Adventures In Busing.

Window Seat.

I like the window seat. In fact I prefer the window seat, even on airplanes, in spite of the possibility that on a long flight I might need to go the bathroom and potentially inconvenience the person sitting next to me, but that’s never happened. Maybe if I flew first class where they give you unlimited beverages and fresh fruit and play soothing waterfall sounds it would be a problem, but I usually fly steerage where the one ersatz soft drink and package of salty pretzels has never been enough to even wake up my bladder. The only time I’ve ever had a problem with my seat on an airplane is when we flew over the Grand Canyon and the captain tilted the plane so everyone on the left side could get a good look. I was on the right side and all I got a good look at was clouds and sky and tried to ask him if he could circle back around, but that’s another story.

On the bus I like the window seat too, but it bugs me that most buses are now covered with advertisements. Sure, they’re perforated so I can see through, and if I wanted to stick my tongue out or make other rude gestures at drivers going by they probably couldn’t see me. The seats on the bus sit higher than most cars so I get to look down on people in their cars and think, “Playing Words With Friends, eh? Did you notice the light changed?” And I like to watch the neighborhoods and businesses roll by. Things are always changing and it’s fun to see a new business or building going in or sad to see an old one go.

Still I get it that in order for public transportation to continue serving the public it has to be profitable and that fares–currently $1.75 per person–don’t come close to covering even fuel. So buses get to be moving billboards, mostly advertising lawyers which sometimes makes me wonder if I could sue for an unobstructed view. I’d probably have better luck against the airline for depriving me of a view of the Grand Canyon.

This post brought to you by DuBrow’s Hard Gravy. Celebrate summer responsibly by pouring it over fruit or your other favorite foods. Or drink it straight from the can. As long as you don’t sue us we don’t care.

 

Waiting To Go.

Even when I drive to work I have a pretty good hike to where my office is because my wife and I both work for the same major university, but we work on opposite sides and park in the lot nearest her office. And we have a parking sticker that only allows us to park in that one lot without being ticketed, towed, or getting one of those big metal boot things stuck on one of the wheels, which I have seen happen and I hope it doesn’t make me a terrible person that I’ve laughed and said, “That’ll teach you to park on the sidewalk, schmuck!” but that’s another story.

So my wife had the day off and I was flying, or rather walking and driving, solo. When I came out of the building where I work there was a bus parked right across the street, and this bus, I knew, would take me by the lot where I’d left the car.

It was also starting to rain. Who am I to turn down such convenience when it offers itself? I climbed on board, took a seat, got back up and swiped my bus pass which is a step most drivers won’t let you skip, then took a completely different seat just for a change of view because I was the only person on the bus. And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It was a Friday afternoon and I was eager to get home.

Maybe it was because I was the sole passenger, but this has happened before. There have been many times when I’ve been on a bus and the driver has pulled over and stopped for what feels like an hour but has been, according to the clock, a staggeringly long five or six minutes. I can’t explain why but I’ve never asked the driver why we’ve stopped. There was one time that I sat behind a guy who whipped out his phone, called customer service, and demanded to know why we weren’t going forward. Why he was asking someone in a call center at least ten miles away when the driver who knew why we weren’t going forward was just a few feet away is something I can’t explain and I doubt he could either. I’ve never asked because I assume the drivers know what they’re doing. I assume they’ve gotten a few minutes ahead of schedule and are stopping out of courtesy to the people at stops up ahead who expect the bus to arrive at or even after a specific time, not before it. And at least the bus drivers aren’t blocking traffic, unlike a jerk UPS driver who used to park his delivery van in the vicinity of my building. There’s an alley that’s slightly bigger than a single vehicle and he liked to park in the middle of it and sit there. The one time I overheard someone ask him if he could move he replied, “Figure out another way around,” and used his hand cart to carry away his obviously heavy load of a single box about the size of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Anyway after what seemed like an hour but was probably only a staggeringly long ten minutes, time that allowed several people who greeted the driver by name to board. And then we finally got moving.

I was tired and impatient to get going, but I couldn’t be angry at the driver. Besides, by the time I got off it had stopped raining.

 

In The Madding Crowd.

Sometimes when I pass by the various apartment buildings that have started to dominate Nashville now that so many people are moving in I wonder what it would be like to live in one, especially if it’s one along a bus route because, hey, as long as I’m imagining I can also imagine I’m pragmatic and somewhat civic-minded. It’s not that I want to move, although my wife has said that if we win the lottery we’re moving out of Nashville and away from the crowds. If that happens I hope to travel frequently so I won’t care where we call home, except on its birthday when I’ll call it “Jimmykins”, but that’s another story.

