Adventures In Busing.

Wallet? You’ll Love It!

One day I was sitting on the bus, absorbed in a podcast as usual. I barely even noticed that the bus had stopped to let some people off. Then it started rolling again. Then from behind me a guy started yelling, “Hey! Wait! Stop!” I thought maybe he’d fallen asleep and almost missed his stop, or had just been so absorbed in something he was listening to he forgot where he wanted to get off. Then he ran to the front of the bus holding a small purse. The driver let him out and the guy yelled, “Hey ma’am!” He ran to a woman walking up the sidewalk and handed her the purse, then ran back to the bus and got back on.
“She does that all the time,” said the driver. “Most of the time I just keep it up here and give it to her when she gets back on.”
I laughed at how bus drivers get to know certain people, and also wondered how many purses that woman lost and if she’d memorized all her credit card numbers, and wondered if I’d chase someone down the street to return a purse, then went back to listening to my podcast.
I was reminded of that incident when I heard about a scientific study to find out whether people around the world would return a lost wallet if they found one. And the good news is they will. Some researchers were surprised by that, and even more surprising to them was that the larger the amount of money in the wallet–some wallets had no money, some had about $13 in local currency, and others had about $100–the more likely people were to return it with the money in it.
Is that really surprising, though? The fake wallets were made to look like they belonged to tourists, and a lot of us who’ve traveled can relate to the experience of losing something so vital as a wallet and money in a strange place. And a lot of locals want tourists to leave with a good impression of a place. What does it say about us though that anyone finds the results surprising? People have a tendency to live up to expectations. For instance most people expect me to be completely oblivious.

Feeling Cross.

When you press the page button for an elevator it lights up. At least that seems to be the case for every elevator I encounter now–I have ridden in a few that had a simple black button, but those were old, rickety elevators and you could tell they were coming because you could see the weights and chains moving through the wire cage of the elevator shaft, and you could hear the elevator groan, as though it were saying, “I’m cooooming…” One thing that hasn’t changed is that elevators seem to hang out on whatever the last floor was that they went to, which makes sense to me. I guess even elevators deserve an occasional break from going up and down all the time. What doesn’ make sense to me is when I’ve pressed the page button and it’s lit up and I’m standing there waiting and some schmuck walks up and presses it again. Maybe he–it’s always a he–thinks that’ll make the elevator arrive faster, or maybe he thinks I didn’t press it correctly the first time. Maybe he’s just angry with me for thinking he’s a schmuck, but I really didn’t think that until after he pressed the button.
Anyway I had a lot of time to think about this the other day when I was waiting for the light to change and the WALK sign to come on so I could cross the street. There was already a guy standing on the corner when I got there and I didn’t want him to think I was a schmuck so I didn’t push the walk signal button. It doesn’t light up when you push it but I assumed he’d already pushed it since he was standing on the corner and, I assumed, also waiting to cross the street. Also I just assume that regardless of whether I push the walk signal button the WALK signal is going to come on when the light changes and that the button is just there to give people waiting to cross the street something to do. Well, you know what they say: when you assume something you end up standing on the corner while the schmuck who was there when you arrived looks at his watch and starts walking up the street without crossing it. I could have run across the street in spite of the DON’T WALK sign–I’m not morally opposed to jaywalking and have in fact done it in multiple cities, states, and countries–but I also knew that if I got hit by a car the driver would be correct in saying he had the right of way. Also if there was a WALK sign and I got hit by a car the driver would still be correct in saying that because, let’s face it, the multi-ton wheeled hunk of metal always has the right of way over the hundred-and-forty pound sack of meat and bone regardless of what the law says. So I pressed the walk signal button and stood there through another round of light changes, wondering the whole time why the WALK sign doesn’t come on automatically. It’s not like it does anywhere so why does it get a break?

Woman In White.

