Adventures In Busing.

Truckin’ Like The Doo-Dah Man.

Ozone Falls

On our of first full day at Camp Ozone all campers were taken to see Ozone Falls, which was a nice little hike–less than a mile, and usually the counselors did it right after breakfast so all the kids would be worn out until lunch. I think they also did it early because seeing the falls was a pretty amazing thing and the counselors didn’t want to have to hear, “When are we going to see the falls?” every five minutes. It was my third summer so I was a Camp Ozone veteran who knew exactly what to expect and of course I’d been saying to the counselors, “When are we going to see the falls?” every five minutes since I arrived, but that’s another story.

The hike to the falls took us down the road and under an I-40 overpass. As we were walking a kid named Ken, an first-timer at Camp Ozone, glommed onto me and asked if I knew anything about trucks. I’m still not sure why he chose me. I’m pretty sure I didn’t look like the sort of kid who knew anything about trucks. Then again neither did Ken who, in his t-shirt and shorts, looked pretty much like me and all the other kids in our group. So I admitted I didn’t know anything about trucks except that they were big and had eighteen wheels.

“I know everything about trucks,” Ken went on. “I know every model. Do you know what the most expensive brand of truck is?”

Since it had already been established that I knew nothing about trucks I’m not sure how he thought I could name even a single brand, let alone know anything so specific, but Ken’s enthusiasm was making me interested in trucks so I played along.

“Peterbilt.”

I have no idea if this was true. This long before the internet, and even longer before the internet became available on devices most of us carry in our pockets, although Peterbilt doesn’t even make the Top 10 for most expensive semi-trucks, and the Wikipedia page just for semis is a very deep rabbit hole of information, which makes me wonder if Ken really knew as much as he claimed. Maybe he really did know a lot about trucks, though, which would have been impressive for a kid at the time.

For some reason Ken and I separated after that. It wasn’t personal. I liked him and, as I said, his enthusiasm for trucks appealed to me–any time I talk to someone who’s obsessed with a subject, especially if it’s something I’ve never thought about, I get interested. I may not share their passion but I still feel like they open up a whole new way of seeing the world. Anyway Ken and I were in separate cabins and, after the trip to the falls, our counselors took us in different directions. Camp also only lasted a week so any lasting friendships were rare.

It’s ironic to me that we now have the internet and that I can fact-check things Ken said, as best I remember them, but I’ve forgotten his last name so I can’t track him down. Even if I could I’m not sure I’d want to. I prefer to have Ken only in my memory, and to imagine he’s still somewhere out there truckin’ along.

Wear A Helmet. Seriously.

Less than a month before my eighth birthday I saw my friend Tony get hit by a car while riding his bike. He and I were going somewhere—he was going to ride and I was going to walk because I hadn’t learned to ride a bike yet. He sailed down the hill right, past the stop sign, into the intersection just as a car was coming. He should have stopped, but I’m pretty sure the driver was also speeding. The driver got out of the car and started screaming and a bunch of people came out of their houses and stood around, probably blocking traffic. Tony’s father came running and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. Maybe someone already had. An ambulance came and a woman in a white uniform got out and did something. I couldn’t see anything because of the protective ring of people around Tony.

I can place the year and even the date precisely because I stood there in shock for a very long time and then turned around and went home. That night I watched Steve Martin’s first TV special which, thanks to the internet, I know was shown on November 22nd, 1978. I was terrified Tony was going to die, or that he’d be permanently injured, but Steve Martin took my mind off that for a while. A few weeks later Tony was back at school. I’d picked out a toy truck that his mom took to him while he was in the hospital and I saw him playing with it at the bus stop.

Well, that’s not very funny, but this PSA from Denmark about the importance of wearing helmets is, so it can take your mind off that.

 

 

Crossing Over.

Source: Getty Images

There was a dead armadillo on the side of the road. They’re a fairly recent arrival here; I think we first started seeing them in Nashville around ten years ago, and while they’re cute they also carry leprosy and can tunnel under houses undermining the foundations so when you see an armadillo you really can say, “There goes the neighborhood,” but that’s another story.

I hate to see roadkill of any variety so I felt a little bit happy reading a recent article about overpasses and underpasses that provide a safe way for wildlife to safely cross roads. In one part of Montana they’ve reduced accidents caused by cars hitting animals by 90%, and some of them, like this one in Canada’s Banff national park, are really cool looking:

Source: Enjoy The Silence

Some also go under the road so that smaller animals like salamanders and even larger animals like alligators to go in search of food and mates safely. This isn’t just important because it decreases the amount of potential collisions for both animals and humans. It also allows groups of animals of the same species who might have been cut off from each other to interact and have offspring, reducing the amount of harmful inbreeding that can happen when animal groups are cut off from each other.

