Adventures In Busing.


Source: Wikipedia

Sometimes when the bus is running late, or if I just know it’s going to be a while, I’ll walk to the next bus stop, or the bus stop after that. Or the one after that. Or I’ll walk toward downtown–I catch the outbound bus to get home in the afternoons, so if I walk toward downtown I’m walking toward the oncoming bus so it should get to me even sooner, although it never seems to work out that way. And I have to be careful to be at a bus stop. Some bus drivers will buzz right by me even if I’m standing at a stop and technically you can flag down a bus at any corner, but I think it improves my chances of getting picked up if I’m standing at one of the regular stops. That might make you wonder why I don’t just pick one stop and stay there and the answer is I get restless just standing around. I’d rather be on the move if it’s in the wrong direction.
Sometimes, though, I come to a bridge–or rather an overpass over the interstate–and even though they’re sort of built for pediestrians, with a sidewalk, it’s a very narrow sidewalk, and if I want to make the crossing I’m forced to walk between cars rushing by and a very low barrier that I worry I could easily fall over and into cars rushing below.
So I really admire four guys in Vladivostok who decided on a creative way to get across the Zolotoy Rog Bridge, a striking tourist attraction which used to be open to pedestrians but isn’t anymore. They dressed up as a bus.

Source: The Evening Standard

And that’s pretty brilliant. Looking at the pictures I’m surprised they didn’t get away with it. Okay, yeah, I am. It was probably a form of protest since city residents complain they’re being denied easy access to the city center. Still it’s something I might try, or I would if it wouldn’t lower my chances of being able to catch a real bus.

Getting Around.

They sprang up like 13-year cicadas, all over the place, on corners, under trees, and all over sidewalks. At least they were quieter than cicadas, although they could be at least as annoying, zipping up behind me as I was walking somewhere or left lying on their side blocking the path. I was checking one out–I mean considering taking one for a spin, when an older couple came up to me and asked, “How do they work?” I was tempted to be a smartass and say, “Well, you straddle it with your legs and put your feet on the pedals…” but that would be rude, so I said, “It says you have to download an app…” The woman laughed and said, sarcastically, “Well of course! You can’t do anything these days without an app,” and I was glad she was the one who got to be a smartass because she made a much better point. The Ofo bikes seemed like a fun and easy way to get around, but I’m slightly paranoid when it comes to downloading weird apps, especially ones that are theoretically free but could track where I’m going and when. Not that where I’m going is any big secret, and I do see the advantages. I’ve never forgotten the time I got lost biking around St. Petersburg, Florida, which is easy to do because the houses there all look alike, but that’s another story.
Anyway the bikes disappeared as suddenly as 13-year cicadas. It turns out Ofo is scaling back its operations in North America thanks to a series of problems including theft and vandalism, which is why we can’t have nice things or bikes that clutter the sidewalks. They were replaced by Bird scooters which are cooler and because they’re motorized offer a faster way to get around, and they promise that it’s “Only $1 to get started” which I’m even more paranoid about because I’m pretty sure you still have to download an app and now it’s one you have to pay for. And they’ve been controversial because they clutter the sidewalks, gathering in groups. I was standing at a bus stop when I guy sped up on one–I thought I was going to have to get out of his way since quite a few people on them have forced me off the sidewalk as they zip by–and then he got off. So I talked to him a little bit about them. We talked about how the rules are that they’re supposed to only be used on the street and riders are always supposed to wear a helmet. And we agreed that the two things we’ve never seen are someone riding a scooter on the street and someone riding a scooter wearing a helmet. I can’t say whether these new transportation options are really cutting down on traffic which is supposed to be their big advantage–they don’t seem to be–but they’ve definitely prompted a rise in sarcasm.

Flight Of The Kiwis.

