Adventures In Busing.

Don’t Just Phone It In.

customerserviceI know people who will scream for customer service, ask to speak to a manager, or demand a refund at the drop of a hat. The slightest thing sets them off an angry tirade. I don’t know if I can say I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum but I let a lot of things slide, mainly because they just don’t bother me enough to deserve the time and energy it would take to get angry. There are things that set me off like a firecracker in a furnace, like stupid unnecessary computer “upgrades” that are really just cosmetic changes because some developer has too much time on his hands, but on the whole I don’t have a lot of pet peeves. They require a lot of care and feeding and shed too much.

So generally I don’t bother reporting things to customer service, but once in a while I have to say something.

The bus driver kept stopping at random places. Technically you can flag down a bus at any intersection along the route, and while drivers are only supposed to stop and let people off at approved stops sometimes they’ll let somebody off at an intersection or even between intersections. It’s not a big deal. This driver, though, stopped between intersections when nobody needed to get off or on and he’d pull out his cell phone and fiddle around with it.

Technically bus drivers are not supposed to use their cell phones while driving. There’s even a metal box that blocks signals at the front of the bus where the drivers are supposed to store their phones while driving. If a bus driver preferred to keep their phone in their pocket and didn’t text or play Candy Crush while driving I’d say it was no big deal, but I wanted to get home and this guy stopped three times over the course of eight blocks. Still I didn’t say anything. Then someone else did.

“He needs to get this bus moving!” a guy in a seat across from me said very loudly. Several other people agreed. That’s when the driver turned around and said, “There’s another bus behind me that y’all need to take.”

I can’t speak for anyone else but this is where I gave the driver a little benefit of the doubt. Maybe he kept stopping because there was something wrong with the bus. I wondered why he was using his cell phone instead of the bus radio but maybe he was using Google to look up what it meant when the little oil light on the dashboard lit up. Anyway we all got out. As soon as we did he took off, going from zero to something probably exceeding the speed limit in nine and a half milliseconds.

The next bus came along just a minute later and I probably got home at about the same time I would have if I’d stayed with Mr. McStops-A-Lot, but it was the principle of the matter. I sent a message to customer service and got a nice automated reply assuring me a human being would follow up within seven business days.

A month later when I got the same driver again I was reminded of the other reason I don’t bother with customer service.

Did You Notice This?

runnerThis may surprise some people who know me well but I can be incredibly unobtrusive. I can slip into places completely unnoticed, probably because I’m unusually average: average build, average looks, average height. Actually I seem to be slightly below average height because I look up to most people, but maybe that’s why I can sometimes sit in a group and everyone will forget I’m there until I speak up. Or sometimes they won’t even notice when I speak up. Apart from the time I wandered into the Cleveland Botanical Garden and had a really great time looking around even though it was still under construction (I was there in 2000, it didn’t open to the public until 2003) I’ve never really taken advantage of this skill, although it’s a power I’d only want to use for good, never evil. I wouldn’t rob a bank or anything like that, especially since I wouldn’t be able to resist making a joke about how so many financial transactions are virtual now that robbing banks is pointless now.

Police officer: Can you describe him?

Bank teller: Yes, he was average build, average looks, a little less than average height.

Police officer: And what did he do?

Bank teller: Well, he came in and said this was a robbery. He handed me a bag and told me to fill it with Bitcoin then he started laughing and ran out.

I probably shouldn’t be joking about that. Once when I was a kid a friend and I went to the bank with his mother and while we were waiting for her to take care of her finances I joked about writing “THIS IS A ROBBERY” on the back of one of the withdrawal slips and sticking it back in the stack and got a stern lecture from a security guard about how that was not even a little bit funny. I was kind of glad he noticed me, but that’s another story.

Anyway every once in a while I’ve gotten to the far side of the intersection where I catch the bus and seen the bus coming. And I’ve gotten there when it’s still safe to cross but the lights can change in an instance so I run to make sure I get to the stop. This might happen once or twice a month, but the weird thing is it’s always been the same driver. The only times I’ve ever seen her are when I’ve run to catch the bus—until recently.

The other day I made it to the stop early and this particular driver drove up. I got on and was swiping my card—even bus fares are electronic now—and she clapped and said, “Yay! You didn’t have to run!”

We both laughed and then I thought how weird it was that she remembered me. Some bus drivers have driven right by without even realizing I was there.

Universal Transit Authority.

solarsystem1I remember it like it was more than thirty years ago. I was in sixth grade and on the bus and a friend of mine told me that very day all nine planets (at the time we still recognized Mr. Tombaugh’s discovery Pluto as a planet) were in alignment. It was staggering. I looked around wondering why everyone was so oblivious to such a monumental interplanetary event. The major bodies of our solar system were getting together and who, other than astronomers, knew when that would happen again? This should be a day set aside for recognition of universal harmony and hope for peace. At the very least we should get out of school, and not just because I had a math test that day.