And, sure, there are some potential downsides. One that the New York Times article mentions is that people might get the idea that as long as they’re creating over- or underpasses they can expand the roads. It’s not hard to see why this is a problem. Anywhere cars go they bring pollution, whether it’s noise or exhaust or some asshole who has to throw half a milkshake out of the window as he goes by.

I can think of another possible problem: the overpasses could make elk, deer, moose, and other animals sitting ducks—not to mention ducks, which raises the question first asked by Chico Marx, “Viaduct? Vy not a chicken?” I think of that because of a distant relative I knew as Uncle Rupert who once brought venison to a family gathering and proudly told everyone that after years of trying to get a deer he finally figured out that if he held the gun while his brother Russel held the spotlight…If you aren’t familiar with this hunting technique it’s probably because it’s illegal, and is one of the reasons my grandfather said that between them Rupert and Russel had one full brain but that most of the time neither one used it. The following Thanksgiving Uncle Rupert outdid himself by bringing a pretty funny looking turkey that turned out to be an endangered osprey. “At least,” he told everyone proudly, “I didn’t need a spotlight to bring it down.”

Other People.

While things are gradually returning to normal, or at least a new normal, there’s still no clear word on when I’ll return to my old office. The place where I work is still under semi-lockdown which makes sense: it’s near a hospital and the higher-ups prefer to err on the side of caution.  The other day my wife, who’s arranged to work from home permanently, and I were discussing what we’d do when I do finally go back.

“Maybe we can just skip paying for a parking pass,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind driving you to the bus stop. And then on days when I’m not working you can get a day pass.”

That she offered to drive me to the bus stop surprised me at first but then I started thinking about it. We both get up at the same time every morning because of the canine alarm so it’s not as though she’d get any extra sleep if I drove to work, and, as short as it may be, the drive to the bus stop would be a chance to spend a little more time together before starting the work day.

And I thought about all the benefits of riding the bus. I get to sit back and relax, I don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, I get some exercise walking to and from the bus stop. In a small way me riding the bus benefits other people too.

Back in the pre-pandemic times whenever I’d drive to work I’d pass by people standing at bus stops. Some of them I even recognized. I’d frequently see a guy I knew from the bus. We never talked but I remembered him because he’d sometimes ask the driver to pull up about fifty feet so he could get off at the entrance to his apartment building. Why there was a stop fifty feet from the entrance to an apartment building and not, you know, right in front of it, is a mystery to me, but the bus drivers were always willing to go the extra distance.

When I’d see him, or others, I’d always think about pulling over and offering to give them a ride. There are a lot of reasons I never did. For one thing if there was heavy traffic there was no way I could safely pull over—I’m not driving a bus—and anyway by the time I recognized anyone or even saw someone at a bus stop I was already going by. For another thing I don’t know if anyone waiting for a bus would accept a ride from a complete stranger. I’ve had strangers offer to give me a ride. The only time I ever took one up on it was when I was chasing a bus I’d just missed and a guy pulled over and offered to drive me to the next stop so I could catch it. I’ve forgotten his name now but I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

To get back to my point, though, the reason public transportation exists is because people use it. Nashville’s public transportation isn’t great but as long as people use it we can hopefully prevent it from getting any worse. Maybe we can, collectively, make it better—although that would be more likely if more people rode the bus. I’m just one rider so, as I said, my contribution will be small, but at least I’ll be contributing to the continuing bus service, and that will benefit other people.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Memorial Day so here’s something that does.

The Kids Are All Right.

So a guy hijacked a school bus full of kindergarteners and that could be the beginning of a really dark story but instead it turned out to be the beginning of a hilarious story. The kids kept asking the hijacker questions, and although the news reports don’t say so I’m pretty sure at least one of them asked, “Why aren’t you taking your own car?” and he got so annoyed he finally got off the bus, although I’m sure it was, “Why is the sky blue?” that pushed him over the edge. No adult, even those of us who know why the sky is blue, has ever been able to answer that question to a child’s satisfaction, but that’s another story. The bus driver hails the kids as the real heroes and while I think he’s not giving himself enough credit—he stayed calm which certainly helped—he’s also right. The kids really saved the day here just by being typical kids who are curious about the world and I hope they never lose that curiosity.

That’s really all that can be said about that story but it did get me thinking about how many people are annoyed when they’re on a plane and some other passenger has a crying baby. Maybe it would get to me more if I flew more regularly but when I’ve been on a plane and there’s a crying baby I just feel bad for the parent or guardian who’s doing everything they can to calm the kid down and who will inevitably have to listen to a lot more crying even after they’ve left the plane, and I feel bad for the baby. That moment on every flight when my ears pop is bad enough for me, and I know it’s coming. If I were less than a year old and had my ears suddenly feel like they were stuffed full of cotton and then clear I’d be crying too.

