Adventures In Busing.

Roses Are Red, Buses Are…

The Nashville MTA has been undergoing some major changes lately, mostly cosmetic, although that’s still a pretty major undertaking. A new coat of paint still costs money. They’ve renovated the downtown bus depot–and even getting a bus depot back in 2008 was a big thing. Before that the main place to catch buses downtown was a row of shelters stretched out over a couple of blocks and if it rained you might be stuck outside. Anyway the Nashville MTA doesn’t even call itself the Nashville MTA anymore. It’s now We Go which seems kind of presumptuous because lots of people go.

The biggest change though is a set of new buses that are purple. Why purple? I don’t know, but I like it. I also wonder how long they’ll stay purple. Most Nashville buses, as in every city, are basically giant moving billboards. Some are completely covered with a single ad–even the windows. Most of them are advertising a couple of local law firms also known for their cheesy commercials and I’m not including any pictures of those because they’re not paying me to put their ad here, but that’s another story.


The inside of the buses are clean and shiny and new, which isn’t surprising. What is surprising are the seats. They’ve replaced the traditional burgundy upholstery with slick blue plastic.

Full frontal.

Full backal.

I’m no style critic but don’t purple and blue clash? Why not make the seats purple too, or maybe a nice contrasting orange? In more practical terms, though, I understand the plastic is less likely to hide stains of questionable provenance than the old carpet, but it also means my ass slides forward about five inches every time the bus judders to a stop. They’ve made all these changes and never thought seat belts might be a good idea.

Taxi Driver.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

So there’s an Amish guy in Michigan offering buggy rides for $5 which he calls an “Amish Uber”, although you don’t use an app to get a ride, you just wave him down and say you’d like a ride and hope he hasn’t already got a fare. And I thought, wait, isn’t that really an Amish taxi? It turns out I was wrong. An Amish taxi is something completely different: it’s when a non-Amish person provides a ride for the Amish who need to get somewhere and some have considered it a problem since at least 2008 when I’m pretty sure I still had a flip phone but that’s another story.

What stands out for me here is a not so subtle shift in terminology, not to mention technology. In just a few years Uber and services like it have become so uberbiquitous that “taking an Uber” is part of everyday conversation. I have friends who drove for both Uber and Lyft—they quit after a short time—and in spite of current controversies and crackdowns it seems like these services are here to stay. I don’t know if the traditional taxi is going the way of the dodo—personally I like riding around in an old-fashioned yellow taxi, or, in London, one of the large black models. Actually I like the idea and can’t tell you the last time I rode a taxi. It was probably when I was in college and some friends and I splurged to get to the mall and took the bus back even though the town’s public transportation was terrible, and, like Wallace Shawn at the end of My Dinner With Andre, we splurged on a taxi which, in a small midwestern town, was not a usual way of getting around. Even though Nashville a growing metropolis they’re an unusual sight in Nashville, even around downtown. They’re associated with big metropolises, and that show with Judd Hirsch and Danny DeVito. I think that’s part of why Uber and Lyft are becoming so popular. They’re not driven by professionals in distinctive vehicles, but by regular cars you might see in your neighborhood A local Nashville celebrity with a show on the cable public access station was the Bat Poet, whose day, and sometimes night, job was a taxi driver, and who passed away in 2011, long before ride apps would have put a dent in his business, which seems likely. In Nashville a taxi driver is almost as unusual as a guy in a painted Batman mask performing poetry on TV.

The word “taxi” is really a shortening of “taximeter”, the device used to measure the distance traveled and the fare invented in Germany in 1890. It’s literally a tax on the distance traveled, which makes me wonder how far I’d have to go to make a joke about death and taxis, but thats another story. Uber and Lyft as terms are therefore consistent with history. Taxis were named for the meter installed on their dashboards, and the ride-sharing services are named for the apps they rely on. Will Uber as a term replace taxi, the same way ride apps seem to be replacing taxis? I don’t know. Heck, there’s still a business in horse and buggy rides.

Up In Smoke.

Sometimes if I know it’s going to be a while before the bus arrives I’ll walk along the route. I like the exercise and it’s better than just standing around in one spot. I used to walk toward downtown, facing traffic, but there have been so many changes and stops that have been discontinued even though the bus still passes by them which makes no sense. If the bus still goes by why can’t it stop there, especially since, according to the MTA, you can flag down a bus at any corner? Anyway now I always walk with the traffic. Sometimes I stop at one corner and there’s a guy who occasionally comes and stands at the same corner and smokes while he’s waiting for the bus.

