Adventures In Busing.

Give ‘Em A Hand.

handIt was a dark, but not stormy, night, which was a good thing because it had also been a long night at the pub and I was feeling a little dizzy as I got into the cab. I was thrilled to see that Big Dave was driving. I’ve mentioned Big Dave the cab driver previously and it was always fun to ride with him, especially at night when he seemed even more inclined to tell an interesting story. As we left Grantham behind and drifted into Lincolnshire countryside he jerked the wheel hard into a turn.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I think the hairy hand got hold of me for a moment.”

The sharp turn had brought everything into focus and I sat forward.

“What’s the hairy hand?”

“A legend. More a Devonshire story really but I think you’ll hear it anywhere there’s a lot of accidents. People say they’ve been seized by a ghost hand and that’s what caused them to go off the road.”

“And it’s hairy.”

“Yer.”

We both laughed. Adolescent warnings of hairy palms crossed my mind but I also thought of disembodied hands in film. For most people I suspect The Addams Family comes to mind, and I really do think there should have been a special Academy Award For Best Performance By A Disembodied Extremity given in 1990 for that performance. There’s also an odd but fun anime film, Vampire Hunter D, in which the hero’s hand can detach itself and go off on its own. In between those is Bruce Campbell’s runaway hand in Evil Dead 2. And then there’s Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors, a British horror film I first saw as a teenager. It’s stayed with me because it’s an anthology of stories including one about an artist and a critic. The late great Christopher Lee plays the art critic who trashes an artist’s work and then is terrorized by the artist’s dismembered hand. As an amateur art critic myself I take it as a warning.

It’s a fun film and I wonder if that part of it was inspired by hairy hand legends. Or maybe there’s just something about the hand that makes us think of it taking on a life of its own.

Haint Misbehavin’.

nightbus1… damned spirits all,

That in cross-ways and floods have burial…

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Sc.2

The Greyhound bus was packed. This was unusual, especially for the late run that left the station at 10pm. I’d been close to the front of the line so I’d snagged a window seat, which I preferred, but I was also close to the driver so I could also see out the front window. I wasn’t paying attention to the bus filling up until a man spoke to me.

“Is this seat taken?”

He wore a tweed jacket, a purple shirt, jeans, and a badly beaten leather hat with a large feather sticking out of it. He also had on dark glasses. A long gray beard trailed down, almost obscuring his bolo tie.

I said no and he sat down.

“I didn’t think it was taken but I asked anyway out of courtesy. Courtesy matters, especially to me. I’m an old hippie.”

He held out his hand and I shook it, wondering if I’d misheard that last part. Maybe “Old Hippie” was his name.

We chatted a little bit and then both got quiet. I read and he put his head back. I assumed he was asleep until I heard him say something.

“What was that?” I asked.

“We passed through a haint,” he said. “In the road. “At night whenever you pass through a foggy patch in the road that’s a haint and you should say the words to protect yourself:

Stay away, haint, stay away haint,

Your soul is damned but mine ain’t.

I thought he was kidding but he looked so serious I didn’t question it. I watched the road ahead. There are many low places where small patches of fog collect on cool, humid nights. The next time we passed through one I repeated the words with him. If nothing else I thought it would be courteous to do so.

I’m an old skeptic now but whenever I’m driving through the night and pass through a patch of fog I still repeat those words.

Stay away, haint, stay away haint,

Your soul is damned but mine ain’t.

Colossal Bus Adventure!

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

As a teenager with my first computer I played a lot of text-based games. They’ve stuck in my memory, maybe because I spent entirely too much time on them. The three main ones were Colossal Cave Adventure, Planetfall, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The Hitchhiker’s game, like the novel, was written by the late great Douglas Adams, and was extremely difficult, even for fans of the books. The most seemingly inconsequential actions at the beginning of the game, such as feeding a cheese sandwich to a small dog, could have consequences much later in the game. That small things can have a large impact and you should never pass up the chance to do something nice are, I think, two major tenets of Douglas Adams’ philosophy. Colossal Cave Adventure was an open-ended fantasy treasure hunt that I never really got into. Planetfall was the one I spent the most time on. For some reason its plot of saving a lonely castaway on a distant planet appealed to me. And I was thrilled to learn the robot Floyd–spoiler alert–has to die as part of the game’s solution and will never again ask if you want to play Hucka-Bucka-Beanstalk but that’s another story.

