Adventures In Busing.

Need A Lift?

busshoesWhen I see people walking along the road–especially busy roads where there’s no sidewalk and not even much of a shoulder–I feel guilty. I’ve walked along roads like that and it’s a miserable and even terrifying experience. Sometimes it’s an older guy I see stocking the shelves at the grocery store. He’s always friendly, always smiling, and I feel like I should stop and at least offer him a ride. It’s almost always in places where there’s just no place to stop, though, and because he’s walking on the right side I’m headed in the opposite direction.

Sometimes when I see people at a bus stop I’m tempted to pull over and offer them a lift, but what will they think? I could be some crazy guy. I could be a serial killer. Who in their right mind offers a complete stranger a ride? It’s sad, but that’s the world we live in. If nothing else I’d feel like I was rubbing my privileged status in their faces.

A few times while waiting for the bus or while walking to the stop I’ve had people pull over and offer to give me a ride. So what kind of person does that? Well, with one exception it was guys in pickup trucks, and it’s never happened since I got my hair cut. I used to have hair down to my shoulders, or past my shoulders at times. I got used to being mistaken for a woman, which never bothered me–sometimes I’ve even found it amusing. It irks, me, though, when I look back and think about why those guys were pulling over. Maybe I’m being unfair but I’m pretty sure they weren’t just interested in being nice. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t realize I was a guy.

The one exception is when my sister-in-law recognized me at a bus stop. She pulled over and offered me a ride. Ir was very nice of her, and I accepted because I’ve never seen any evidence that she’s a serial killer.

Update: here’s a shot of me back when I was sporting what a friend called “the Inigo Montoya look”.

inigo

horseboat

Enjoy The Ride.

nohands

Don’t try this at home. Or on the road.

I was unusually late in getting my driver’s license (which I’ve chronicled here and here and even here). At least I was late getting it for where I live. In New York or many parts of Europe it wouldn’t be that unusual to not have a driver’s license, but I live in an area where it’s hard to get around without driving–or, in some cases, impossible. Being able to take the bus home most days is a luxury I don’t take for granted–some of my co-workers are five miles or more from the nearest bus stop, and once on the bus I talked to a woman who had to change jobs because the city was eliminating a bus route.

I don’t take the luxury of driving for granted either. When I want to go to a place that buses don’t go to, or that they only go to very rarely on weekdays and never on weekends, or when I just want to go when I want to go without having to walk to the bus stop which, even where I live, is a pretty good hike. It’s because I can drive that I got a membership at the YMCA where I regularly go to swim. I love to swim. It’s liberating, it frees me from gravity, and under the water it’s just me and my thoughts.

And then one day I dropped off the car to have something worked on. There was a bus stop conveniently placed near the car repair place, so I took my gym bag. The same bus went right by a Y on the other side of town, and I found another kind of liberating experience. I didn’t have to drive. The fare was less than I would have spent on gas and parking. I was only bound by the bus schedule, but I had the luxury of time.

A Fistful of Coppers.

penniesA section of my Psychology 264 class was held off-campus. I hadn’t thought ahead to snag a ride with one of my fellow students who had a car, so I decided to take the bus. And then I had an even more brilliant idea.

Now when I ride the bus the drivers have an automated fare taker right next to their seat. I have a card and when I swipe it the phrase “Fare Satisfied” pops up, which always makes me feel good. Hey, I’ve been able to satisfy someone today. If I put in change the fare isn’t satisfied until I’ve put in the full amount. It takes a little longer, but as long as the fare is satisfied that’s all that matters.

In the old days when I first started riding the bus the technology wasn’t so advanced. The fare collector looked like a gumball machine.

A gumball machine that was not, unfortunately, imbued with the power to make hilarious comments. Source: MST3K Wiki

A gumball machine that was not, unfortunately, imbued with the power to make hilarious comments.
Source: MST3K Wiki

Drivers had to keep a close watch on the amount that passengers dropped in to make sure the fare was satisfied.

So, boarding the bus, I held out my fist and dropped a bunch of pennies into the fare collector.

The driver narrowed her eyes at me. Then she cracked up. “All right,” she said. “I have no way to tell but that looks like enough. Take a seat.” And the truth is I had carefully counted out exactly fifty-five pennies—the full amount. I think any shortages would have to be made up by the driver and I wasn’t going to do that.

Psychology 264 was Abnormal Psychology. The bus driver let me off right in front of a mental hospital. I still sometimes wonder if she knew I was a student or if she thought I was a patient.