I don’t fly much. This is mainly because I don’t travel much and also probably why I don’t do standup comedy because jokes about flying, airports, and airlines are pretty much a staple of standup comedy, although that may be because comedians travel a lot so maybe it’s a case of which came first: the joke about the chicken crossing the road or the evolution of reproduction by gametes? Anyway the last few times I’ve flown I was disappointed that the flight safety talk was a video and not performed by live flight attendants which used to be the standard. I remember the last time I flew and the safety talk was given by a live attendant. It was a Tuesday and the plane was mostly empty so maybe that’s why she decided to add some comedy to it, saying things like, “If the cabin should suddenly lose pressure stop screaming, let go of the person next to you, and place the oxygen mask over your face.” Or maybe she was just trying to keep her job interesting. I learned being a flight attendant can be really boring from a woman I worked with who quit her job to become a flight attendant because she thought it would be a chance to visit diverse and interesting places and instead it turned out to be a chance to visit diverse and not very interesting hotel rooms. Maybe I shouldn’t joke about it because I do feel bad whenever someone has a dream and it crashes and burns and it occurs to me that “crashes and burns” may not be the best way to describe the end of a flight attendant’s career. I should probably save that one for the guy I worked with who quit his job as a professional librarian to become a professional truck driver because he thought it would give him time to do a lot of reading and was surprised that instead it gave him time to do a lot of truck driving, so he went back to his old job even though he didn’t have any more time for reading while he was librarianing, but that’s another story.
Anyway what made me think of this is that some airlines are looking for ways to make their safety videos more interesting so people will actually watch instead of getting in a few more minutes of free wifi before the plane takes off. Not that I’m sure why we need a safety video since if anything goes wrong with a sealed tube traveling at hundreds of miles an hour chances are a plastic mask and a seatbelt probably aren’t going to help you. I know that statistically you’re safer traveling by plane than by car but if your car’s engine dies it’s a lot less statistically likely that you’re going to suddenly plummet thousands of feet unless you’re driving the Zoji La in India.
As for that flight attendant who made jokes during the safety talk, I wish I’d made a note of her name because I bet she eventually quit and now has a successful career in standup comedy.
Here’s New Zealand Air’s new safety video.


Hello Cleveland!

Source: Wikipedia

So a Greyhound bus driver who was supposed to carry passengers from Cleveland to New York got lost and drove around Cleveland for several hours. It was only then that the passengers expressed concern which makes me wonder whom to blame in this situation: the driver for getting lost or the passengers for not noticing that they’d never even made it to Parma. I think the biggest problem is the driver kept going and didn’t stop anywhere in Cleveland. My wife and I went to Cleveland back in 2000 and I had a great time. Most people, when I told them where we were going, said, “Why would you want to go to Cleveland?” They made it sound like they were saying, “Why would you want tuberculosis?” I can think of half a dozen reasons why I wouldn’t want tuberculosis and at least as many why I would want to go to Cleveland. I had only two days to explore and that wasn’t close to enough. The first day I went to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, and nearly didn’t make it. We were actually staying in a hotel in Strongsville, a suburb so far out on Cleveland’s outskirts its practically in Toledo. I was taking the bus to Cleveland and, like most outskirts, the gap between Strongsville buses was big enough to, well, drive a bus through. And it wasn’t until I was on the bus that I realized I’d left my directions back at the hotel. Needless to say at the time I didn’t have a smartphone. Or even a cell phone, although I did have great confidence in my ability to find my way around. I thought about asking the driver if we could go back, but instead just formulated a new plan. I knew the Hall Of Fame was on Lake Erie and I thought, hey, how big could that be? When we got to downtown Cleveland I got out and headed straight for the lake–and right into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, after a nice walk around downtown Cleveland. I even got to see the world’s largest rubber stamp.
The bus back was a little different. I didn’t have a schedule so I got what I thought was a bus going back to Strongsville, but the route ended somewhere in the middle of Middleburg Heights and I had to hoof it the rest of the way. The next day I made sure to bring along all my information so I had everything planned better, and that night I read a story about a delegation of Cleveland city officials who went to Paris to promote The Other City Of Light as a tourist destination but instead stayed in luxury hotels and went to expensive restaurants and left the taxpayers the bill. I thought, hey, if they’d offer me the job I’d be thrilled to go to Paris and promote Cleveland as a tourist destination and I’d be fine with staying in a cut-rate hostel. Or I could take Parisians around Cleveland. The Cleveland Museum Of Art is pretty amazing even if it’s not as big as the Louve and it has actual doors instead of an annoying pyramid thing serving as an entrance, but that’s another story.
Anyway I understand that bus drivers can’t usually spend a lot of time looking at their phones while they’re carrying around passengers, but after a couple of hours I think it would have been okay if this driver had made an exception.