All kinds of people ride the bus I thought as she got on. She wore a solid white long-sleeve ankle-length dress and leopard-print shoes. When she sat down I could see she was wearing aqua-colored jeans, and she carried three purses: one gold, one silver, and one fuschia, which matched the frames of her sunglasses. Her hair was blonde, almost white, and in shiny curls.
What’s your story? I wanted to ask. Not just her, really–like I said, all kinds of people ride the bus, and I really would like to know everyone’s story, but I’m too shy to ask and I also worry it would be intrusive and rude to go around to people and ask them to tell me about themselves. I want to know people’s stories but I don’t want to make anyone feel pressured or uncomfortable. It’s why I have a problem with tabloids and celebrity gossip. People who are in the “public eye” still have a right to privacy. Once when I was a kid I rode along in the backseat while my parents took a visiting family member on a tour of Nashville. We went by Johnny Cash’s house which was surrounded by a high fence. The fence, my parents explained, was put up after a reporter hid in the bushes one night and saw Cash walking around his home naked. That’s probably far from the craziest thing that ever happened at Johnny Cash’s house, but why the reporter felt compelled to share it or, for that matter, to hide out in Cash’s bushes in the first place, is still beyond me.
Anyway there was something about this woman, from her shoes to her sunglasses, that seemed to invite conversation–as though she had a story she wanted to share. This is Nashville, and even though the recording industry has spread out, even though Music Row is now listed as one of America’s most endangered landmarks, there’s a reason it’s still known as Music City–people still come here to record albums, or just hoping to be discovered. I know someone who decided to go to a local karaoke bar on a whim and regretted it, saying, “I was the only one who wasn’t there for my career.”
Maybe I was assuming too much, though. It’s not fair to judge a person by how they dress, and I’ve since seen two other women carrying multiple purses which makes me wonder if it’s a new fashion trend and also just how much stuff they could possibly be carrying, but that’s another story.
Several blocks later she got off the bus without saying a word to the driver. At the next stop a guy got on and took her seat. He was wearing jeans, sneakers, a dark button-down shirt. From our clothes alone, I thought, we could be twins, except he was tall and bald. And I sat there wondering, what’s this cat’s story?

TB or Not TB.

Sometimes when I’m watching TV I pay attention to the commercials and think about whether I’m the target audience. Sometimes I’m not—that is unless I happen to have a grandchild I don’t know about who also happens to have a rare and unpronounceable disease, all of which seems pretty unlikely, but, still, maybe there’s a reason I’m sitting up late watching reruns of Barney Miller. The Sixties were a crazy decade and a lot of stuff went on that I don’t remember, mostly because I wasn’t alive in the Sixties. Anyway I saw this ad on the bus and started wondering if I was the target audience:

Well, I’m pretty sure I am the target audience for the “Walk. Bike. Ride.” ad on the right since I do at least two of those things on a regular basis, maybe even three–this is a crazy decade and maybe I’m out there riding and don’t know it–but what’s with the ad for tuberculosis on the left? Well, specifically it’s an ad for tuberculosis prevention—if there’s a “Want tuberculosis? Call now for a free offer!” ad out there I’m pretty sure I’m not the target audience for it.

The ad is also a little unnerving. Didn’t tuberculosis go out with the Victorians and other dinosaurs? I thought these days the only consumption anybody worried about was the conspicuous type. And when I hear that some atrocious fashions are coming back I assume people mean bellbottoms and not coughing up blood, even if it was chic among the Pre-Raphaelites.

In all seriousness tuberculosis is a terrible disease and while the number of cases worldwide is decreasing about one-fourth of the world’s population is believed to be infected—a number that’s even higher in Carson McCullers novels—and if anything we should be doing everything we can to make it unfashionable.

When You’re A Stranger.

The other day the podcast I was listening to finished just as the bus arrived, so, instead of starting another, which I think is an unfriendly way of shutting out the strangers around me, I decided to read a book, which is a completely different unfriendly way of shutting out strangers. Then I overheard a woman with a baby in a stroller asking for directions and I realized she would be getting off at my stop. She’d have a bit of a hike getting to the store she was headed to, but I gave her directions. I felt bad for her too that she’d have to make the walk, pushing a stroller, along a sidewalk and across a large parking lot on such a hot, sunny day, although that was probably better than rain or cold or snow or fog or fish falling from the sky, which could happen.
Anyway when we got off the bus I pointed in the direction she wanted to go and even though we were both going the same direction part of the way I was prepared to walk by myself but she fell in step with me and started chattering away.
“Thank you so much for helping me. I’m a nanny and this is my first week with this family and they couldn’t let me have the car today so I had to take the bus.”
What kind of family hires a nanny but makes her use the bus? I thought. Then I yelled at myself for judging the family when I really don’t know what their circumstances are, that maybe for them a nanny is a necessity because they work very difficult jobs just to get by, and then a third voice added that it was a good thing I didn’t say anything bad about that family out loud because it might encourage her to say something negative about them which would be a terrible thing just in her first week. And even if she didn’t say anything negative I didn’t want to badmouth the family right there in front of their offspring. It also occurred to me that maybe she was being so talkative because she was nervous about sharing a sidewalk with strangers and, let’s face it, I’m a pretty strange guy, and also things were getting pretty crowded. With the voices on my head there were at least five of us on the sidewalk. So instead I just said, “Well, I hope things get better and good luck!” Or maybe that was one of the other voices talking.

Also not related to anything but something something another story, so this is for Memorial Day.

It’s All In The Timing.

Llama art buses. Click the picture to check ’em out.