Let’s Review!

As one who is both regularly a pedestrian and behind the wheel I’ve noticed a lot of confusion regarding the rules of the road. Here are some helpful tips, clarifications, addendums, codicils, hacks, inclusions, annexations, impositions, and aggregations.

walkPedestrians: when you see this sign it means you can safely cross the street.

Drivers: when you see this sign it’s usually accompanied by a red light. Drive on through and yell at the pedestrians to get out of your way.

 

 

 

 

dontwalkPedestrians: when you see this sign it means you need to dart quickly into traffic, dodging oncoming vehicles as best you can.

Drivers: when this sign is lit be sure to aim your car at pedestrians to see if they’ll get out of the way. This is all part of a fun game we call “thinning the herd”.

 

 

 

 

018This is where pedestrians are generally known to cross, but, like a deer crossing, pedestrians might cross the street anywhere or at any time.

Drivers: be sure to keep some rope or bungee cords in your trunk so you can take home any pedestrians you happen to hit. They’re good eating, and that guy in the suit who was talking on his cell phone is going to look great stuffed and mounted in the corner of your den.

 

 

002In the United States this is called a crosswalk. In Britain it’s called a zebra crossing because of the large number of zebras who emigrated from South Africa. In Canada it’s called an oh, do you mind if I cross the street here, eh? In Australia it’s called a wakka-wakka-burra-burra.

When you see this sign it means this is a place where pedestrians who are already in the process of crossing have the right of way. If pedestrians are on the sidewalk drivers need to come to a halt, give that condescending two fingered wave, and then slowly inch forward. Drivers also get bonus points for blowing their horn at pedestrians in the middle of crossing.

 

 

 

I hope this makes everything perfectly clear for everyone except bicyclists and motorcycle riders who insist on coming up behind me on the sidewalk.

A Simple Plan.

The trip seems so much shorter now. Source: Google Maps.

The trip seems so much shorter now.
Source: Google Maps.

The Greyhound bus left Nashville at 10 PM and would arrive in Evansville at little after 2 AM. By car the trip would take just under two hours, but the bus took a more scenic route and had stops in northern Tennessee and Kentucky. I’d made the trip before and had the routine down: I’d disembark, go to the ATM in the front of the bank, get five bucks, go to a pay phone, and call a taxi. The trip from downtown back to my dormitory was always exactly five dollars. Evansville’s a small town, and, I’m sorry to say, I was a naïve college student who didn’t think about tipping.

I’d done this at least half a dozen times. It had become so routine I took it for granted that nothing could go wrong.

2:07am: The ATM is located in a closet-sized atrium behind glass doors. And for some reason some thoughtless bank employee has decided on this particular occasion they need to be locked.

It’s early February. It’s freezing. I’m wearing my trench coat and fedora which do surprisingly little to keep out the cold. I think I look like Humphrey Bogart. I probably look more like Mickey Rooney. It occurs to me how much warmer it must be in Casablanca, even at night at this time of year.

There must be other ATMs around. A friend of mine had once walked from the campus to the riverfront, and not only did it take him a few hours it also took him through some of the most dangerous parts of town. Being a naïve college student had protected him, but I don’t want to press my luck. And I’m too exhausted to hoof it. I never could sleep on the bus so I’d done my Latin homework. I’m not going to let being stranded downtown prevent me from handing that in.

2:33am: I find a different bank with an ATM of its own. I’m willing to pay the $1 surcharge for withdrawing off-brand, but the doors are locked.

2:57am: I find a stand-alone ATM. Out of service.

3:11am: I’m strolling along the riverfront near the Four Freedoms monument wondering what to do. A cop car pulls up alongside me. The cops ask to see my ID. I politely hand over my student ID and explain my problem. I’m nervous. The riverfront seems deserted but is a notorious spot for men seeking discreet encounters. The cops seem to believe me.

“Well,” one of them says. “Keep looking. You might find an ATM around here somewhere.”

They drive off. Thanks for not arresting me guys.

3:27am: I return to the Greyhound station with a vague plan of begging a taxi driver, or someone, for a ride. The only person in the station who doesn’t work there is a bearded man sleeping in one of the chairs.

3:53am: I’m now well acquainted with all the banks—all three of them—within close walking distance of the Greyhound station. I wonder why they’ve all adopted a policy of making their ATMs inaccessible after hours.