Now I don’t have anything against smokers. I even was one, briefly, back in college, because I hung around with a lot of theater people and there was a saying among them that all actors smoke because it’s the only way they can deal with the tension. I wonder if that’s changed now that so many places are smoke-free, a change that hasn’t bothered me because I was really only a social smoker. One night a friend and I were out of cigarettes and money and decided to go around asking random people for change but set ourselves the arbitrary rule that we wouldn’t accept more than ten cents from any one person. A couple of hours later as we sat on the steps of the student union puffing away we agreed that collecting the money for a pack of smokes had been more fun than the smoking itself, but that’s another story.

Anyway as I was approaching the corner I saw the guy standing there smoking and realized I was downwind of him. Again, no problem with smokers, although congrats to Grace of Ms. Graceful NOT on quitting, especially after her CO2 experience, but I try to avoid the secondhand miasma. So I decided to keep walking to the next stop. As I waited for a light to change I glanced back and noticed the guy was following me, cigarette dropped somewhere on the pavement behind him. He then joined me at the next bus stop.

“Soon as I saw you go by,” he drawled in a voice so husky it could run the Iditarod, “I knew the bus was gonna be late, so I thought I’d walk to the next stop too.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d moved on for the benefit of my heart, not to mention my lungs, but since I was now upwind it didn’t matter. Then, for some reason, he moved around to the other side of me and I heard the snap of his lighter.

Advertising Is The Pits.

The Wakino Ad Company drew attention Tuesday for renting ad space to clients on the armpits of female models. The company is owned by Liberta, a cosmetic line that sells products for the underarm in Japan.

The ads are only visible once the model raises her arm.

International Business Times

Scene: The conference room of Acme Advertising. KEVIN, company CEO, sits at the head of the table. Other characters will be named as they speak.
Kevin: Good morning. I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here.
David: This is our regular Monday pitch meeting.
Kevin: Lately I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut. I just haven’t come up with any new ideas. You may have noticed.
Lucy: Yes, we’ve gotten a lot of work done.
Kevin: Then I remembered something my father said to me when he left me this company. He took me aside and said, ‘Dolores, never lose touch with the common man.’ I thought he meant the stablehands, but he added, ‘If you’re ever at a loss for ideas go down to the streets. Ride the buses and the subway. See how normal people live.’ So I got on my chartered jet and went to London, the closest city I could think of with a subway.
David: We’re in New York.
Kevin: The weather’s been unusually warm there lately and one afternoon while I was riding a particularly packed train I stood next to a woman in a sundress who was holding onto the overhead rail and I became mesmerized, transfixed, and very interested in her armpit.
Michael: Why–?
Lucy: You don’t want to know.
Kevin: It was broad and flat and I thought, there’s something about that space. Where do you normally see armpits?
Sheila: Deodorant commercials.
Kevin: Exactly! Public transportation! You know, we’ve put a lot of advertising in subway stations, in subways themselves, on buses. Where else can we put them?
Denise: Well, you had that idea to put ads on the seats last year.
Kevin: Exactly! Armpits! Now we need to move quickly on this because this is strictly a summer campaign. I can’t think of anyone crazy enough to go around in a tank top in the winter.
Lucy: I can.
David: Well, you know the old saying: opinions are like armpits. Everybody’s got a couple ad some of them stink.
Kevin: Let’s look at our clients: deodorants, body washes, razors, soaps, yogurt…
Michael: Why–?
Lucy: Just let him go with it.
Kevin: Lucy, you seem especially on board with this.
Lucy: Like it’s the Titanic.
Kevin: That’s the spirit! You’ve all got some hard work ahead but if this goes as well as I think it will there’ll be some big bonuses in everyone’s future. And if it doesn’t go that well there’ll be some big bonuses in everyone’s future.
Lucy: That’s why we stick with you, Kevin.

Source: Giphy

Getting By.

Some days I drive to work. It’s a nice change because I can decide when to leave and when to arrive–more or less, since timing depends on traffic. Sometimes I get stuck behind a bus and have to stop and start which I know annoys most people but not me. Within a block or two it’s possible to pass the bus and I always figure that most other days it’ll be me on the bus, annoying some other driver, but that’s another story.
The other day as I came out of the parking garage I turned right into a long line of cars waiting to move. I could see the green light at the intersection so I couldn’t figure out why everybody’d stopped. Then gradually I could see the cars ahead pull into the left lane and go around a car that was stopped, and I was annoyed. What was the problem? Probably somebody looking at their phone, I thought, oblivious to the traffic around them. Then I moved up into position and I could see the stopped car was an old pickup truck. It wasn’t old in a cool, eccentric way, like an early model Ford or even the truck that Lamont drives around on Sanford & Son. No, this truck was ten or maybe fifteen years old, which is old since newer vehicles aren’t really built to last, and it had been rode hard and put up wet. There were holes in it and large rusty spots and the rear gate was held in place with duct tape. And I saw the driver: white hair, deeply lined face, and he was looking around anxiously.
As soon as I was through the intersection I pulled into a parking lot and stopped. My plan was to go and offer the guy some help, maybe give him a hand schlepping his truck into a spot where it wouldn’t block traffic. Maybe I could give him a lift, or at least help him call someone. Mostly I wanted to help because it was the right thing to do. We were next to the Vanderbilt hospital where he was either an outpatient or visiting someone. I could only hope that medically his news had been good but vehicularly I knew the prognosis wasn’t good. And if there’s one thing a lifetime of reading fairy tales and myths has taught me it’s never to pass up a chance to do a good deed. You never know when the help you extend to a stranger is going to come back around to you and even if it doesn’t, well, like I said, it’s just the right thing to do.
By the time I parked and the light had changed so I could cross the intersection a phalanx of garage security guys had surrounded the truck and they were all helping move it along. The old man stood on the sidewalk talking into a phone. I hurried back to my car before one of the security guys could notice that I was parked in some doctor’s reserved spot and decided to ticket me, although I hoped that if that did happen he’d let me explain the situation and would agree that giving me a free pass in this case was just the right thing to do.