It occurred to me while riding home one day that public transportation would make a pretty good text-based game in itself. I don’t have the computer skills to write a game but I thought it would make a funny story. So I’m foisting it on you, the patient, intelligent, thoughtful people who drop in here regularly. Even if you’ve never played any of the games I’ve mentioned you might recognize a few details.

You are standing on a desolate area of sidewalk that stretches from EAST to WEST. In front of you is YON BUS.

>BOARD YON BUS

You board YON BUS. The driver is a surly looking peasant and demands payment before he will allow you to take a seat.

>PAY DRIVER

With what?

>INVENTORY

You check your pockets. You are currently carrying KEYS, a PHONE, a WALLET, and a small amount of LUCRE.

>USE LUCRE

You don’t have enough.

The driver scowls at you.

>LOOK WALLET

Inside the wallet you find PICTURES, ID, CREDIT CARDS, a TWENTY-DOLLAR BILL, a TAKE-OUT RECEIPT, and a BUS PASS.

>USE PASS

The pass slides effortlessly through the slot in the fare machine which rings merrily.

The driver grunts and closes the door. He tells you to take a seat.

>TAKE SEAT

The only available seat is across from a woman with a small dog in her lap. The dog growls menacingly at you. However the seat is currently occupied by a cold half-eaten CHEESEBURGER.

>TAKE CHEESEBURGER

The bus lurches forward. You’d better take a seat!

>TAKE SEAT

You sit down. Unfortunately you are still holding a CHEESEBURGER. Cold sauce of an indeterminate origin trickles onto your hand.

>DROP CHEESEBURGER

You don’t see any appropriate trash receptacles and you don’t want to be guilty of littering.

>GIVE DOG CHEESEBURGER

The small dog greedily devours the cheeseburger and gives you a look of intense adoration. You will be its best friend for the remainder of the journey.

>LOOK PHONE

Your phone is the pinnacle of modern technology. You can play games, listen to songs, perform calculations, send and receive emails, or catch up on the latest news. A small icon in the upper right hand corner indicates that the only thing you can’t do with it right now is make a phone call.

>SHUFFLE SONGS

Your phone begins to play a jaunty medley of ‘80’s one-hit wonders. You lean back and enjoy the ride.

You don’t remember exiting the bus but you now find yourself in a dark cavernous room. The word DING glows from the far wall in bright red letters. Looking around you see a BAG and a JAVELIN. A grue is also in the room and advances menacingly.

>GET JAVELIN

You now have the JAVELIN. The grue continues to advance menacingly. It asks if you want to play Hucka-Bucka-Beanstalk.

>PITCH JAVELIN

With stunning accuracy you throw the javelin. The grue disappears in a cloud of greasy green smoke.

>GET BAG

You now have the BAG. It’s full of copper ducats!

>LOOK ROOM

There are no exits. The word DING continues to glow on the far wall.

>DING

The sound wakes you up. Someone has pulled the cord to request a stop. You are still on the bus and have been dreaming.

>INVENTORY

You check your pockets. You are currently carrying KEYS, a PHONE, a WALLET, a small amount of LUCRE, and COPPER DUCATS.

>EXIT BUS

You look out and realize you’ve passed your stop. The bus is now speeding along a desolate stretch of interstate. The woods are dark and likely infested with grues. Are you sure you want to stop?

>SHUFFLE SONGS

Your phone begins to play a lively medley of ‘90’s one-hit wonders.

The bus rolls into the DEPOT. The driver announces that everyone must leave the bus. Exits are BEHIND and FORWARD.

>LEAVE BEHIND

You exit the bus via the rear doors avoiding a scowl from the driver.