There’s one I pass by regularly that has patios built facing the sidewalk which I think is a really cool thing. I like the idea of being so close to passers-by, of having interactions with them, or at least being part of the comings-and-goings. So far I haven’t had interactions with any of the people who live in these places although a large chocolate Labrador retriever has popped his head up over the edge to watch me. I’ve said “Hi!” to him and, true to his breed, he’s wagged his tail and is probably wondering why I don’t stop and give him something to retrieve, but I’m not usually carrying a Labrador.

Recently I noticed that one of these places was empty so I stopped for a better look, and somehow I never realized before just how tiny the patios are. They’re designed so anyone who sits on one would have to sit sideways. They’re not welcoming, they don’t really create a sense of community. And that’s the down side of the population boom. There’s been so much attention given to building for numbers that people are being forgotten. It’s all pragmatics and I couldn’t imagine living there.

 

Where’d You Come From?

Most of the time I’m alone at the bus stop, and I’m okay with that. I don’t mind company, and I even tell myself I’d be fine with the company but, well, my brain is a puzzle of contradictions. Let me illustrate that: I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable with small talk, but I kind of enjoy it myself. At least I feel uncomfortable sitting next to complete strangers in complete silence and feel like I should say something. There’s also a guy I see at the bus stop once every three or four months and he’s seen me often enough that the last time we were sharing the bench he apparently felt like he should say something and while I did my best to hold up at least half the conversation I felt like I had a mouthful of alum. So I feel uncomfortable not talking and I feel uncomfortable talking and really what I want to do is bombard people with questions like “Who are you? What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not riding the bus? Can I write down your life story and publish it on my blog?”

Back when I was in college I had a button I always wore that said “What’s this cat’s story?” that I found in a box at a music store and it seemed to help break the ice because anytime someone would ask me about it I’d turn it around and use it as an excuse to ask their story.

Anyway lately there seem to be a lot of people at the bus stop. It’s a wide range of people too: young, old, men, women–suddenly everyone is taking the bus. I’ve gone from being alone to being one of the crowd. At least I no longer feel uncomfortable about making the bus driver stop just to pick me up, but that’s another story. Now I feel uncomfortable because I’m surrounded by all these cats and all I want to know is their stories.

Getting Around.

Whenever I travel I always find how other places emphasize public transportation. Or don’t. In Chicago, for instance, I noticed that buses ran frequently. Every minute on every street there was a bus going by, sometimes more than one. I was standing at the edge of Millennium Park looking one way when I saw an “L” train pass between two buildings.

“I wish I’d gotten a picture of that” I said to a friend who was with me.

“Wait a minute,” he said. I did and in about a minute another one went by.

Sure, Chicago is a much bigger city than Nashville, but it’s still amazing to me that where I live the minimum time between buses on any route is fifteen minutes, and some routes run as little as twice a day.

Chicago’s profusion of transportation can, however, cause some confusion. I was sitting in O’Hare Airport which is larger than Nashville’s airport, and which supposedly has a monorail system. According to Wikipedia it’s 2.7 miles long, which is longer than some Nashville bus routes, and moves along at up to fifty miles an hour. Needless to say this sounds like a fun ride. I’ve also ridden the monorails in Dallas and Atlanta airports and wanted to add O’Hare to my collection. Once I had a long enough layover in Atlanta that I rode the monorail so many times people started asking me for directions, but that’s another story.

I say it supposedly has a monorail because I thought I walked from one end of O’Hare to the other and covered every terminal and never found the monorail entrance. If I were one of those people with a goal of walking ten thousand steps a day I’d be able to take a week off. I did find a very nice older woman at an information desk. She had an airport uniform although with her white hair in a bun and half-moon spectacles on a chain she looked more like the archetypal librarian. When I asked her where the monorail was she asked, “Do you mean the trains to downtown?”

“Er, yeah,” I stuttered. I thought the word monorail was pretty clear, and I had a sudden attack of shyness that prevented me from saying what I meant, which was, “No, I mean the O’Hare monorail which I want to ride back and forth because I’ve got some time to kill and I’m a goofy tourist.”

She took out a map and asked where I was going. At this point I felt I was too deeply committed so I blurted out “the Museum of Science And Industry” which I’ve been to once but that was more than twenty-five years ago and I’m a goofy tourist who digs that sort of thing. She then gave me detailed but simple instructions that even I could have followed. She then pointed to the exit and said, “Just go right through those doors and if there’s not a bus there already one will be along in a minute.” I thanked her and she said, “Oh, thank you. I love giving directions and helping people but so few stop and ask for help anymore. There’s so much to see here and I’m sure people miss most of it.”

