Adventures In Busing.

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.
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.


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.

Sea, Sick.

boatrideThe sea was angry that night, my friends.

A chartered bus had taken us from Grantham, England, all the way down to the western edge of Wales to the ferry that would take us to Ireland. We’d set out in the afternoon so we arrived at the ferry dock at around ten p.m. It had been raining all day and the wind had picked up. High waves rocked the ferry. As soon as we got onboard we all headed to the lounge for drinks. One of our adult chaperones sat down with his pint of Guinness then grabbed a trash bin and threw up in it. He walked out.

The ferry boat continued rocking and others followed him. There were open cabins with bunk beds and I guess they thought lying down would help.

By the time the ferry was well under way there were only three of us left in the lounge: me, Drew, and Eric Ian. Drew, Eric, and I had all had a few drinks by that time. I was laughing about everyone else being seasick because I’m a terrible person. Then I announced I wanted to explore the ship and Drew and Eric came along with me. We found the cabins and the duty free shop, which wasn’t open, and there didn’t seem to be much else so we decided to check the deck. The ferry was still heaving up and down, the wind was blowing, and the deck was slick with rain or seawater so we held tight to the railing and walked all around the deck. The blackness of sea and sky blended together with only the occasional whitecap lit by the ship to show us where the water was. Waves lapped up onto the deck. I heard a rushing sound and looked to my right. A huge wave had hit the side of the ship and was now sliding along the deck toward us. Drew and I tripped over the bulkhead getting back inside. We turned around to see Eric, still holding the railing, look to his right just in time to get splashed in the face and nearly swept away.

Drew and I lay on the floor laughing because we were terrible people.

I remembered this while listening to a Fresh Air interview with neuroscientist Dean Burnett, author of Idiot Brain, explaining why people get seasick.

So what’s happening there is the brain’s getting mixed messages. It’s getting signals from the muscles and the eyes saying we are still and signals from the balance sensors saying we’re in motion. Both of these cannot be correct. There’s a sensory mismatch there. And in evolutionary terms, the only thing that can cause a sensory mismatch like that is a neurotoxin or poison. So the brain thinks, essentially, it’s been being poisoned. When it’s been poisoned, the first thing it does is get rid of the poison, aka throwing up.

Do you ever get seasick? I seem to be one of those lucky few who’s never had a problem with motion sickness. Well, I used to think it was luck. Now I think my brain is even more of an idiot than most and just ignores the mixed signals. Maybe it has something to do with being a terrible person.


Cooling Down.


The one predictable thing about Nashville weather is that it’s unpredictable. Maybe that’s why I rarely bother to check the weather report even though this sometimes means getting caught in the rain without an umbrella, although there are worse things to be caught without, like my bus pass or my pants, and then there was the time I’d ridden the bus halfway home before I remembered I drove to work that day, but that’s another story.

And then there was the January when snow was in the forecast but I can’t tell you how many times the weather reports have called to snow only to have a few scattered flurries, or to have the temperature shoot up to around ninety degrees. Celsius. That’s the South for you. It had started snowing when I set out for the bus but I was bundled up warmly and it didn’t look like it was going to amount to anything. Then again it never looks like it’s going to amount to anything. It’s only when snow starts blowing across the street that it looks like we’re in for nasty weather.

Oh yeah, it was blowing across the street when I set out for the bus, but I kept going. I’m an optimist.

I got to the bus stop but there was no bus and according to the schedule it wouldn’t be along for a bit, and even though bus schedules are about as trustworthy as weather reports I set out for the next bus stop a block away. Sometimes I get antsy just standing around at bus stops so I’ll walk down to the next bus stop—in the opposite direction of the way home, but I figure if the bus is coming toward me then I’m really getting closer to it, if that makes any sense. I’ve walked a mile or more, passing by at least half a dozen bus stops before I pick one and stop, afraid the bus will be just around the corner and I’ll be caught between stops.