It will be at least fifteen minutes before the bus departs. You begin to feel hungry.

>LOOK DEPOT

You look around and see a VENDING MACHINE. Across the street is a COFFEE SHOP.

>USE VENDING MACHINE

The machine contains a delightful array of tempting snacks. Unfortunately it does not take LUCRE, TWENTY-DOLLAR BILLS, or DUCATS.

>GO COFFEE SHOP

There’s a long line at the coffee shop. You’ll have to wait and might miss your bus.

>WAIT

The line moves briskly. You get to the front and order a triple-espresso mocha topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, caramel drizzle, and chives. The barista hands you your DRINK and CHANGE.

>TAKE DRINK

You now have a DRINK. It weighs approximately six pounds.

>TAKE CHANGE

You now have CHANGE.

>GO DEPOT

You return to the depot with two minutes left before the bus leaves. A voice over the intercom reminds you eating, drinking, and smoking are now allowed on the bus.

>QUAFF DRINK

You guzzle the combination of coffee, sugar, and dairy in record time. You are now refreshed for the remainder of your journey!

>BOARD BUS

The driver insists you need to pay to re-board.

>ARGUE WITH DRIVER

Nice try bucko.

>USE PASS

Your pass is expired and there are no valid charges left on it.

>USE CHANGE

Luckily you received exact change at the coffee shop. You insert the correct amount in the fare taker. The driver scowls and tells you to take a seat.

>TAKE SEAT

The bus lurches forward.

>SHUFFLE SONGS

Your phone’s power is critically low and playing songs would be an unnecessary waste of power. You lean back and pretend to enjoy the ride.

Up ahead on the left you see your HOME.

>PULL CORD

You pull the cord. There is a satisfying “Ding!” An automated voice reminds you to remain seated until the bus comes to a complete stop.

>STAND UP

You are pitched forward onto your face as the bus comes to a halt. The driver cackles merrily as you pick yourself up off the floor.

>EXIT BUS

The driver scowls as you disembark.

You are standing on a desolate area of sidewalk that stretches NORTH and SOUTH. Behind you is an EERIE CASTLE. Ahead of you is HOME.

> GO EERIE CASTLE

The Eerie Castle has been bringing down neighborhood property values for years. With great sagacity you decide that midnight on a Tuesday is the ideal time to explore its premises. You enter hesitantly. The door closes behind you. Ahead you see two large eyes glowing in the darkness. You recognize the small dog from the bus, only now it is thirty-five feet tall and weighs approximately six-hundred pounds.

The dog recognizes you as the person who gave it a cold, rotten cheeseburger slathered with a sauce of pure salmonella extract and brown, slimy, rotten lettuce. It therefore considers you its best friend in the entire universe and stares at you with infinite adoration.

Obvious exits are FORWARD, BACK, and STAIRS.

> GO STAIRS

Because you forgot to activate the flashlight app on your phone you don’t see that large sections of the floor are missing. You fall into the basement and are eaten by a horde of zombie alien okapi.

You have died.

Total points: 171

Boons acquired:

‘80’s one-hit wonders medley

‘90’s one hit wonders medley

Copper ducats

Extremely large small dog

 

Don’t Stop Me Now.

rainbowIt wasn’t supposed to rain. At least I don’t think so. I really didn’t check as I was leaving the office because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. At least I don’t think so. I really didn’t look up. It was sunny and that’s enough, right? And I made it most of the way before it started. I was walking down the home stretch to home when the rain started. It was light but still wet, and the sun was still out, the kind of rain some people call “liquid sunshine”. Sick, twisted people who are desperate to find the bright side of everything. I know I’m not one to talk since I’m an incurable optimist myself. When a friend was hit by a car I said, “Well, on the bright side…” He punched me before I could finish the sentence which is okay because it was a Volkswagen Beetle that hit him, but that’s another story. The point is even the sunniest optimist has to draw the line somewhere and I draw the line at rain. And then it gets washed away, but I keep redrawing it.