I have absolutely no idea where my friend was getting his information, especially since a little bit of research shows the last time such a planetary alignment occurred was 561 BC and the next time it’ll happen will be some time during 2854 AD. I’ve made a note of it in my calendar, although I’m very bad at planning ahead so I may be somewhere else on that day.

Anyway today, May 9th, 2016, an unusual celestial event really is occurring: Mercury passing between Earth and the sun. It will last seven hours and be visible to most of the planet except the quadrant of the southern hemisphere that includes everything from a part of eastern Asia down through Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia and New Zealand. Sorry y’all.

Mercury’s year is less than three of our months—at least as long as long as two of those months are September, April, June, or November and the third is February and it’s not a leap year. This is why to Earthbound observers it sometimes looks like it’s going backward, and people thought that’s what it was doing back when they thought the Earth was the center of the universe. So Mercury is never really in retrograde and we don’t need to destroy it. Because of its small size and proximity to the sun Mercury is usually hard to spot as it stays close to the horizon but lately it’s been rising higher in the constellation Aries, although it’s still hard to spot unless it’s performing one of its transits—and there are only about thirteen every century.

In 1609 the German astronomer Johannes Kepler determined the correct orbits of the seven visible planets—William Herschel wouldn’t inspire a million jokes with his discovery of Uranus until 172 years later—and realized he’d be able to see Mercury pass in front of the Sun on November 7, 1631. Unfortunately he died in 1630—some things you just can’t plan for—but other astronomers used Kepler’s calculations and were able to observe it. At least some things in life, or at least the universe, are predictable.

In The Event Of An Emergency, Please Call…

"Sarah, can you get me Mount Pilot?"

“Sarah, can you get me Mount Pilot?”

Sitting in the back of the bus has its advantages. I could see the guy coming from almost the front, stopping to say something to every person he passed. As he got closer I could hear what he was saying: “Can I use your phone?”

Please, I thought, please let someone before me say yes. If he got to me I’d feel awkward because there was no one behind me and while I didn’t recognize the guy there was a chance he’d become a regular rider. If I saw him every day, or even a few times a week, there’d be the same awkwardness and I’d have trouble explaining to my wife that we had to move so I could start taking a different bus route.

And then someone right in front of me said, “Sure” and handed the guy their phone. Lucky break. But, I thought, if he’d gotten to me I would have lent him my phone. If I didn’t have a phone and needed to make a quick call to someone I’d hope for a kind stranger, and let me emphasize I’d make the call as quick as possible.

The guy dialed and sat down.

“Hey, is Gary there? He’s not? Is this Bianca? Hey, how are you doing? Yeah, I’ve been at the public library all day. Let me tell you what I read…”

The guy had been reading some really interesting stuff at the library, and it sounded like Bianca had some lengthy opinions of her own about it.

“Is Dave around? Oh, yeah, let me talk to him.”

Dave had a surprising amount to say.

“That’s great. Thanks Dave! Put Bianca back on.”

I listened with eager anticipation wondering if Gary would arrive in the midst of this conversation.

“Well listen, I’ve enjoyed talking to y’all but my bus stop is coming up. Yeah, I’ve gotta get going. Tell Gary I called if he comes in.”

The total conversation clocked in at over fourteen minutes. I wonder what would have happened if the person who lent their phone had wanted to get off before the guy got to his stop. Or, for that matter, how Gary was supposed to call someone who didn’t have his own phone.

If someone ever asks to borrow my phone I’ll only let them on the condition that Gary is there to answer.

Poetry In Motion: Week 4.


The act of writing a poem, or painting a picture or composing a song or making a sculpture, always seems to me an act of hope. Art is inherently optimistic that there will be a future, but also draws on the past. And what’s to come, if history is any guide, will be scary, difficult, and unpredictable.

With all that in mind I thought this poem by Lemuel Robertson would be the perfect one to finish National Poetry Month. Like his namesake he ventures out among Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians, Yahoos and Houyhnhms.

Unlike his namesake his travels haven’t diminished his optimism.

Poetry In Motion: Week Two.

This week I’m featuring another bus poem. You can check out week one here, or read all the 2015 poems that are still on the walls of various Nashville buses here. It’s interesting to me that all the poems chosen were written by minors. When I was a kid I never rode the city buses–only the yellow school buses. I lived in a suburban neighborhood although there was a major street nearby that a city bus traveled along. There was a high school teacher in my neighborhood who sometimes rode the bus.

He taught at Overton, the school I went to, so he had quite a hike to and from the bus stop. It would have been easier for him if he’d taught at Hume Fogg, right in the heart of downtown. I’ve met a few students on the bus. Some even lived where I live now and we’d occasionally talk a little as we both walked home.