I then left and tried to discreetly disappear into the crowd so she wouldn’t notice that, instead of leaving the airport, I was turning toward the terminal where my gate was. And I had to hurry because I’d shrunk to just six inches tall. I’ve saved the map, though. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Chicago but it should still be helpful, and if it isn’t I know where to go for directions.

 

On The Road Again.

The last time I rode a Greyhound bus was in 2000. I recently took one to Cincinnati. It would have been cheaper to fly, but since there are no direct flights from Nashville to Cincinnati the flight would have meant stopovers in Dallas, Honolulu, and Poughkeepsie, and while I didn’t mind that my wife thought it wasn’t such a great idea. I was also looking forward to seeing what had changed.

The first change, of course, was the Greyhound station itself. The old one was dull, gray, and dingy, and filled with an assortment of drifters, grifters, and sifters. The new one, in an entirely different location, is a much brighter shade of gray and seemed to have picked up a higher class of clientele. The old black and white TV sets firmly attached to chairs that cost you a quarter for five minutes of viewing were gone, replaced with plugs for charging whatever devices you happen to be carrying. I couldn’t use any, though, because there was no sitting room. My bus was scheduled to leave at 5:05 am. I got there at 4:15, hoping to beat the crowd, not realizing that the crowd had been there since at least the day before and taken up almost all available space. Maybe recent events in the airline industry have prompted more people to stay grounded.

In the old days there’d be an announcement of departures over a crackly intercom. This time a driver stood at one of the terminal doors and, in a clear voice loud enough to be heard by everyone,  announced, “ALL THOSE DEPARTING FOR MEMPHIS, ST. LOUIS, KANSAS CITY, AND ON PLEASE LINE UP HERE!”

Needless to say this was not my bus. My bus, it turned out, was leaving from the terminal next to it, the one where the driver walked in, looked around and mumbled something to the people closest to him before leaving again. I had to ask around a bit to confirm that it really was the bus to Cincinnati because the LED sign on the front of the bus said HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

I’m not making that up. It was part of Greyhound’s War on Some Late May Holiday.

In the old days whenever I’d take a Greyhound bus there were usually a lot of seats available. This time when I stepped onto the bus every seat was taken except one. In the very back. Next to the bathroom. A woman sat in the window seat on the far right. Next to her, in the middle seat, was a man holding a baby with his legs spread so far apart his knee was in the aisle.

The only open seat was to the left of him.

I tried to make myself as small as possible and we both might have been more comfortable if he’d put his knees together. Instead he decided to complain bitterly about the bus being too crowded. And I realized that f-bombs, unlike other forms of munition, lose their strength when you drop one every other word, but that’s another story.

The woman leaned across him and smiled at me. “Excuse me sir, could you move to another seat?”

“I would if there were one.”

It was true and also resulted in the man dropping several more f-bombs, none of which, surprisingly, were directed at me. Then we got a lucky break: a bus company representative came on and offered travel vouchers to anyone who’d take a later bus. I might have taken the offer but my diaphragm was compressed by my fellow passenger’s lower thigh. Several people did, though, and I was able to squeeze out and grab a window seat.

The bus finally got underway a little after six and I settled back with approximately two days of podcasts I’d downloaded in preparation for a long trip.

The bus stopped at Louisville en route to Cincinnati. In the old days I only had to get off the bus at my final destination. Disembarkation is now mandatory at every stop, so I got to look around the Louisville station and get yelled at for taking pictures of the cop and his sniffer dog.

The Louisville station, by the way, has been updated like the Nashville one, and, in addition to a bright gray color and lack of dinginess, also boasts a gift shop and game room.

Then it was back on the bus and I was fortunately able to snag another window seat. The rest of the trip was blissfully uneventful and, possibly because the driver exceeded the speed limit a few times, we arrived in Cincinnati on time.

The Cincinnati Greyhound station has not been updated, and I’m pretty sure they even still had some of those chairs with the TVs. Next time I may opt for the flight with the stopovers, even if it does mean going to Poughkeepsie.