So there I was walking home and a light rain started. It was light but still wet. And one of my neighbors was standing out in her front yard with her dog. She had a leash in one hand and an umbrella in the other. My neighbor, I mean. The dog had two pair and a king high in her hand and was obviously eager to get back to the game.

“Isn’t this wonderful?” my neighbor said.

“Yes,” I said, smiling, because I was too polite to say, “WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? CAN’T YOU SEE I’M TRYING TO GET OUT OF THE RAIN?”

“Have you seen a rainbow?” she asked.

“No,” I said, smiling, because I was too polite to say, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? CAN’T YOU SEE I’M GETTING SOAKED HERE?”

“There should be one around somewhere,” she said.

“Yes, keep looking out for it,” I said because I was too polite to say, “AS SOON AS I GET OUT OF THIS RAIN AND DRY OFF DEAL ME IN. I’M TALKING TO YOUR DOG.”

I kept going and got to my house. And there, in the backyard, was the rainbow. It was glorious. It was amazing. I even thought about going to get my neighbor, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

 

A Matter of Etiquette.

etiquettePublic transportation etiquette is not written in stone. In fact it’s not written down anywhere as far as I know, although I don’t have any of Emily Post’s oeuvre handy at the moment. I do have some general rules I try to follow. For instance I believe people should board in the order of their arrival at the bus stop. When I got to the stop the other day there was an older woman already there so I was fully prepared to defer to her. We waited and then I could see the bus a couple of blocks away, behind a line of half a dozen cars.

The bus stop was at an intersection and the line of cars pulled up just as the light turned red, leaving them stuck there. And the bus was stuck too, about half a block away. I realize in city terms a “block” is not an absolute measure and the term has confused me ever since I was a kid and my parents would talk about “taking a walk around the block”. I had a bunch of wooden blocks with letters on them but they were so small it was easier to step over them than walk around one. And the size of blocks varies from city to city and even from block to block. In New York, for instance, a block may only be two or three hundred feet long on one side while in Boise a block extends twenty miles, but that’s another story.

Let’s just say the bus was within easy walking distance. And the etiquette in such a situation varies from driver to driver. Some prefer that the passengers-in-waiting get up and walk to the bus so when the light turns green they can go on without stopping. Others prefer that we wait to be picked up at the authorized bus stop. I usually defer to the former, but the woman at the stop next to me was remaining firmly seated.

And there’s the conundrum. If I walked down to the bus and was let on I’d be getting on ahead of her. And if I wasn’t let on I was going to look like a jackass. And either way the driver was going to have to stop and pick her up. So my only choice was to stay put, but I also sat there wondering, didn’t she know the etiquette? Most people in that situation walk down to the bus. If it’s hot or rainy or cold or even if it’s a really nice day it’s better to get on the bus sooner rather than later even if it means a bit of extra walking.

Then the light changed, the cars moved, the bus stopped in front of us, and the woman next to me picked up her cane. And it made sense why she wasn’t interested in taking walking even an extra half a block.

I just wish I’d gotten on the bus first. I don’t need Emily Post to tell me I should have let her take the seat closer to the front.

 

Stretching Belief.

Like any Star Trek fan I’ve been celebrating the 50th anniversary watching episodes and movies, including Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home which is still a favorite after all these years. Most science fiction requires some suspension of disbelief and Star Trek requires a lot. And I’m okay with that. There’s a lot that I can just take in stride. Ships and bases floating in the depths of space lose all power but the artificial gravity still works? I can accept that. Warp speed means the ships already travel faster than the speed of light but they have to do an extra-special slingshot around the sun to go back in time? I can accept that. The planet Vulcan looks nothing like Earth and yet has an atmosphere safe for humans? Yeah, and most aliens–including many of the species that make up the Federation council are perfectly comfortable in an Earth environment. I’ll just go with it.

This, though, is just impossible for me to believe.

The problem is I’ve never met a bus driver who’d let someone blast music, even at the back of the bus. As soon as the guy cranked that up he’d be told to turn it down and if he didn’t his ass would be thrown off at the next stop.