It also made me think about the summer I worked as a camp counselor. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t a hijacker but someone who voluntarily worked with children but the kids’ questions never annoyed me, not even, “When’s lunch?” because usually the time they started asking that my own blood sugar was getting low and while that generally makes me testy I understood how they felt. And we had enough activities, from water slides to modeling clay, that I could distract them if they asked any questions I couldn’t answer.

Possibly the only time the questions got awkward was one morning before the camp activities started. I often got there before the kids and would bring a book to pass the time, and one young girl pointed at my copy of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and asked, “What’s that about?” I would have felt guilty lying about it so I carefully explained that it was about a young woman who wants to be a writer and attempts suicide, and that it was somewhat autobiographical and that the woman who wrote it eventually dd commit suicide. I braced myself for a lot of uncomfortable questions, but the young girl just said, “That sounds interesting. I may read that someday.”

To avoid any further awkward moments I left The Bell Jar at home after that and just brought a small volume of tales by Edgar Allan Poe.

Window View.

Source: Google Maps

When friend and fellow blogger Ann Koplow was here in Nashville one of the things she noticed about downtown was the lack of houses with windows. It was an interesting observation, and while I’d never thought about the lack of windows one thing that’s always bothered me about Nashville is that it’s a city that for a long time kept business and residential areas widely separated. At the heart of downtown there are a lot of things to see and do but not a lot of places to live. This even created problems for tourists sometimes. For several years I went to the Southern Festival of Books, always held downtown on a weekend in late September, and while there was a lot going on at the festival it could be hard to get a good lunch because most of the restaurants and other businesses in the area simply shut down for the weekend. Their regular customers were the business people who were only around on weekdays.

Just a few blocks from the Festival was the Nashville Arcade, and while it’s now a bustling part of the Arts District, for several years it was deserted, even on a Friday afternoon.

Source: Old Town Trolley Tours

In the mid ‘80’s and early ‘90’s there was an attempt to revitalize downtown with a summer weekend festival called Summer Lights that combined booths for businesses and free concerts, but all it ever really did was highlight how much of downtown was empty. Once the festival was over everybody left and there was no reason to come back.

As you head outward there are more houses, although there are some weird exceptions too. A stretch of 17th Avenue South, for instance, pictured above, looks like it’s a street of nice little houses, but look closely at the yard signs and you’ll see they’re all recording studios. Homes have been turned into businesses.

That’s slowly changing, especially downtown where some former businesses are being turned into homes—or at least apartments, but it was interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective, to see the city through the window of Ann’s eyes.

Parking Validation.

A pizzeria owner in Detroit painted a nice big blue line on the street after customers were fined $150 each for parking in unmarked handicapped spaces, and I’m all for giving up spaces to the handicapped, but if the spaces aren’t marked I don’t know how the handicapped or for that matter anyone else would know they’re reserved. It seems like entrapment and the city agreed and will be putting up clearer signage, so it turned out fine for everyone except the people who paid the $150 fine which is anything but fine.

This reminded me of two things. First of all parking in downtown Nashville is generally terrible, which is something I should have mentioned to the amazing Ann Koplow when I learned she was planning a trip to Nashville. The good news is downtown is well covered by the local buses, although they’ve gotten rid of the free buses that used to crisscross downtown, maybe because the owners of all the parking lots who charge exorbitant rates complained. Downtown is also fairly compact and if you like walking it’s a nice place to just stroll and see the sights and watch the people.

Outside of downtown however Nashville is a sprawling city and buses don’t cover all outlying areas. Several years ago when the place where I work started paying employee bus fares I asked a coworker if she’d consider riding the bus.

“Well, I would,” she said, “if I didn’t have to walk three miles across two interstates to get to the nearest stop.”

Fortunately most places understand that Nashville is a very car-centric city and provide plenty of parking, and if you like walking you can park your car pretty far away from a place and have a nice stroll and leave the closer spots to the handicapped.

The other thing I was reminded of was the last time I went to the Belcourt Theater, Nashville’s art cinema, which has an unusually small parking lot and has, or at least had, parking for patrons only with a validation system. I parked and got the slip for my spot from the parking lot machine and went in to get validated before buying my movie ticket, and when I went back out the overly aggressive lot checker had already flagged my car as illegally parked and that I owed a fine.

