but there are two things this past week that really kept me thinking about it. The first is Grace over at Ms. Graceful Not who navigates the world with more aplomb than her blog’s name would suggest, but that’s another story, who wrote about planning a long trip in a wheelchair. Another thing that’s always on my mind whenever I ride the bus is that in Nashville and other cities where public transportation is pretty much an afterthought people who depend on the bus are limited in where they can live and work. As someone I know said, “I would ride the bus if I didn’t have to walk three miles and cross an interstate to get to the nearest stop.”
And there are visually impaired people who ride the bus, which is part of why, whenever the bus comes to a stop, a cheerful recorded voice announces the route number. That’s great if you’re standing right there when it arrives but not much help if the bus has been idling for a while. Once I was at the downtown depot sitting on the bus and waiting to go when a guy with a red-tipped cane came up to the door and asked, “Which bus is this?”
“Which bus do you need?” the driver snapped because he hadn’t been taught that it’s bad manners to answer a question with a question and even worse manners to make someone else’s life difficult for no reason.
The guy turned and walked on. I slipped over to the other side of the bus and leaned out the window and told him it was the number seven.
“Okay, thanks,” he said and kept walking, and I still wonder if he wanted a different bus or he just decided to wait for the next number seven bus because the driver was an asshole.
Anyway the other thing this week that got me thinking about bus bench design this week is that a bus I was riding stopped at a red light where there was a bench and a guy sitting on it. The driver opened the doors. The guy didn’t get up and I thought, oh, he’s just sitting there. I often see people just sitting on bus benches; sometimes they’ll wave to the driver to keep going. If it’s a spot where several routes overlap maybe they’re waiting for a different bus or maybe they’re just taking a break from walking.
“Hey,” yelled the driver. “How you been doin’?”
The guy looked up. “Oh, I hadn’t seen you in a while. How are you?”
And they just started chatting. The driver asked the guy how his operation had gone and if he were feeling better. Then the light changed and the bus rolled on and I thought, hey, at least one bus driver gets it.

Not All The News.

We still get a newspaper, an actual, physical, paper-and-ink newspaper, although just on the weekends–I have so many other things to read that the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday editions are about all I can keep up with, and even then I mostly pull out the Arts section and recycle the rest. A few times I’ve seen the guy who makes the deliveries, driving slowly through neighborhoods some time after dawn, his emergency lights blinking. He has excellent aim. He always manages to hit the ditch next to the driveway. Our neighbor gets a paper too, but I wonder how many homes still get a newspaper. It’s a dying business. I don’t want to wax nostalgic about the bygone era of kids on bicycles throwing a morning newspaper onto the porch of every home just as the residents were starting to stir but I also want to wax nostalgic about the bygone, or nearly gone, era of regular newspaper delivery. Not that I ever had a paper route, or even knew anyone who did before I went to college.
I met Jeff early in my sophomore year at a small gathering at his place. Maybe it was a party but I don’t know if you can call four people a party, and anyway his room–part of a row of student apartments next to the fraternity houses, so that it was both off-campus and technically part of the campus–while bigger than a dorm room was still pretty small. We drank and talked through the night. He played Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”. At some point early on I quit drinking, but Jeff didn’t, and at around three o’clock in the morning he said, “I need to deliver papers. Can you drive?”
Well, sort of. I didn’t have a license and it had been a few years since driver’s ed, but I decided driving a car is like riding a bicycle; you’re just less likely to fall off. It had been a few years since I’d last ridden a bicycle too. Following Jeff’s directions I drove to a warehouse downtown where we picked up a stack of newspapers, then through the neighborhoods of straight streets where all I had to do was hold the steering wheel while he bagged and threw newspapers.
I rode along with him a few more times after that, and one day we even took a half hour road trip to a bigger town. He was looking for a book at a bookstore that turned out to be closed when we got there. A few days later I went by his place and knocked. There was no answer. I couldn’t find him the next day either. The day after that a girl I knew told me Jeff had been reported for smoking pot in his room, maybe by one of the fraternity guys who would have recognized the smell from one of their own parties. The details were obscure but at the time any drug use was dealt with swiftly and harshly. Jeff was expelled and left without telling anyone. The abruptness of it has stayed with me even as the newspaper delivery business slowly fades away.