Maybe I’m overthinking this, though. Maybe the driver’s a fan. Maybe there’s something I don’t know about the route between San Francisco and Sausalito. Hey, if I can accept that transporters are able to break a person down into a highly energized beam then reconstruct them exactly as they were in another place I can accept a guy blaring music on a bus, right?

Please share your theories below.

Up next: the crew parked an invisible Klingon Bird of Prey right in the middle of Golden Gate Park. Why didn’t any joggers bump into it?

Well That Sucked.

Source: Wikipedia

In seventh and eighth grade I went to a school that was close enough to home that, while my parents or friends’ parents dropped us off in the mornings on their way to work, we could walk home. We cut through peoples’ backyards, which seems odd to me now. If I saw a handful of teenagers walking through my yard I’d ask them to leave. Or I’d think really hard about asking them to leave because teenagers make me nervous, but that’s another story.

At least we didn’t linger in anyone’s yard, and I think if anyone who lived in those places notice us they took it as part of living across the street from a school. And the advantage for us was that instead of taking a ridiculously long way around we could cut at least half an hour off the trip. And only part of it was yards. After that there were woods, and a creek.

There’s a Far Side cartoon of a bunch of medieval warriors storming a castle, but one of them is pointing at the moat and saying, “Look! Goldfish!” I’m not reproducing it here because Gary Larson has asked that people not share his cartoons online, and even if you haven’t seen it I think you get the idea. Anyway I would have been that guy. I still find creeks–any body of water, really–interesting. As a kid I could spend hours examining the flora and fauna–mostly fauna–of creeks and bring home jars of salamanders, tadpoles, crawfish, minnows, and anything else I could find. One summer I found a freshwater mussel and kept it in an aquarium for months.

One day crossing the creek I noticed small brown worms in a still spot. My friends insisted we go on–Danger Mouse was going to be on in a few minutes–but later I came back with a jar.

I know what these are, I thought. I’ve read about these. These are flatworms–planaria in the scientific parlance, those diamond-headed cross-eyed worms that could be sliced down the middle and would grow two new worms. Or you could cut them halfway and they’d grow two heads.

I’d only seen flatworms in pictures but I was still surprised by how tiny they were: half a centimeter, maybe, although they were in constant motion so it was almost impossible to get a good measurement. And their heads didn’t look right either. I tried slicing a couple with a scalpel from a dissecting kit but they slipped away from the knife or ended up in pieces that quickly died. As cool as it would have been to have a collection of tiny two-headed beasts it seemed cruel so I quit.

Finally I trapped one in a little container and got a good look at it. These weren’t flatworms. They weren’t worms at all.

They were leeches.

I returned them to the creek. After that my friends never had a problem with me stopping to look in the creek. I was happy to get home quickly. I didn’t want to miss Danger Mouse.

 

 

Back Of The Bus.

backofthebusChuck ruled the bus. He was our equivalent of The Fonz, stretched out across the back dispensing wisdom, standing up for the downtrodden, and generally being the epitome of cool. Except he was short, blonde, didn’t care about the downtrodden, rode the bus instead of a motorcycle, and mostly dispensed wisecracks, so I guess that’s not really the best comparison. He ruled the back of the bus, mostly talking just to his friends but occasionally he’d share something with the whole bus, like the time we had a substitute bus driver who ground the gears, got the bus stuck on a hill, and got lost. Chuck yelled from the back, “Didja get your license out of a Cracker Jack box?” It seems pretty weak now but in the world of first through sixth grade we had low standards and thought it was hilarious.

Anyway Chuck’s place was the entire back of the bus and everyone knew and respected that, at least until one day when I got on the bus and there was a commotion at the back. Another sixth grader, Jim, decided it was his turn to have the glory of the backseat for a change. Most of the time he sat at the front which was the equivalent of sitting at the front of the class. The cooler you were the further back you sat. I don’t know what the catalyst was on this particular day but Jim didn’t have a lot of friends on the bus and he was the son of a teacher. It was hard for him to achieve anything approaching being cool but maybe he thought if he could have the backseat things would change for him. The bus driver quickly pushed her way through the crowd and broke up the fight. She stuck Chuck in his usual spot in the backseat and sent Jim to the front where he’d quietly ride the bus the rest of the year.