The Happiest Place On Earth.

Source: Wikipedia

If you’ve decided you want your final remains to be cremated what plans have you made for your ashes? Yes, I know, that’s a macabre question, but ‘tis the season, and that’s going to be my excuse even though I am the sort of guy who might ask you that sort of thing out of the blue on a sunny day in May, mostly because I’m curious but also because it’s an interesting way to get to know strangers. Also it pretty much guarantees I’ll have the window seat to myself on the bus, but that’s another story.
What also got me thinking about that question, aside from simple curiosity, is a recent story about how frequently Disney park employees have to clean up an incinerated loved one who’s been brought for a final visit. According to the story about once a month park employees get wind of someone’s ashes and use a special vacuum to remove the lifeless loiterer and send them to a less family-friendly final resting place.
I have my own creative plans for my cremains, although I plan to go out with a big “Please Recycle” stamp and hope that any parts that can benefit someone else after I’m done using them get passed on. Still I appreciate that many peoples’ last wish is to be laid to rest in a place that made them happy, and the story did get me thinking about where, if I wanted a Disney disposal, I’d want to be consigned. My first choice–which I’ll come back to–turned out to be very popular, which reassures me that I’m not alone in my morbidity. And it does seem pretty obvious that I’m not. A lot of us tend to imagine that every smile is merely a portal to a dark underbelly. The film Escape From Tomorrow, parts of which were illicitly filmed at Disney World and Disney Land, even imagines Disney’s dark side, or at least one man’s experience of it.
Anyway the more I thought about it the more I thought, strange as it might sound, that I’d want to spend eternity on the monorail, or the Train Ride, because I like the idea of touring the park, never stopping in one place. I think I’d even prefer, and this is going to sound even stranger, the trams that carry visitors to and from the parking lots. I have very clear memories of my first visit to Disney World, memories which, when my family went back a few years later, seemed more like things I’d merely imagined rather than seen, my first experience with how memory is malleable. But the trams were the same, and that final ride back to our car in the dark, seeing other trams lit by a single bulb taking other people back to their cars, was the perfect cap to the day.
Of course my first choice is one that a lot of others also prefer:

Popular lore has always attached this gruesome ritual to one ride in particular: The Haunted Mansion. Current and former Disney employees say that riders carrying cremains onto the spooky attraction are a serious problem, with one Disneyland custodian telling The Wall Street Journal that the ride “probably has so much human ashes in it that it’s not even funny.”

No, it’s not funny. It’s hilarious.


Just Ringing It.

The school bus always took us through neighborhoods, unlike the regular city buses that mostly stick to major thoroughfares, and one fall I started noticing a yard that had a fairy ring in it. This was pretty remarkable and even got a small feature in the newspaper, and it annoyed me that I never could stop the bus and take a closer look, although I did intentionally sit on the side of the bus that faced it so I could see it as we went by, even dashing out the door at the end of the day so I could get to the bus early, although that wasn’t unusual. It seemed liked it was there for weeks, although it probably only stuck around for days, mushrooms being a fairly transient organism. Or rather the fruits of mushrooms being fairly transient. What’s underneath can be very long-lived. Maybe that’s why Emily Dickinson called them the “Elf of Plants”. A friend asked me, “How do the mushrooms know how to make a circle?” And I said, “Because they’re all part of the same structure. Imagine an apple tree where you could only see the apples. Oh yeah, and the apples just happen to form a ring.” It’s also why they get bigger every year.