Poetry In Motion: Week One.

April is the cruelest month. It’s also National Poetry Month. Joseph Brodsky, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1991-1992, started a program of public poetry so people could “kill time as time kills them” by having something to read.

Although he wasn’t directly involved the  Poetry In Motion program started in 1992. It began appearing on Nashville buses in 2012 with selections from local poets. I wish there were more–I’ve seen all of 2015’s selections now. This month I’ll share some of them to kill some time.


This Happens Far Too Often.

pedestriansDear Driver,

First of all let me say how impressed I am that you could hold your cell phone with one hand, give me the finger with the other, and still manage to keep driving your SUV. Since you didn’t stop even though I was able to pound my fist on your window I wasn’t able to offer some helpful advice, but I’ll give it to you here.

First, if the WALK sign at an intersection is lit that means pedestrians have the right of way. Even if the light is green you, the driver, are still obligated to wait for pedestrians to cross before you make your left turn. Following this advice will allow you to avoid coming within less than an inch of running over someone’s foot or, for that matter, running over someone.

Second, in this state at least there’s no such thing as turning left at a red light without stopping. Heck, even if you’re turning right at a red light you’re supposed to stop first. This is pretty basic information that’s known even to most non-drivers. Based on the way your passenger was putting her hands over her face I’m pretty sure she knew and might have even tried to tell you that red lights apply to you just as much as everyone else.

As a side note I’d like to mention that in the event of an accident there’s a good chance you and your passengers could both be harmed. I know that seems shocking but you might want to think about your own safety even if you don’t care about anyone else’s.

Finally I think you should learn to drive. Obviously you were able to buy a car without a license but just because you could doesn’t mean it was a good idea.

And, hey, right back at ya.


In The Dark.

darkbusAlthough the change to Daylight Savings Time is a couple of weeks behind us it still means I have a few more weeks of getting up in the dark, which makes me think that maybe instead of changing the clocks twice a year we should make it something like Groundhog Day, except tied to birds or squirrels or aardvarks. If they sing before dawn or lose their nuts or dig up an anthill before dawn on a certain day we’ll have six weeks of getting up an hour earlier and if they don’t—and let’s make it something really unlikely to happen—then we can all sleep late for six weeks. I’m kind of worried about this, though, because the whole joke hinges on a holiday from more than a month ago so I should have come up with all this then. Maybe I can pull it back out next year when everybody’s forgotten this, including me, which means I won’t remember to pull it out until the middle of next March.

Anyway getting up in the dark also means sometimes getting going so early I have to catch the bus in the dark, which I’ve done a few times. And it always amazes me that even when I’m at an unlit bus stop far from the nearest streetlight and also dressed like a ninja bus drivers still see me and stop. How they spot me is a mystery, although those headlights probably help. I’ve never had a bus driver fail to stop in the dark. I have had some zip right by me in broad daylight, though. I must be hard to spot when I’m not dressed like a ninja.

Hey, Happy Birthday Carrott!

On my first trip to Britain I flew British Air. A lot’s probably changed since then but the amenities were unbelievable, even compared to other airlines at the time. The seats were comfortable, alcohol was free, and it was impossible to sleep because every ten seconds somebody was coming by to offer me tea and biscuits. And the crazy thing is this was regular coach. What did people in first class get? Four star meals? Individual hot tubs? Massages? I’m not sure I want to know. It’s even more incredible to look back on it now when airlines nickel and dime passengers in a dozen different ways—although I guess British Airways shillings and bobs them, but that’s another story—and are looking for ways to pack in even more passengers.

Anyway the most surprising feature was the airline radio. If you’re of a certain age you may remember that some airlines had a headphone jack in the armrest and you could tune it to a small number of stations: easy listening, contemporary jazz, light rock, death-techno-thrash-metal, and, of course, an endless loop of babies crying. I remember some airlines made you pay for the headphones. I’m pretty sure British Air would have given them away for free but since this was the early ‘90’s and I was a college student I had a Walkman and my own headphones. To save the battery and to enjoy the soothing sounds of sobbing toddlers I plugged them into the armrest and discovered that in addition to the music stations British Air had a comedy selection. The whole thing ran about an hour and was composed of short bits from various comics, most of whom I knew. And then this guy started talking about a mole problem. If the seats hadn’t been so wide and comfortable—I swear I’m not being paid by British Air which is probably bankrupt now for being so nice anyway—I’m sure I would have disturbed everybody around me because I was laughing so hard.

The comedian was Jasper Carrott, whose birthday is today. My British friends were pleased and a little surprised that I liked Carrott so much and the local video store provided several of his performances, including American Carrott. He’d been to America. I wonder what his flight was like.

Here’s the mole story.

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