4:10am: Back at the Greyhound station. I have one quarter. Like a person under arrest I can only make one call. I dial. The phone rings. And rings. And rings. My friend Sandra answers. The whole story spills out of me. She says, “Chris is stuck downtown.” In the background I hear her roommate Kate. “He’d better be. If this is one of his jokes I’m gonna kill him.”

4:27am: Sandra’s Pontiac pulls into the Greyhound station parking lot. She grins and tosses me a blanket as I climb in. She’s got the heater cranked up as high as it’ll go. “Thanks,” I said, my teeth chattering.

8:12am: After a few hours of sleep I stumble into Latin class late. And that’s when I realize I left my homework back in my room.

UPDATE: The friend who walked downtown has informed me he thinks it only took him a little over an hour, but he was carrying a bookbag with a six-pack of beer and at least four bottles of alcoholic beverages. Maybe if I’d been carrying that I could have traded some of it for a ride.

Evansville's Four Freedoms Monument. Not much has changed since I was last there. Source: Google Maps

Evansville’s Four Freedoms Monument. Not much has changed since I was last there.
Source: Google Maps

 

The Egg And I.

Sometimes my walk home from the bus takes me by a large stand of bamboo. I’ve heard that people often regret planting bamboo because of how quickly it takes over. In this particular yard it hadn’t just taken over. It had formed a massive wall that completely blocked the yard, the house, and formed a dark tunnel around the driveway. Sometimes in the early mornings if I walk by there when it’s still dark I can hear the bamboo rustle with birds waking up.

In a grassy patch in front of the bamboo I found an egg. Why there was an egg there is still a mystery. It was too big to be a wild bird egg, with the possible exception of an eagle and then it was too small. It was white and the size of a regular chicken’s egg you’d buy in the store, but it was also flecked with little pieces of what could have been dried grass. It was also strangely heavy for its size, and didn’t feel quite like a regular egg. I picked it up and turned it all around, not sure what to make of it or what to do with it. Finally I tossed it onto the road, thinking it would bounce or just roll.

It broke. Yellowish yolk and clear fluid leaked out onto the road.

001

Here’s photographic evidence even though it should be unnecessary. How could I make up something this weird?

Just then a car came out of the driveway. Oh great, I thought, now I’m going to have to explain to whoever lives behind the bamboo why I’m breaking eggs on the street. And the honest explanation sounded too ridiculous to be plausible. Or maybe, I hoped, it would sound so ridiculous they’d realize it had to be true.

A bearded guy with glasses poked his head out of the driver’s side window. “Hey, feel free to take some of that bamboo with you!” he said then drove off.

I was glad he left in such a hurry or I might have asked how many eggs his bamboo laid in a week.

Black Hole Sun.

hydra It had been a shitty day. I wish I had a better word to describe it because shit can become fertilizer whereas it seemed like everything I’d dealt with that day was just destructive, like a black hole. Everything I’d dealt with just seemed to pull in everything good and bright out of the universe and pulverize it, but it just doesn’t have the same impact if you tell people you’re having a black holey day. Finally it was time for me to head home. Actually it was a little past time for me to head home.

When I got to the corner I could see the bus coming. I was on the wrong side of the intersection. The light was green. I have no qualms about crossing against the light when I have no chance of being hit, but the road was a river of cars speeding by. I waved to the driver, certain I wouldn’t be seen. Half a dozen times or so I’ve had bus drivers go right by when I was clearly waiting at a stop. A couple of times I’ve been able to see their eyes as they go by, focused solely on the road ahead, blissfully unaware of anyone waiting for a ride. Other times I’ve been able to see the driver turned halfway around in the seat, talking to someone standing behind them.

It started to rain.

I knew I was going to miss the bus that was coming, but I also knew that if I went back to my office to get my umbrella I would miss the next bus too. I didn’t want to be stuck standing in the rain for at least half an hour even with an umbrella.

The light was still green.

Then a miracle happened. The driver stopped at the stop across the street. The light turned yellow, then red. The WALK sign flashed and I hurried across the street. Panting I climbed into the bus.

“I saw ya, man, ya didn’t need to run!” the driver said. And just like that it was a good day, even if I did still have to walk a couple of blocks home in the rain.

 

 

You’re Not From Around Here, Are You?

Tourists don’t ride the bus. Well, I do, but I’m not like other tourists.

I find things the locals don't know about.

I find things the locals don’t know about.

So it was wonderful to me when a few people, a husband and wife, I think, and their son asked me for directions. And there was no mistaking that accent. They were Australians. Or from New Zealand. I’ve heard those are actually two different countries. The important thing is they were from two hemispheres away.