Wallet? You’ll Love It!

One day I was sitting on the bus, absorbed in a podcast as usual. I barely even noticed that the bus had stopped to let some people off. Then it started rolling again. Then from behind me a guy started yelling, “Hey! Wait! Stop!” I thought maybe he’d fallen asleep and almost missed his stop, or had just been so absorbed in something he was listening to he forgot where he wanted to get off. Then he ran to the front of the bus holding a small purse. The driver let him out and the guy yelled, “Hey ma’am!” He ran to a woman walking up the sidewalk and handed her the purse, then ran back to the bus and got back on.
“She does that all the time,” said the driver. “Most of the time I just keep it up here and give it to her when she gets back on.”
I laughed at how bus drivers get to know certain people, and also wondered how many purses that woman lost and if she’d memorized all her credit card numbers, and wondered if I’d chase someone down the street to return a purse, then went back to listening to my podcast.
I was reminded of that incident when I heard about a scientific study to find out whether people around the world would return a lost wallet if they found one. And the good news is they will. Some researchers were surprised by that, and even more surprising to them was that the larger the amount of money in the wallet–some wallets had no money, some had about $13 in local currency, and others had about $100–the more likely people were to return it with the money in it.
Is that really surprising, though? The fake wallets were made to look like they belonged to tourists, and a lot of us who’ve traveled can relate to the experience of losing something so vital as a wallet and money in a strange place. And a lot of locals want tourists to leave with a good impression of a place. What does it say about us though that anyone finds the results surprising? People have a tendency to live up to expectations. For instance most people expect me to be completely oblivious.

Feeling Cross.

When you press the page button for an elevator it lights up. At least that seems to be the case for every elevator I encounter now–I have ridden in a few that had a simple black button, but those were old, rickety elevators and you could tell they were coming because you could see the weights and chains moving through the wire cage of the elevator shaft, and you could hear the elevator groan, as though it were saying, “I’m cooooming…” One thing that hasn’t changed is that elevators seem to hang out on whatever the last floor was that they went to, which makes sense to me. I guess even elevators deserve an occasional break from going up and down all the time. What doesn’ make sense to me is when I’ve pressed the page button and it’s lit up and I’m standing there waiting and some schmuck walks up and presses it again. Maybe he–it’s always a he–thinks that’ll make the elevator arrive faster, or maybe he thinks I didn’t press it correctly the first time. Maybe he’s just angry with me for thinking he’s a schmuck, but I really didn’t think that until after he pressed the button.
Anyway I had a lot of time to think about this the other day when I was waiting for the light to change and the WALK sign to come on so I could cross the street. There was already a guy standing on the corner when I got there and I didn’t want him to think I was a schmuck so I didn’t push the walk signal button. It doesn’t light up when you push it but I assumed he’d already pushed it since he was standing on the corner and, I assumed, also waiting to cross the street. Also I just assume that regardless of whether I push the walk signal button the WALK signal is going to come on when the light changes and that the button is just there to give people waiting to cross the street something to do. Well, you know what they say: when you assume something you end up standing on the corner while the schmuck who was there when you arrived looks at his watch and starts walking up the street without crossing it. I could have run across the street in spite of the DON’T WALK sign–I’m not morally opposed to jaywalking and have in fact done it in multiple cities, states, and countries–but I also knew that if I got hit by a car the driver would be correct in saying he had the right of way. Also if there was a WALK sign and I got hit by a car the driver would still be correct in saying that because, let’s face it, the multi-ton wheeled hunk of metal always has the right of way over the hundred-and-forty pound sack of meat and bone regardless of what the law says. So I pressed the walk signal button and stood there through another round of light changes, wondering the whole time why the WALK sign doesn’t come on automatically. It’s not like it does anywhere so why does it get a break?

Woman In White.