I spotted an amazing three fairy rings in one yard on the way to work one morning but I’m too old now to go tramping around in someone’s yard, although at least this time I got some pictures. They reminded me of seeing that fairy ring years ago, and also, because of their size and because of what must be underground, of the X-Files episode “Field Trip” in which Scully and Mulder find themselves trapped inside a giant underground fungus that creates hallucinations that everything’s fine and they’re merely going on about their normal lives while they’re slowly digested. It’s a fan favorite but what bothers me about the episode is the same thing that bothers me about such wildly different stories as The Matrix, The Wizard Of Oz (the film version), and even Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. After such an intense experience–was it imagined or wasn’t it?–how can a person ever trust reality again? Zhuangzi said, “Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” Edgar Allan Poe said, “All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream.” And Samuel Johnson kicked a stone and thus refuted Bishop Berkeley, but that’s another story.
The mushrooms are here one day and gone the next, but they come from something and they leave something behind, and I always wonder, how can we ever know if we’ve left the ring?

And This Is How The Message Ran.

So I was walking to the bus stop and needed some walking music to get there and pulled out my phone. And because it was October, the most wonderful time of the year, there was only one thing I was really in the mood for. I pressed the button and said, “Play Science Fiction Double Feature.”

And my phone replied, “Which one?”

Oh, yeah.

The scary thing is this isn’t even the complete list.

How Do We Get There?


So scientists have discovered what might be the first ever exomoon, a moon around a planet in another solar system, and that’s exciting because within our own solar system moons have become the place to look for life outside of this planet. Specifically Europa and Enceladus may be homes for extraterrestrial life; worlds with big sloshy oceans and hot cores hidden under a thick layer of ice, which means that if there’s life there it may never have seen the stars. It may not have any awareness of life beyond its own world. And if you know your Douglas Adams you know what that could mean for life, the universe, and everything.

The reason they why they had never thought to themselves “We are alone in the Universe,” was that until one night, they didn’t know about the Universe.
Imagine never even thinking, “We are alone,” simply because it has never occurred to you that there’s any other way to be….
They flew out of the cloud.
They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.
For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.
“It’ll have to go,” the men of Krikkit said, as they headed back for home.

Or it might not be so bad. With the discovery of every new exoplanet, or even considering the possibility of life beyond our little blue sphere, my first thought is always, how do we get there? Because even if you barely know anything about astronomy you know that the universe is really big and that means there’s a lot of, well, space, between us and even our closest neighbors. Consider this: it takes eight minutes for sunlight to reach us and if you’ve ever looked at the sun you know how close it is. Also you should never look at the sun. It takes thirteen minutes for that same sunlight to reach Mars, and it takes a really long time for any sunlight to hit Uranus, but that’s another story.
It takes more than four years for that same sunlight to reach our nearest stellar neighbor, and that’s how big space is. Getting there seems like an insurmountable challenge, but we’ve been exploring the local solar system for less than a century. And as for the question, where are the aliens? we’ve barely begun to even look. Even if they use the same radio frequencies we do their transmissions are going to be limited by the same speed and distances as ours. Space exploration has already spanned generations and will have to take several more–it took Voyager 1 thirty-five years just to leave the solar system, traveling at about 38,000 miles per hour, and even if it doesn’t get pulled over for speeding it’s going to be a really long time before it reaches another solar system.
If we’re going to survive as a species–and I realize that’s a big if–the real challenge isn’t going to be living on this planet but what’s beyond it, which is why what’s out there, where the whole process of life started, where it must be continually starting in so many places, is the key to our very existence. And what’s out there isn’t going anywhere, so the question is, where are we going?

There’s A Light.