I went back in and asked the guy who’d sold me my movie ticket if I’d done something wrong, because I thought maybe I had—the system is, or at least was, a little confusing. He apologized profusely and even called over a manager who also apologized and they took the notice left on my car and said they’d take care of it, and I apologized for the trouble, and I think we all ended up feeling both validated and fine.

Lucky Dogs.

Several years ago I answered phones at a company that provided money to truck drivers on the road. Whenever they had trouble they’d call a 1-800 number and I was one of two dozen or so people who’d help them out, or try to anyway. After about a month I got to know a few of the drivers and even if we had to keep it brief we’d chat a bit, usually about the weather, although I did learn that two different drivers, working for different companies, were anthropology professors. Were they doing research? No. They both told me the pay for driving a truck was just better.

I never thought to ask if any of them had pets. It’s not something I thought about at all until I just read an article about truck drivers and their pets—mostly dogs, it seems, but some have cats, even birds, and at least one hedgehog. And it makes sense. Most of the drivers I talked to were solo operators and having a pet come along for companionship could make the ride at least a little easier. When my wife and I have been on long road trips our dogs, who always come with us, help keep us awake and remind us to stop regularly because for them when nature calls it really calls. How they feel about travel varies, of course—they’re individuals too, although for some the destination is more important than the journey. Some are content to sleep, some really don’t like to get in the car. My wife took her first Dalmatian with her everywhere and he loved to ride along. She described him as a dog “who’d rather go to Hell than nowhere.”

For more than a year now our dogs have been work companions, reminding me to take regular breaks and just providing general support. I know that’s going to change sometime soon and I’m going to be back at work with people. I kind of envy the truck drivers who travel with their pets but I’ve also talked to enough truck drivers that I’m okay with spending a few hours away so I can come home to be greeted by our dogs.

Kids.

I was sitting by myself on the school bus and feeling pretty good about it. Most of the time I hated riding the school bus because it was always packed and I might end up sharing a seat with two other kids I didn’t know or, worse, didn’t like. So I was happy until Annabeth walked down the aisle and plopped down next to me. Annabeth and I moved in very different circles. People who grew up in Nashville will understand what I mean when I say she was from Antioch, but for outsiders the best way to put it is that she was a little bit country and I was a little bit rock and roll. To fine tune the illustration even more she was wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and I had at least one Weird Al cassette in my backpack. In spite of these divisions we had a bit of a history. She had a boyfriend who was a year older and who shoved me around sometimes. Annabeth and I were also in gym together and she’d briefly played this game of pretending she liked me and trying to get me to go under the bleachers with her. I ignored it and after about a week she gave up. I still felt my hackles go up when she sat down next to me on the bus.

“You’re a smart guy,” she said, “maybe you can help me with a problem I’ve got.”

I’m a sucker for flattery but I still thought she might be setting me up for a joke so I kept my guard up. And then slowly let it down as she explained that her mom and her mom’s boyfriend had gone out Saturday night. Sometimes when she was left alone, which happened a lot—sometimes they’d stay out all night—Annabeth would take her mom’s car out and just drive around the back roads. She’d grazed a hydrant and scratched up the right front corner of the car.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” she said. “My mom will probably understand but her boyfriend’s gonna kick my ass. Can you think of anything?”

I couldn’t. And I know this is the point where most responsible adults, and even some responsible teenagers, would say she shouldn’t have been driving her mother’s car in the first place. She was fourteen—too young even for a learner’s permit. I wasn’t smart enough to come up with any advice but I was smart enough to know saying that wouldn’t help, though. I could even understand why she did it. Stuck out in the sticks, bored and alone and feeling just on the edge of adulthood taking the car out must have provided a sense of freedom, of control over her life she couldn’t get any other way. And we all do stupid things as teenagers. Most of us also learn, even if we don’t get caught, from our mistakes. T fine tune the point I’m making she needed a sympathetic ear, not a judgmental asshole. So I was sympathetic. It’s ironic that for once Annabeth wasn’t trying to make me feel bad but she succeeded at doing just that. I felt bad about the situation she was in and I felt like a schmuck that I couldn’t offer anything useful.

I don’t know what got me thinking about Annabeth’s problem lately. It’s just one of those things that bubbles up from the depths of my mind once in a while. Decades later I still don’t know what advice I’d give her, although I have an idea that she should have told her mom what happened, quietly, without the boyfriend around. If the boyfriend was a serious threat—and it sounded like he might be—she needed her mom to, well, be responsible.

Maybe that’s what ultimately happened. Annabeth and I never talked again but she didn’t miss any school and she seemed to be all right. Or maybe things worked themselves out some other way. But after that her boyfriend left me alone, and if she and I passed each other in the hall she’d smile at me. In the end I’m pretty sure she liked me.

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