All kinds of people ride the bus I thought as she got on. She wore a solid white long-sleeve ankle-length dress and leopard-print shoes. When she sat down I could see she was wearing aqua-colored jeans, and she carried three purses: one gold, one silver, and one fuschia, which matched the frames of her sunglasses. Her hair was blonde, almost white, and in shiny curls.
What’s your story? I wanted to ask. Not just her, really–like I said, all kinds of people ride the bus, and I really would like to know everyone’s story, but I’m too shy to ask and I also worry it would be intrusive and rude to go around to people and ask them to tell me about themselves. I want to know people’s stories but I don’t want to make anyone feel pressured or uncomfortable. It’s why I have a problem with tabloids and celebrity gossip. People who are in the “public eye” still have a right to privacy. Once when I was a kid I rode along in the backseat while my parents took a visiting family member on a tour of Nashville. We went by Johnny Cash’s house which was surrounded by a high fence. The fence, my parents explained, was put up after a reporter hid in the bushes one night and saw Cash walking around his home naked. That’s probably far from the craziest thing that ever happened at Johnny Cash’s house, but why the reporter felt compelled to share it or, for that matter, to hide out in Cash’s bushes in the first place, is still beyond me.
Anyway there was something about this woman, from her shoes to her sunglasses, that seemed to invite conversation–as though she had a story she wanted to share. This is Nashville, and even though the recording industry has spread out, even though Music Row is now listed as one of America’s most endangered landmarks, there’s a reason it’s still known as Music City–people still come here to record albums, or just hoping to be discovered. I know someone who decided to go to a local karaoke bar on a whim and regretted it, saying, “I was the only one who wasn’t there for my career.”
Maybe I was assuming too much, though. It’s not fair to judge a person by how they dress, and I’ve since seen two other women carrying multiple purses which makes me wonder if it’s a new fashion trend and also just how much stuff they could possibly be carrying, but that’s another story.
Several blocks later she got off the bus without saying a word to the driver. At the next stop a guy got on and took her seat. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, a dark button-down shirt. From our clothes alone, I thought, we could be twins, except he was tall and bald. And I sat there wondering, what’s this cat’s story?

TB or Not TB.

Sometimes when I’m watching TV I pay attention to the commercials and think about whether I’m the target audience. Sometimes I’m not—that is unless I happen to have a grandchild I don’t know about who also happens to have a rare and unpronounceable disease, all of which seems pretty unlikely, but, still, maybe there’s a reason I’m sitting up late watching reruns of Barney Miller. The Sixties were a crazy decade and a lot of stuff went on that I don’t remember, mostly because I wasn’t alive in the Sixties. Anyway I saw this ad on the bus and started wondering if I was the target audience:

Well, I’m pretty sure I am the target audience for the “Walk. Bike. Ride.” ad on the right since I do at least two of those things on a regular basis, maybe even three–this is a crazy decade and maybe I’m out there riding and don’t know it–but what’s with the ad for tuberculosis on the left? Well, specifically it’s an ad for tuberculosis prevention—if there’s a “Want tuberculosis? Call now for a free offer!” ad out there I’m pretty sure I’m not the target audience for it.

The ad is also a little unnerving. Didn’t tuberculosis go out with the Victorians and other dinosaurs? I thought these days the only consumption anybody worried about was the conspicuous type. And when I hear that some atrocious fashions are coming back I assume people mean bellbottoms and not coughing up blood, even if it was chic among the Pre-Raphaelites.

In all seriousness tuberculosis is a terrible disease and while the number of cases worldwide is decreasing about one-fourth of the world’s population is believed to be infected—a number that’s even higher in Carson McCullers novels—and if anything we should be doing everything we can to make it unfashionable.

When You’re A Stranger.

The other day the podcast I was listening to finished just as the bus arrived, so, instead of starting another, which I think is an unfriendly way of shutting out the strangers around me, I decided to read a book, which is a completely different unfriendly way of shutting out strangers. Then I overheard a woman with a baby in a stroller asking for directions and I realized she would be getting off at my stop. She’d have a bit of a hike getting to the store she was headed to, but I gave her directions. I felt bad for her too that she’d have to make the walk, pushing a stroller, along a sidewalk and across a large parking lot on such a hot, sunny day, although that was probably better than rain or cold or snow or fog or fish falling from the sky, which could happen.
Anyway when we got off the bus I pointed in the direction she wanted to go and even though we were both going the same direction part of the way I was prepared to walk by myself but she fell in step with me and started chattering away.
“Thank you so much for helping me. I’m a nanny and this is my first week with this family and they couldn’t let me have the car today so I had to take the bus.”
What kind of family hires a nanny but makes her use the bus? I thought. Then I yelled at myself for judging the family when I really don’t know what their circumstances are, that maybe for them a nanny is a necessity because they work very difficult jobs just to get by, and then a third voice added that it was a good thing I didn’t say anything bad about that family out loud because it might encourage her to say something negative about them which would be a terrible thing just in her first week. And even if she didn’t say anything negative I didn’t want to badmouth the family right there in front of their offspring. It also occurred to me that maybe she was being so talkative because she was nervous about sharing a sidewalk with strangers and, let’s face it, I’m a pretty strange guy, and also things were getting pretty crowded. With the voices on my head there were at least five of us on the sidewalk. So instead I just said, “Well, I hope things get better and good luck!” Or maybe that was one of the other voices talking.