If I’m late–I would say “running late” but if I were running I might not be late–and see the bus in the distance I take the advice of The 2,000 Year Old Man and never run for a bus. Unless it’s close and I think I can make it, which happened to me the other day. The bus was at the stop. The light was red. I was about five hundred feet away, and I always ran in the five-hundred yard dash when we had the end of year Field Day at school. Also I always came in third the one time there were only two other kids in the event, and five-hundred feet is a third of five-hundred yards, so I was feeling lucky. I was only feeling lucky, though. The bus drove off right as I got to the stop. I chased after it. I yelled and even hit the side of the bus, hoping to get the attention of the driver, or at least someone who might tell the driver to stop. It kept going and all I could do was stand there and seethe. On the bright side the bus that runs every fifteen minutes took more than half an hour to arrive.
What made this even more annoying is that the Nashville MTA bus schedule app no longer works. Well, it still works–it’s still available, and you can see what times the buses are supposed to arrive, but the part that tells you when a bus will arrive just says “N/A” which makes it a passive-aggressive app, but that’s another story.
Then just as it was approaching a young man crossed the street and stood next to me.
“Looks like I timed that perfectly,” he said.
I could have glared at him but, well, it’s not his fault.
The next day I was running ahead of schedule because I was running. I didn’t want to miss the bus again so I left a little early. Still I got to the stop just ahead of the bus, and when I got there that same guy was standing there waiting.
“Man, I’ve been waiting forever for the bus today!” he said.
I didn’t say anything. I was quietly appreciating my own perfect timing.



Office Space.

A few years ago my office IT department traded out my old standing computer and replaced it with a laptop. It’s been really great—among other things I can take it to meetings and actually get things done which doesn’t always happen in meetings, but that’s another story. And, I said to my boss, on nice days I could take it outside and sit in the grass and work.

She sighed. “Please don’t.”

She had a point: there’s still a lot to be said for the collaborative nature of the cubicled space we call “the office”, including the ability of coworkers to find me and ask me questions I may even be able to answer. That personal connection, being able to interact face to face and not just through whatever they’re calling video chatting now, is valuable. It’s why my position keeps me mostly bound to a desk in a specific place and so I can only stare out the window—although first I have to get up and cross the room because my cubicle doesn’t have windows, only Windows—and envy the people who are using parking spaces as makeshift offices.

Admittedly no one’s doing that in my area yet, but it’s an idea that’s caught on in San Francisco and now spread to France, and how it skipped over North America entirely is beyond me, although it may be that what those two places have in common is that office space is very expensive and parking spaces are cheap and people are really good at working out workarounds. Some are using free wifi provided by businesses—which makes perfect sense to me. Even though when I take a break from work and go outside I’m getting away from screens I know a few good places to stand if I want to borrow a free signal so I can look up something I really need to know at the moment, like the scientific name for the golden jellyfish found in a lake in Palau. Don’t judge me—I need obscure facts like the Mastigias papua needs algae.

Anyway using parking spaces as office spaces is a great idea; as some of the people who are doing it acknowledge it gives them easy access to delivery services, transportation—why leave the office to catch a bus when one’s going to stop right next to you?—and it creates a sense of community.

Of course I have a feeling someone’s going to want to use a parking space to, you know, park their car, and that’s probably going to lead to the connection of someone’s fist to someone else’s face.

Something New, Something Blue.

It was twenty years ago today…well, not today, really, but never pass up a chance to quote The Beatles, even though it’s now been much more than twenty years since Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, and even when that album was released those uniforms looked like they must have been from before World War I and probably from when Gilbert and Sullivan’s Major General really was modern, but maybe Sgt. Pepper had long since retired, having been unable to get a promotion, and organized a band as a hobby.
Anyway it was in 1999 that my wife and I bought a new blue Honda CR-V. Technically the color was listed as “twilight obsidian blue sparkle sepulchral radiant crepuscular welkin” because car makers name car colors by throwing a thesaurus into a blender. We got the car at the same time we got a new dog, a Dalmatian puppy named Baxter, who was the perfect dog at the perfect time. My wife had gotten her first three Dalmatians before we even met–and in a convoluted way it was because she had Dalmatians that we met. By 1999 we’d been married a few years and were down to one dog who was as sweet as ever but also partly blind and deaf. Baxter, a funny little puppy with one blue eye and one brown eye, was just old enough to be up and bumbling around with the rest of his litter when we went to see him and, if you know dogs, you know how this sometimes happens: he chose us. Between that first visit and the day we took him home we went to look for a new car, and we were supposed to get a green–let’s leave the other adjectives out–Honda but instead ended up with a blue one.
We lost Baxter much too soon to cancer. The Honda, on the other hand, just kept going. Eventually my wife bought a van to drive to dog shows, both for size and just the convenience of having a single vehicle that would be dedicated to canine transport, and the CR-V became my go-to vehicle for going after I finally got around to getting a license, but that’s another story. For years there was a picture of Baxter in the right rear window that I only took out when the sun caused it to fade. One day I was stopped at a red light and a guy standing on the corner yelled something at me. I rolled down the window which is usually a bad idea when someone on a street corner is yelling at you, especially when he bears a strong resemblance to Howard Morris, but I’m an outgoing kind of guy and I thought maybe he had something important, or at least interesting, to say.
“You have Dalmatians?” he yelled.
I was in the lane closest to the corner which, in retrospect, makes rolling the window down, even partially, an even worse idea, but he leaned over so he didn’t have to yell as loud.
“I had a Dalmatian when I was a kid. Best dog ever. They’re wonderful, aren’t they?”
Yes, I agreed. Then the light changed. I waved at him and said, “Thank you!”
He waved back and yelled, “You have a good day now!”
I had trouble focusing on the road. There was something in my eye.
Anyway when the fuel line on the CR-V went my wife and I independently concluded it was time for a new car. It had been twenty years, after all, and I’ve heard at least three stories that end with “So I had to get a new car” that started with “First I tried replacing the fuel line.”
Because the original worked so well, and in fact it was exactly twenty years to the day that we walked back into the same dealership, we decided to go with the CR-V, although a much more recent model that, in spite of the name, resembles the old one in much the same way a Dalmatian resembles Howard Morris, but it seems to be a good car and hopefully will last as well as the old one.
One thing the new car has in common with the old one: it’s the same shade of blue.