“Could you tell us which bus we need to get to the Parthenon?” the woman asked.

I nearly fell over my own tongue starting to answer. The Parthenon is the centerpiece of Centennial Park which, for years, was the site of the largest Australia celebration outside of Australia. This was a fun annual event in September attended by the likes of the Australian ambassador to the U.S. and Colin Hay. I loved being around bona fide Aussies, hearing them drop terms like “g’day” and “dinky-di” so casually I could almost believe those were real words. There would be a tent where they sold food and beer, except they called it “tucker” and “ice cold tubes of the amber fluid”.

This should be real.

I could have used this.

It was also the only place I could find Vegemite. I’m not kidding. I love the stuff, but that’s another story.

The festival ended several years ago when the original organizers moved away, and I wasn’t sure whether this family was even aware of it since this was early June. We were near downtown, but fortunately standing on West End, a large road that leads directly to Centennial Park. I told them all they had to do was catch the next bus. I could just as easily have said, “Follow me,” since I was going the same way, but I was struck by a sudden and overwhelming shyness. There were so many things I wanted to ask. What brings you here? Are you having a nice time? Can I help in any way? What part of Australia are you from? Where in Australia is Wellington? Do you have any Vegemite? Don’t you love that song about the bunyip of Hooligan’s Creek? Instead I just smiled politely.

“Is the Parthenon easy to find?” the woman asked.

“Oh, yes, very easy. There are two or three stops along the front of Centennial Park, and you’ll see the Parthenon as you go by.”

007

The fence for some stupid construction project wasn’t up at the time.

I gulped and hoped that made sense. When the bus arrived we boarded. I made my way to the back while they sat close to the front, watching out the windows and checking a map. I desperately wanted to call in to work and say a couple of dingoes had got me and I’d be waltzing Matilda on walkabout, and maybe throw in a “crikey”. Instead as I disembarked I merely smiled and said to them, “I hope you enjoy the Parthenon. It’s just a few blocks away from here.”

Australian for "sex in a canoe".

Australian for “sex in a canoe”.

The Driver’s Seat.

002Have you ever wondered what bus drivers need to do when they need to grab a bite to eat, or nature calls? They do what you and I do: they keep a mayonnaise jar stashed under the seat and…er, I mean they pull over and stop somewhere.

For a short time I was stuck daily with a driver who insisted on stopping at a McDonald’s on the route. This was in spite of the fact that she was always running late. She blamed the previous driver for this, but it never seemed to be a problem on days when someone else was driving. Maybe it really was the previous driver who’d held her up, but the substitutes didn’t spend most of the trip turned halfway around in the seat talking to someone standing behind them.

One day she was ridiculously late, but that didn’t stop her from stopping at McDonald’s. Somebody at the back yelled, “Hey, I’m late for my job! Can you skip that today?” She turned around, looked at them, then slowly got off the bus. While she was still in McDonald’s another bus went by us. I watched it longingly, unable to savor the irony that I’d have been home sooner if I’d taken a later bus. I even thought about jumping into the driver’s seat myself. Somebody else, I thought, needed to drive this bus.

Apparently I’m not the only one who thought so. The next week we had a different driver.

Don’t Talk To The Driver.

I have no idea who's responsible for this, but I love it.

I have no idea who’s responsible for this, but I love it.

“You were supposed to turn back there.”

“No sir, you’re thinking of the number thirteen route.”

I was standing quietly at the front of the bus waiting to swipe my fare card, but I couldn’t because a guy had come up to the front and was arguing with the driver. It wouldn’t have bothered me but the light had turned green and cars were now speeding around us.

“Well what am I supposed to do?”

“You can get off here and you can walk two blocks over that way and catch the thirteen.”

“But I paid. Can you give me a transfer card?”

“No sir, we don’t have those anymore.”

When I started riding the bus you could pay your fare and get a transfer to ride another bus for an extra ten cents, but they stopped offering those fifteen years ago. Where had this guy been?

“If you go catch another bus and tell the driver you got the wrong bus they might let you on without paying.”

“Maybe I should give ’em your name. What’s your name?”

“Just say you were on bus number 701.”

The guy wasn’t happy about this. He was pretty insistent he wanted the driver’s name, but he finally got off the bus so we could get underway.

It’s one thing to be held up in traffic because there’s just a lot of traffic. It’s another to be held up because some jackass doesn’t know what he’s doing.

fireman

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