Learning To Fly.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I guess I should really say “pilot”. I’m not really a captain of anything. It’s not like I own this plane and I can’t order anybody to walk the plank or swab the decks. I think there’s someone that comes in and vacuums the carpets and empties the trash, and we don’t really have a plank. I guess I could make you slide down that inflatable emergency ramp or maybe walk out on the wing, but that’s a pretty long drop even when we’re on the ground. I’m not going to open the door while we’re in flight, at least not once we really get up there, because that could get really bad from what I’ve seen in movies and on TV. What I’m saying is I’m not going to throw anybody out while we’re in flight, but don’t push me because I will land this plane and drop you out no matter where we are.

I’m also going to be upfront with you and say this is my first flight. Like, ever. So I’d suggest you keep your seatbelts on the entire time. There’s supposed to be a button that makes that seatbelt light come on, but you would not believe how many buttons there are up here. Also a bunch of gauges, meters, dials, and these big levers. I thought by now they’d have some of this stuff digitized. My mother’s old Camaro had a digital display and it was from, like, the eighties, you know? I’d invite everybody to come up and take a look at this but we’re on a schedule and once the flight starts I’d feel better if everybody stayed seated. If anybody has any helpful tips on these gauges and things though just tweet me. I’ll try and check my feed once we get up there. No promises, though, because I’m going to need my phone to navigate too.

Oh, hey, I just found the button for the seatbelt sign. And there’s one for no smoking too. Are there any flights you can still smoke on or have they just not taken that out yet? I’m not sure what the rule is on vaping either. Let’s just be on the safe side and don’t do it, okay?

Our flight will also be taking a little longer than usual because we’ll be following the interstates. Sorry about that. Like I said we haven’t quite got the navigation part up and running yet. It’s still in development, but we should have it working soon. And we’re gonna be seriously blowing through some speed limits because we’ll be up in the air and you may not know this but planes move really fast. Keep an eye out the windows, though, and if you see any police planes coming up next to us tweet me or yell at one of the flight attendants. This is weird but planes don’t have rearview mirrors so if there’s anybody coming I won’t know until they almost pass us. That seems kind of weird. I hope I don’t, I don’t know, back over a flock of bald eagles or something. That would be pretty embarrassing.

Anyway in a few minutes the flight attendants will be walking you through the emergency measures, and I know how everybody is about those. Please, seriously, pay attention for once because if this thing goes down it’s going down hard, you know? Those little oxygen masks might save your life if we have a fire or something. But, and don’t tell anyone I said this, you can leave your drink tray down the entire time. You just might want to put it back up when we land to make it easier to get out.

Okay, we’re just about to take off here. According to my phone here it’s rainy and seventy-two degrees at our destination. I don’t know how far anybody has to walk once we get there but I hope you have umbrellas. Wait, lost the directions. Okay, there they are. And I just saw some of your tweets. Come on, people, let’s try to stay positive. You know what they say about how you’re safer in the air than you are on the ground. That’s probably because there’s so much less you can run into on the ground.

And thanks for trying our new flight sharing app. I hope you’re as stoked about our new startup as I am. All right, let’s make it happen, cap’n!

 

Joy Ride.

It’s not every day that I see an abandoned golf cart just sitting right there by the bus stop. It’s just two, maybe three days a week. And also technically it’s not really a golf cart because it’s used by a maintenance crew or to carry around visitors to the university campus. And if you’re going to get really technical about it then it’s not really abandoned, but still every time I see it I think, well, how long is it going to be there and is there time for me to take it out for a spin? I wouldn’t drive it all the way home, or even that far away. I’d just like to go for a quick ride. Little carts like that are more fun to drive than regular cars for some reason. Maybe it’s because they make me feel like a kid again and actually had a motorized little car I could ride on and it had a top speed of sixty inches an hour. That didn’t matter. On Saturday mornings my friends and I could still imagine it was a magic dune buggy that took us on wacky adventures.

Somehow it was always easier to have fun with friends which is why it’s a good thing I’m always alone when I see that cart. If I were with friends I might be even more tempted to take it and, well, they just might encourage me and we would all take turns. Or maybe they’d stop me. Or try to stop me. That reminds me of the old saying about friends. A good friend is one who will bail you out of jail. A really good friend is one who’s sitting next to you in the cell saying, “Well, that was fun.”

 

Cute Couples.

There are a couple of high school students on the bus I ride home from work, a boy and a girl. They always sit together. They seem nicely matched: they both wear rumpled dark hoodies, and he sits and draws in a sketchbook while she reads graphic novels. Sometimes they don’t even talk for the entire trip, but every day, when her stop comes up first, they share a quick kiss. I don’t stare, but it’s cute and I’m happy for them. And it brings back memories from high school—specifically Juliette, who was in my Latin class. She also rode the bus with me.