The snow was really coming down and was getting thick on the streets. Cars were creeping by. Still I kept trudging on. I came to a hill where I could see a long distance. There was no sign of the bus. There was even less sign of traffic even moving. I decided to stop and wait. And I waited. More than an hour had passed since I’d set out. I hadn’t seen a single bus in either direction. Wherever they were they apparently weren’t going anywhere.

I didn’t get upset. Hey, I’m an optimist. I just happened to be an extremely cold and damp optimist.

That’s when my wife called.

“Why don’t you come and meet me where I work? You’re not far from your office, are you?”

Why, no, of course not! I wasn’t going to admit that I’d wandered hither and yon, or at least hither, or maybe yon—I’m not sure which is distance—from the bus stop closest to my office. I turned around and started trudging back the way I’d came. And amazingly I moved pretty quickly. It didn’t take me that long at all to get to where she worked. This was at least partly due to the slow-moving traffic which meant I didn’t have any trouble getting across intersections. And I think I was motivated by a desire to get out of the cold.

The heat in the middle of summer is brutal but it has one major advantage. It doesn’t stop, or even slow, the traffic.

The Kindness of Strangers.


“Hey, how was the movie?”

I’d just stepped into the elevator and there was a woman already in there, slightly shorter than me with streaked hair and glasses with thick black plastic frames. There was something vaguely familiar about her but I work in a building where a lot of businesses and people come and go. And I’m sorry to say I don’t make a note of who’s coming and going unless I actually work with them.

So my brain was whirring with activity. Movie? What movie? There were a million little me’s running around pulling papers from filing cabinets screaming, “Everybody, boss needs information STAT!” Except over in one corner a group was arguing that I really should upgrade to a paperless system and another group was arguing that there’s no way my brain could be that organized and this was all an elaborate metaphor anyway. Oh yeah, I’d been to see a movie the previous Saturday.

“It was great,” I said, adding that it was at the Belcourt Theater.

“No,” she said, “about a month ago. When I saw you at the mall.”

More rushing around pulling files, except now the group that had been arguing for digitizing everything picked up a snack machine and threw it through a window. And that’s when I remembered where I’d seen this woman before. Or at least the last non-work place where I’d seen her. About a month earlier at the mall. And I didn’t remember her so much as the intense sense of awkwardness I’d felt.

At the time I still didn’t have a driver’s license. I didn’t get one until I was thirty-seven but that’s another long and complicated story. If I wanted to go see a movie my options were to hitch a ride with someone else or take the bus. Mostly I took the bus, but this meant a lot of planning. Most of the time it meant a trip all the way to the downtown bus depot for at least one transfer, all of which could take up to an hour. Because it was usually Saturday, a day when bus service is cut in half, I’d have to set out early and I’d arrive early for the movie, so I’d wander the mall or the various nearby stores. Going to see a movie would involve up to four hours of either riding or standing around waiting. It was while I was waiting that I ran into this woman who, for some reason, recognized me from the building where we both worked–on different floors and for completely different places.

“Hey, how’s it going?” she’d said. And while there was a large group in my brain that wanted me to say, “Who the hell are you?” but they were shouted down by the group that instead made me say, “Great! How are you?” I’m still half-convinced she didn’t really recognize me. A lot of people tell me I look like someone they know and we just happened to work in the same building because everybody in Nashville either has or will work in my building. But we still chatted politely although I was overwhelmed by an awkward feeling. I was embarrassed that I was dependent on riding the bus to get where I wanted to go. It hit me that riding the bus limited where I could go, what I could do. It made me dependent on someone else’s schedule.

I didn’t–and still don’t–look down on anyone who rides the bus. I still ride the bus regularly, although now it’s more a matter of choice than necessity. At that time though a lot of those me’s turned out to be right. An upgrade was needed.

Also I’m sure some of them escaped and that’s why strangers think they’ve met me before.


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