There was something weird, almost comical about the way Chuck and Jim fought. They’d both had their eyes closed and were only punching each other in the stomach, and only hitting because there’s not a lot of room to move in the back of a school bus. I guess they were both really cowards but Chuck had found a way to compensate with an attitude.

School Of Hard Knocks.

busA book hit me in the back of the head. Hard. It was a textbook. Introduction To Trigonometry, maybe, or European Classics For Dummies. Whatever it was it was thick and it had been thrown from several seats back.
It was the first day of my sophomore year of high school and the first bus ride home. Things were not starting well.
Kevin, a freshman I didn’t know, was in the seat behind me. He was laughing like a hyena. I punched him.
“Dude,” he yelled. “I didn’t throw the book at you.”
I’m still not sure who threw the book at me, and even then I didn’t care. I should have thrown it out the window but I’m pretty sure the thrower wasn’t the owner; I’m pretty sure it was stolen from someone. I had a sense of ethics. I didn’t want to get them in trouble.
I didn’t want to get me in trouble either, and I was sure I’d be held responsible for throwing a school textbook out a bus window regardless of how it came to me.
So I threw it back. My aim was off and hit my friend Angie in the head.
“That’s it!” yelled the bus driver. He slammed the brakes on and stormed back to my seat.
“You’re going to the principal’s office first thing,” he said, poking a finger in my face.
“Sure,” I said. And I stomped to the front of the bus, pulled the door lever, and got out. I went straight to the woods, cut through backyards up to the condos then down the hill to my house and let myself in through the back door.
The phone was ringing. I answered it.
“Chris?”
It was Angie. I felt horrible. I launched into an apology but she cut me off.
“Shut up.” She knew I hadn’t meant to hit her in the head with a book. She didn’t know who’d thrown the book, whose book it was. What she did know was the bus driver and several kids were freaked out by my sudden disappearance. Two of my friends were being driven around by their parents looking for me.
Good, I thought.
The next day I was in my first class of the day, gym, and got called to the principal’s office. I’d later learn that I’d be reported as absent, blowing my perfect attendance record because the gym teacher was a jackass who didn’t pay attention, but that’s another story.
In the principal’s office I told my story. As soon as I mentioned Kevin the principal rolled his eyes and I was told to watch it in the future.
Nobody ever threw a book at me again.
What lessons did we learn here?

  • It’s not necessary to fight back against bullies to make them stop. Sometimes bold action is all it takes.
  • It’s helpful to know your neighborhood.
  • Kevin was a prick. He’s now a moderately successful insurance salesman.

Look Out Above!

Sometimes when I’m waiting at a bus stop I get the feeling the drivers speeding by are looking down on me. Metaphorically, I mean. I think they see me and think, “Hah, look at that schmuck. He has to stand in the heat and wait for a bus while I’m moving along comfortably in my 1978 Gremlin with its 8-track deck and AC that I’m gonna get fixed someday.” It’s a lousy attitude because I’m pretty sure most drivers don’t even notice me, and anyway once the bus arrives I step up into the higher seats in the back. Who’s looking down on whom now, suckers? Anyway, what if I could really look down?

The Chinese government has been experimenting with a bus that goes above and beyond…traffic. It’s not a double-decker bus but a bus that’s designed to straddle the lanes, passing above cars rather than simply passing them, and it’s environmentally friendly because it’s powered by its own awesomeness as you can see in this picture.

straddlebus

Source: Shanghaiist

Part of that may not be true but it is a cool idea for making bus routes more efficient, and making public transportation cool. In fact that may be its literal downfall. I could see this bus being so popular it would collapse under the weight of too many riders. On the bright side if it collapsed on a car below it might be the final excuse that guy in his 1978 Gremlin needs to get his air conditioning fixed.

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