Walking In History.

One hundred years and one week ago the deadliest train crash in U.S. history occurreed here in Nashville at a now mostly forgotten spot called Dutchman’s Curve. Officially the death toll is 101, although historians think that’s low, and since most of the victims–68 in the official count–were African-American there probably were many who weren’t counted, or who died later. Most of the victims were African-American because they were forced to ride in old, dilapidated train cars–many from the Confederate era, part of the history of oppression that didn’t end with the Civil War, and that, in many ways, still hasn’t ended. There’s a historical marker for Dutchman’s Curve on White Bridge Road–an ironic name, considering the tragedy. Local author and historian Betsy Thorpe has written about the tragedy in her book The Day The Whistles Cried.

At the time it happened the tragedy was overshadowed by World War I, but the centenary was marked by speeches and walking tours. Decades ago the path of White Bridge Road was altered slightly, and a new, higher, wider bridge was built. The old bridge is gone but has been replaced by a footbridge. Nearby, next to a transformer station, is the Richland Park Greenway. People can walk by Dutchman’s Curve today. History and nature are preserved side by side.

The new White Bridge can be seen from the old one.



Perfect Strangers.

There was a young woman standing at the bus stop. She had a sequined scarf around her neck and a white blouse and a batik skirt that looked like it was made of crepe paper, and on her arms she wore these rainbow knitted sleeves, all of which seemed like it would be miserable in 85-degree weather–regardless of whether it’s Celsius or Fahrenheit–but still I thought, hey, whatever makes you comfortable. She looked, in short, like a typical bus rider because she didn’t look like anybody else and the one thing I’ve noticed in decades of bus-riding is that there is no stereotypical bus rider. If I see a bus rider who looks kind of like someone I saw yesterday it’s because they’re the same person. Anyway I had my earbuds in which meant I was giving off the universal “Leave me alone” signal which is fine when I’m alone at a bus stop but makes me feel uncomfortable when someone else is around. No matter who else is at the bus stop I always have this strong desire to strike up a conversation but I have no idea how. A few times I’ve thought about saying, “Hey, I write this eclectic blog where I sometimes tell stories about riding the bus. What’s your story?” Yet I feel like that would impolite and while I’m on the subject I have this theory about politeness that it’s the way we deal with strangers, and I even once had a broad sweeping cultural idea that the English, who are renowned for their reserve, are so polite because they haven’t been invaded since 1066 so everyone is a stranger, whereas the allegedly rude French never meet a stranger because they’ve invaded or just treated as a geographic throughway since before they had the gall to call themselves Gauls, but that’s another story.
The bus was running late and I finally pulled the earbuds out of my ears and tried to strike up a conversation by saying, “The bus should be here any second now,” which, in terms of lousy opening lines, is second only to “Hot enough for ya?”
And the young woman snapped, “I know!” A bit rudely, really. I felt like a schmuck, but then I feel like that a lot so I’m no stranger to it.

Herd Of Buses.

Nashville’s buses, like the buses of most areas that have public transportation, are a pastiche of old and new, of different types and styles, including some hybrid buses, and that’s not a gratuitous use of the word “pastiche”. A gratuitous, or possibly just wildly incorrect use would be to say I love eating pastiches and remember that when I was a kid pastiches were always dyed red, but that’s another story.
Anyway the other day I got on a bus that was unusually nice, or that must have been nice when it first rolled off the line. It’s hard to tell when that was since city buses are rode hard and put up wet so they quickly wear down. The first thing I noticed were the seats which were not the usual plastic bucket type with only a thin coating of fabric but comfortable, tall, nicely designed seats covered with a thin coating of fabric. Over each seat was an individual light and air blower of the sort you find on airplanes and also Greyhound buses which made me think this bus was a stripped down airplane although a discontinued Greyhound bus and I was glad the Nashville MTA decided to adopt a Greyhound.
The windows also didn’t open but had a red lever that said “For emergencies only” which I’ve never seen on an airplane but have seen on Greyhound buses, and I remember a Greyhound bus driver once instructing passengers not to open the windows except in the case of an emergency, adding, “The last time someone opened one of the windows when he wasn’t supposed to he became the next emergency.”