Normally riding the bus was an hour of unbearable misery, but when Juliette and I started sitting together things got a lot better. We chatted and laughed and generally had a good time.

To say that when it came to looks Juliette was out of my league would be a gross understatement. Forget leagues. Metaphorically she would have been a football pro while I, with my acne and awkwardness, was bottom rung of a Tuesday night bowling team. And I had already learned a lesson that Harvey Fierstein put so well when he said, “See, an ugly person who goes after a pretty person gets nothing but trouble. But a pretty person who goes after an ugly person gets at least cab-fare.” It was a school bus, though, so Juliette wasn’t expecting me to pay for the ride.

If you are or have been a teenager maybe you’ll understand this: knowing I had no chance with Juliette in a romantic sense took all the pressure off me. With her I was a witty, charming, suave gentleman, whereas with any girl I was actually interested in and thought I had a chance at dating I was Hedorah the Smog Monster. And it didn’t bother me that Juliette talked to me about the guys she dated–she was extremely selective, because she could be, but still managed to get stuck with some creeps, while I could talk to her about a bad breakup I was going through and share really bad song lyrics I’d written, but that’s another story.

Somehow Juliette and I always found ourselves sitting behind Kate and Brian, a pair who weren’t quite as mismatched but vehemently denied they were attracted to each other, creating a whole will-they-or-won’t-they vibe. And then, after a band trip, it became clear they did and, as it turned out, would continue to for some time.

That first day after the band trip we watched Kate and Brian hold hands, kiss, and swoon over each other. Then Juliette turned to me.

“I’m so glad they got together. Aren’t you?”

I preferred their sarcastic bickering, but, yeah, if they were happy then bully for them. Juliette went on.

“Of course you and I would never get together like that.” A smile played across her dewy lips and she gave me an intense stare. “Right? I mean, it could just never happen between us.” She put her hand up and played with her hair a bit.

“Right!” I said, maybe a little too vehemently. “Not us!” It would be, I knew, what Bloom County‘s Opus described as a Billy Joel-Christie Brinkley match, and look how that turned out.

As an aside, yes, some of the most poignant and useful relationship advice I’ve ever gotten has come from a gay playwright and a cartoon penguin.

Juliette and I continued to ride the bus together and continued to laugh and talk, but gradually we drifted apart. I started getting rides home with a friend who had a car and she, well, I don’t know. I wanted her to be happy. I still hope she is, but I knew even our friendship wouldn’t last. We had so little in common beyond riding on the bus together and, silly as it may sound, it was my senior year and I was saving myself for college, where I hoped I’d meet someone more like me.

There’s a saying that as you get older your greatest regrets aren’t the things you did but rather the things you didn’t do. While there are a few missed chances I regret I’m still glad Juliette and I never went beyond friendship even if the tension of possibility remained out there. Sometimes it’s better to just leave a good thing as it is.

That’s a bit of advice I learned from Hedorah the Smog Monster.

 

Beautiful Dreamer.

The one thing I’ve never been able to do on the bus is sleep. Well, technically there are a lot of things I’ve never been able to do on the bus: microwave fish, run even a one-star hotel, or star in a Broadway musical, but even when I was taking a Greyhound bus from Nashville to Evansville on a regular basis, a four-hour round trip that I sometimes made really late at night, I couldn’t sleep. Now I have no problem falling asleep. In fact I can relate to Kristine at Mum Revised who said, “Waking up is hard to do.” In fact it’s disturbing that I can sleep almost anywhere. I’ve been known to fall asleep in hard-backed chairs in noisy sports venues—not while anything was going on, but because nothing was going on. I can fall asleep so easily I used to be naïve enough that I envied insomniacs until I learned that some of my friends are insomniacs and I’ve seen how hard that can be for them. The stress of insomnia can get so bad you can lose sleep over it, but that’s another story.

The other day when I was on the bus there was a guy in the very back sound asleep. I’m surprised he wasn’t snoring. He was completely out of it and I wondered, what happens if the driver goes past his stop? Maybe he’d do what I’ve done sometimes in heavy rain and just ride the bus to the end of the line and then get off at the right stop on the way back. Then the driver stopped.

“Hey!” he yelled. A few people looked around. “This is your stop!” he yelled again.

Then he got up, walked to the back of the bus, and tapped the guy on the knee and said, “Come on, wakey wakey, this is your stop.”

The guy rolled over, slowly opened his eyes, stretched, yawned, and ambled off the bus.

I think the least he could have done is thank the driver for the wakeup call.

%d bloggers like this: