Adventures In Busing.

Poetry In Motion: Week 4.

buspoem

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.

buspoem3

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.

buspoem1

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.

hand

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.

Dances With Dogs.

dogsMany of us have daily routines, but something I only realized recently is how often our routines are shaped by things we don’t control. I like to think I set my own routine but circumstances help shape it. This occurred to me when my afternoon walk home from the bus stop changed. Every day for years I walked by a neighbor’s house that had a fenced front yard. And every day two dogs would come running up to the fence. They had their names stitched on their collars in bold letters so I knew they were called Major and Minnie. Major was a gray and white mix of, well, who knows, but at least part Boxer judging from his broad head and muzzle which I think makes Boxers look very thoughtful and distinguished. And Minnie was at least part Labrador retriever, but she was small and leggy with a splotch of white on her chest. I’d say hello as I went by. Major would whine at me and Minnie would bark and jump on him, clearly saying, “Play with ME!”

One day I walked up to the fence and they both stood up on their hind legs and wagged their tails. I didn’t put my hand through the fence—never, ever do that, kids—but I did put it up flat against the fence and let them sniff it. This made them happy although I’m not sure why.

A few years later a For Sale sign went up in the yard in front of the fence. I didn’t really think about it until the house was sold and one day as I went by Major and Minnie weren’t there. Then the new owners tore down the fence, and that’s when I realized that not only were my canine friends gone but there wouldn’t be any others to take their place. They weren’t my dogs and I only saw them for a few minutes a few days a week but they were part of my routine—a part I looked forward to. I missed them.

And then as I was passing another house I heard barking from the fenced in backyard. He’s some kind of Terrier mix and I have no idea what his name is, and I’m not going to cross someone’s yard to get close enough to let him sniff my hand, but we say hello to each other. We’ve become part of each others’ new daily routine.

All Together Now.

Source: Encyclopedia Spongebobia

It was cold and windy. There was a light drizzle coming down mixed with sleet. My feet hurt and I’d been stuck in a late afternoon meeting in a building several blocks away from my office so my walk to the bus stop was even farther than usual. And I’d missed my regular bus by more than an hour. I didn’t have a schedule with me and experience has taught me schedules are unreliable anyway. Also I really couldn’t gauge how long the trek to my regular stop was going to be. It’s a rule of buses that even if you miss one another will be along eventually, but I wondered how long “eventually” would be. I really didn’t want to stand around on the sidewalk waiting for forty minutes to an hour but I really didn’t have a choice.

Then, still several blocks away from my bus stop, as I was waiting to cross the street I looked over and noticed half a dozen people huddled in a bus shelter. And it occurred to me that even though the bus they were waiting for would take me in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go it would, in about a dozen blocks, intersect with my bus’s route. It would be a short reprieve from the weather and there was still no knowing how long I’d be standing around but this bus could deposit me right at a stop where I could catch my bus.

The traffic light turned yellow. I didn’t have much time to decide. Would I or wouldn’t I?

I did. I shuffled over and joined the people in the shelter.

Now here’s the question for you: how did the people influence my decision?

End Of The Line.

hospitalSometimes when I’m the last person on the bus I pretend it’s one of those party buses, but a really cheap one so it doesn’t have flashing lights or a minibar or a disco dance floor or a hot tub or a bathroom or a kitchen with a celebrity chef or wifi or an espresso machine or a fireplace or a tape dispenser or a gym or a library or a holographic chimpanzee or a carpentry class or a hedge maze or a miniature boxing ring with brown recluse spiders going at it or a racetrack. I’ve never been on one of those party buses so I don’t really know what’s on them in case you couldn’t tell. Anyway I sometimes get distracted by my own thoughts or a podcast I’m listening to so I zone out and don’t pay attention to where the bus is. My stop is the last one before a long stretch of interstate entry and exit ramps where there are no stops. There’s no place for the bus to stop. If I forget to pull the stop cord in time I might as well ride the bus all the way to the end of the line and circle back.

And that happened to me once. I’m proud—maybe a little too proud—to say it only happened once, although it’s not really a big deal. I felt like a schmuck and tried to pay a second fare but the driver just laughed and told me to sit back down.

When we arrived at the end of the line—the parking lot of a large shopping center—I sat back and thought about what being at the end of the line meant. Have you ever seen a mile marker to the next town and wondered where exactly the boundary is and where does town really begin? I’ve heard the phrase “the edge of town” in so many stories. It’s always a place where shady things happen so I picture it as dark and lonely place, even if the events occur in the middle of the day. The point where the shopping center is was once a Native American burial ground, and even before the shopping center came along must have been on the outskirts of town. Urban sprawl has pushed the outskirts farther out. I wonder whether the town boundaries have been redrawn to keep up or if the road signs still mark the same number of miles from one town to the next.

The bus started up again snapping me out of my reverie. I didn’t want to miss my stop a second time.

Snow Route.

snowrouteIt started snowing before I left the office. Instead of individual flakes big clumps of snow were falling and waves of snow blew across the street like sand on the beach. That always means sooner or later the roads will be covered. I walked to the bus stop at the top of the hill where I can see half a mile or more down the street—at least when the weather is clear. There was no sign of the big green and red LED route number and name in the distance so I started walking. Snow was already piling up on the streets, and the sidewalk. I thought by walking toward town, toward the bus depot, I’d get closer to the bus and that way get out of the snow sooner. I reached the bottom of the hill and walked more blocks until I got to the overpass. Sometimes—at least when the weather is clear—I’ll cross the overpass, although it makes me nervous to have cars zipping by on my right and only a short concrete wall between me and a twenty-foot drop on my left. Since bridges and overpasses freeze sooner than roads I stopped, turned, and went back to the nearest bus stop. Still no sign of the bus so I then walked to the next bus stop, away from the depot now, but at least moving was a way to keep me warm. Cars were crawling by and I knew I’d be able to flag down the bus when it came.

Then my phone rang. It was my wife. “I think you’d better ride home with me.”

I started trudging toward her office. We’d walk to her parking garage and ride home together.

The bus never did come.

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