Source: Wikipedia

Big Dave was a cab driver who worked for a company that ferried students at a discounted rate between Harlaxton Manor, where I was going to school, and Grantham, the nearest town. We called him “Big Dave” partly to distinguish him from another driver named Dave who worked for the same cab company, who we fittingly referred to as “Little Dave”, and also because Big Dave was big. No one ever rode in the front seat with Big Dave because there wasn’t room, and he always wore the same dark green sweater that made him look like a great mossy boulder. And on most trips he had a story, like the New Year’s Eve he went for a swim in the Trafalgar Square fountain, or the time he was bitten by the only poisonous snake in Britain.
On this particular night it was just the two of us making the trip from Grantham back to Harlaxton. We were traveling though a stretch of rolling farmland that, during the day, was green and bright, but at night a thick mist carpeted the ground as though hiding dark secrets. I was slightly drunk and tired and had an economics test to flunk in the morning which was why I’d left my friends. I’d leaned back in the cab and closed my eyes, only to be shaken when Big Dave spoke.
“Did you see that?”
I sat up. “What?”
“Look over there.” He pointed to a field on our left. “There was a flash of light.”
“What was it?”
Big Dave chuckled. “Will o’the wisp, probably. You’ve heard of it?”
I’ve always been interested in folklore so, yes, I knew: the will o’the wisp, also known as fool’s fire, is a mysterious light that lures travelers into marshes where they drown.
“Reminds me of a night I was camping. I’d come out of the bog.” He turned. “You call it the toilet. I was just about to go back to my tent when I saw this light moving around in the trees across the way so I went to check it out.”
He paused and looked out the window as we passed a clump of trees.
“It led me all around through the dark until I finally caught up to it.”
He paused again, probably for effect this time, so I leaned forward and said, “What was it?”
He chuckled. “A young lady lookin’ for a bracelet she’d lost earlier that evening. All she had was a little penlight. I had a proper torch so I helped her look.”
“Did you ever find it?”
“Yer. After about three hours.”
“It took you that long?”
He chuckled again. “Well, we took a few breaks to get to know each other. And then she helped me find my way back to my tent ’cause I was totally lost.”
“What happened after that?”
Big Dave started to rumble. “I married her! And she’s always there whenever I don’t know where I am!” And then he laughed so hard the whole cab shook, the headlights bouncing all over the road.

Drive By.

Source: Whitney Museum

The bus was barreling toward the corner. So was I–toward the corner on the opposite side of the street. I got to my corner first and stood staring at the green light. Please change, please change, I repeated in my head. The light showed no signs of changing. Not that this is surprising. When have you ever seen a traffic light show any signs of changing? It just does, which reminds me of the joke, How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change. I looked over at the other corner at the WALK/DON’T WALK sign. Sometimes you can tell when the traffic light is about to change because the walk signal will start blinking. This one, however, was firmly on DON’T WALK, as were the signals on all four corners which isn’t surprising. Nashville is a city that treats pedestrians as an afterthought, if it thinks of them at all. As much as it annoys me when people step out into crosswalks and force moving cars to come to a stop I understand why they do it. If they didn’t they might never get across, but that’s another story.
Anyway the bus was speeding forward toward the green light and I started waving. It was a nice day and the driver had his window open. “Hey!” I yelled. This has worked before: I’ve managed to get the attention of bus drivers and they’ve stopped and given me a chance to cross the street. This driver, though, was happily oblivious. It’s not like it’s his job to keep an eye out for people who need a ride, right? And I have had bus drivers drive right by me even when I was standing at an appropriate bus stop because they had their eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead, and I guess I should be glad they were paying attention to where they were going, although there was also the time a bus driver went right by me because he was turned halfway around in his seat talking to a woman behind him.
And this driver sped right by me and I decided to take advantage of his open window and I yelled, “Thanks a lot, asshole!”
After the bus had passed I realized there were people standing on the opposite corner: a woman with a baby in a stroller, a whole gaggle of preschool children, a priest, a rabbi, and a minister, four old people who were the spitting images of my deceased paternal and maternal grandparents, and my second grade teacher, also deceased but still there on the corner. And if I didn’t feel bad enough about my outburst the sign changed to WALK and I had to pass by every one of them to get to the bus stop on the opposite corner.

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