Also not related to anything but something something another story, so this is for Memorial Day.

It’s All In The Timing.

Llama art buses. Click the picture to check ’em out.

If I’m late–I would say “running late” but if I were running I might not be late–and see the bus in the distance I take the advice of The 2,000 Year Old Man and never run for a bus. Unless it’s close and I think I can make it, which happened to me the other day. The bus was at the stop. The light was red. I was about five hundred feet away, and I always ran in the five-hundred yard dash when we had the end of year Field Day at school. Also I always came in third the one time there were only two other kids in the event, and five-hundred feet is a third of five-hundred yards, so I was feeling lucky. I was only feeling lucky, though. The bus drove off right as I got to the stop. I chased after it. I yelled and even hit the side of the bus, hoping to get the attention of the driver, or at least someone who might tell the driver to stop. It kept going and all I could do was stand there and seethe. On the bright side the bus that runs every fifteen minutes took more than half an hour to arrive.
What made this even more annoying is that the Nashville MTA bus schedule app no longer works. Well, it still works–it’s still available, and you can see what times the buses are supposed to arrive, but the part that tells you when a bus will arrive just says “N/A” which makes it a passive-aggressive app, but that’s another story.
Then just as it was approaching a young man crossed the street and stood next to me.
“Looks like I timed that perfectly,” he said.
I could have glared at him but, well, it’s not his fault.
The next day I was running ahead of schedule because I was running. I didn’t want to miss the bus again so I left a little early. Still I got to the stop just ahead of the bus, and when I got there that same guy was standing there waiting.
“Man, I’ve been waiting forever for the bus today!” he said.
I didn’t say anything. I was quietly appreciating my own perfect timing.

 

 

Office Space.

A few years ago my office IT department traded out my old standing computer and replaced it with a laptop. It’s been really great—among other things I can take it to meetings and actually get things done which doesn’t always happen in meetings, but that’s another story. And, I said to my boss, on nice days I could take it outside and sit in the grass and work.

She sighed. “Please don’t.”

She had a point: there’s still a lot to be said for the collaborative nature of the cubicled space we call “the office”, including the ability of coworkers to find me and ask me questions I may even be able to answer. That personal connection, being able to interact face to face and not just through whatever they’re calling video chatting now, is valuable. It’s why my position keeps me mostly bound to a desk in a specific place and so I can only stare out the window—although first I have to get up and cross the room because my cubicle doesn’t have windows, only Windows—and envy the people who are using parking spaces as makeshift offices.

Admittedly no one’s doing that in my area yet, but it’s an idea that’s caught on in San Francisco and now spread to France, and how it skipped over North America entirely is beyond me, although it may be that what those two places have in common is that office space is very expensive and parking spaces are cheap and people are really good at working out workarounds. Some are using free wifi provided by businesses—which makes perfect sense to me. Even though when I take a break from work and go outside I’m getting away from screens I know a few good places to stand if I want to borrow a free signal so I can look up something I really need to know at the moment, like the scientific name for the golden jellyfish found in a lake in Palau. Don’t judge me—I need obscure facts like the Mastigias papua needs algae.

Anyway using parking spaces as office spaces is a great idea; as some of the people who are doing it acknowledge it gives them easy access to delivery services, transportation—why leave the office to catch a bus when one’s going to stop right next to you?—and it creates a sense of community.

Of course I have a feeling someone’s going to want to use a parking space to, you know, park their car, and that’s probably going to lead to the connection of someone’s fist to someone else’s face.

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