Treasured Trash.

April is National Poetry Month. In past years I’ve seen Poetry In Motion poems on Nashville buses, since Nashville is one of many cities that participates in the program. This year, though, I haven’t seen any. Most of the overhead advertising space is taken up with promoting the new buses and how many improvements they’ve made. They also still advertise the Music City Transit Tracker app although they’re no longer updating it which meant all it was doing was taking up space on my phone until I deleted it, but that’s another story.

Since my employer pays me to ride the bus—at least as long as it’s to and from work—I don’t get bus tickets, and maybe that’s why I haven’t seen the local Poetry In Motion poems. One day I happened to find this on the seat before I sat down:

That reminded me of the time I was walking to work one spring morning and a coworker came up to me holding a brown paper bag. She held it open under my nose. It was full of what looked like a bunch of weeds somebody had pulled out of their yard, probably because it was a bunch of weeds somebody had pulled out of their yard.

“Can you believe my neighbor was throwing these away?” she asked.

Yeah, I could.

“Pokeweed leaves!” she shouted. “I’m gonna make poke sallet!”

Truly one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Found And Lost.

How do bus drivers know where they’re going? Sometimes I see a person in a driver’s uniform sitting behind the driver watching out the front and I’ll think, maybe they’re learning the route, or maybe they already know the route and are giving directions to the driver who’s really the learner. And I know that buses are, or at least were, equipped with tracking systems. I first learned this when I mentioned to a friend that on some buses the same bass baritone voice that says, “Stop requested, please remain seated until the bus comes to a complete stop” also occasionally chimes in with things like, “Now turning onto Twenty-First Avenue South.” I said it would be pretty embarrassing for the driver to have announcements like that pop up at the wrong time and pretty hilarious for me because I’m obnoxious.

Anyway that’s when my friend told me they have location tracking so the automated voice is activated based on where the bus really is, and to me that would make it even more hilarious to have the announcements pop up at the wrong time because I’m really obnoxious.

And I did once get a real demonstration of the location tracker when a driver was forced to make a detour because of construction. Within less than a minute of the driver turning onto a side street the radio beeped and a voice crackled, “Number 459, why are you off your route?” And the driver picked up the handset and explained about the construction, and fortunately it was a short detour so we all got where we wanted to go. I wouldn’t have found it hilarious at all if I had to walk a long way out of my way.

I also think sometimes the drivers turn off the location tracking system. I’m not sure this is something they’re supposed to do, and it certainly doesn’t seem right. I can’t even understand turning off the automated voice. Sure, if I were a bus driver I wouldn’t want to listen to the same announcements over and over, but it’s there for the benefit of visually impaired riders.

The reason I think they can turn off the tracking system is the other day I was riding the bus and the driver suddenly took a wrong turn.

“What the hell is this?” she asked. “Is this where I’m supposed to be going?”

I walked up to the front of the bus and started giving her directions.

“I thought this was too soon to turn into the end of the route,” she said.

“Yeah, you’re right, there’s still an overpass to go under. The end of the route is still about a mile away.”

I got off shortly after that and the bus continued on its way. Fortunately it was a straight shot and I hoped I’d helped. The next day I got on and recognized the driver from the day before.

“Did my directions help?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?” she asked.

Either she really didn’t remember or she didn’t want to admit she’d gotten lost. I went and sat down. I decided I wasn’t going to try and embarrass her by pushing it. I’m not that obnoxious.

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