The individual lights also seemed like a good idea. I usually only ride the bus in the dark in the winter when the days are shorter and I’ve noticed that the interior of the bus is usually brightly lit which seems like a bad idea because the glare reflects off the front window making it difficult for the driver to see.
By the time we got to my stop the bus was empty and its seedy luxury reminded me of how sometimes when it’s just me and the driver I like to pretend I’m riding in an extremely large but dilapidated private limo and the driver is new so he doesn’t really know where he’s going so I ask him to let me off on a major road close to my home rather than winding through the back ways, all part of the pastiche of thoughts that go through my head while riding the bus.


Leading From Behind.

Most of the time when buses going in opposite directions along the same route pass each other the drivers will wave and maybe even honk the horns, sharing a few seconds with someone else who does what they do. It’s something one of my coworkers would call a “collegial moment”, although I work in an office with a lot of other people and if I didn’t pass by someone every few minutes I’d start to wonder if there was a meeting I was supposed to be in or maybe worry that I was like Earl Holliman in that Twilight Zone episode, but that’s another story.
Then there are those times when the bus I’m on comes up behind another bus and starts following it and I wonder who’s fouled up the schedule and, more importantly, why I couldn’t be on the bus that’s in front so I could get home a few seconds earlier.
Anyway last week the buses were either running extremely early or extremely late; either way it doesn’t matter. All I know is I was having to wait a really long time and every bus that came along was packed with people. And then late in the week I had to work late and caught a later bus that was completely empty except for me and the driver.
“Not a lot of people riding at this hour,” I said.
“Nobody knows when the buses are coming or going right now,” she said. “They’ve got us on a whole different schedule.”
“Why is that?”
“They won’t tell us. Maybe it’s because they’re renovating the downtown terminal, maybe there’s construction somewhere on the route they’re not telling us about.”
I thought about saying that every business has at least one group of workers who are treated like mushrooms–kept in the dark and fed shit–but decided not to. Then we stopped at an intersection and another bus turned in front of us and went ahead.
“See,” she said, “he’s all confused. I know who that is. He forgot he’s supposed to be on the alternate route and he’s only doing what he’s supposed to now because he saw me.”
There was a lot to think about there, including the fact that, for once, I was glad to be on the slightly slower bus. I wouldn’t want to be on a bus driven by someone who couldn’t follow directions.

Pride In The Street.

Source: YouTube

Cities around the country are decorating their crosswalks with the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ Pride Flag for the month of June. Crosswalks in Britain are called “zebra crossings”, but that’s a horse of another color, or colour if your dictionary is Oxford instead of Webster. Anyway this is a very groovy public art project and an important one right now since the advances in LGBTQ rights could so easily be rolled back, but that becomes more difficult when cities show support for the whole spectrum of their citizens. The example above is from Maplewood, New Jersey, the first in its state, but it joins others from around the United States and around the world that have put permanent rainbow stripes on their crosswalks.
The crosswalks on two sides of the building where I work are sticking with the usual white stripes, but I thought this would be a good chance to review the rules of crosswalks because it’s a weekly, sometimes even daily problem for me that the crosswalk brings out many shades of stupid. Here’s a helpful diagram using a picture of the building where I work:

In this diagram if I (M) am standing on the sidewalk and a car (A) is coming then that car has the right of way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been waiting for cars to pass so I can cross the street only to have them come to a screeching halt right in front of me. Then the drivers give me a condescending little “go ahead” wave. And it’s even more annoying when there are cars in the other two lanes speeding by. Not that the drivers are the only ones with the problem. I’ve seen other pedestrians step right out into the street without looking, forcing oncoming cars to come to a screeching halt.
On the other side of the street there’s also a bus stop (B) and sometimes when I’m standing there and cars come to a screeching halt in front of me I want to ask, How do you know I’m not waiting for the bus? And if you know I’m not waiting for the bus can you read my mind? And if you can why are you here and not in Vegas?
And (A) can also represent where delivery trucks–FedEx, UPS, USPS, food deliveries–often park, right in front of the front door of the building. Did I mention that the street in front of the building has three lanes? When a delivery truck is parked in one of those lanes that makes it even harder for pedestrians and drivers because those trucks block the view of oncoming traffic. That brings me to (1) because I arbitrarily switched to numbers and which is on the much less busy side street which is where the smarter delivery truck drivers park.
Knowing how to deal with a crosswalk is another thing we could all take pride in.

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