Adventures In Busing.

Cricket? You Can Shove It.

Spring is the time of year that is the worst for riding the bus because of the weather. Not that the weather’s bad. Well, sometimes it is—April showers, although we had enough rain last month that I’m pretty sure March was taking a bath, but that’s another story. Actually I’d prefer a little rain, or at least some inclement weather. It’s the clement weather that bothers me. Take yesterday, for instance. And you can keep it, as far as I’m concerned. The morning was lovely: I got up before dawn because the dogs still haven’t figured out that Daylight Savings Time means we can sleep an extra hour. The sky was clear. Jupiter stood out brightly among the stars in the south. By the time I left the house Aurora had risen from her bed adnd I heard old Tithonus chirping in the grass. A few long strands of cloud stretched across a magenta sky. It was chilly, just chilly enough that I had to wear a jacket to work.

Of course I had to wear a jacket to work.

By the afternoon Apollo was low in the west, which is weird because I thought the Apollo missions ended in the ‘70’s, and it was nice and warm. Too warm for a jacket. If I were driving it would be easy. I could just throw the jacket in the back of the car and forget about it until the next morning when it would be too cold to go out without a jacket but I’d have to go out without a jacket because I’d left it in the damn car overnight.

Riding the bus, on the other hand, left me with a choice: carry the jacket like a schmuck or wear the jacket and be a sweaty schmuck. I suppose I could also leave the jacket at the office, but that wouldn’t do me any good the next morning.

So I walked to the bus stop holding my jacket, and as I passed a grassy patch I thought I heard chirping, and then thought it sounded more like laughter.

Shut up, Tithonus.

Driving In Vain.

Do you ever see a car with such interesting bumper stickers that you want to follow it just to meet the driver? Sometimes I do but I never follow it because, well, that’s more than a little creepy, and also I sometimes see a car whose stickers really pique my interest while I’m on the bus and I’ve learned that telling a bus driver “Follow that car!” gets me some funny looks, but that’s another story. It’s less often that I’m intrigued by a vanity license plate–most of them just confuse me and I end up following the car around because I’m trying to figure out the meaning, which is more than a little creepy.
In Australia now they’ve actually started offering vanity plates that include emojis and this is an exciting, innovative idea that I’m pretty sure was conceived by someone who’d been bitten by a trapdoor spider or was otherwise mentally impaired because I can’t imagine how this was a good idea. It’s even worse than when they introduced vanity plates in Germany, and if you know anything about German you know the resulting plates had to be at least four feet across because German isn’t a language that lends itself to abbreviations, or lends itself to anything else. Some German words run the whole length of the alphabet and they rarely use a colon because the language has been largely disemvowelled, but that’s another story. It’s ironic too that Germany has the Autobahn with no speed limit even though you can’t go twenty miles without hitting a small town or castle, and believe me, you do not want to be going full speed when you hit a castle. Australia, on the other hand, has its east coast with Brisbane and Sydney, and then there’s about three million miles of absolutely nothing all the way to the west coast and Perth, although, believe me, you do not want to be going full speed when you hit Uluru. And it doesn’t help that Australia only pretends to be an English-speaking country, a place where you don’t grin–you “pull out your teethy-weeths”, where a sheep is known as a “jumbuck”, and where the peach, a popular euphemistic emoji, is known as a “fuzzy-wuzzy”, and the eggplant, another popular emoji for a certain body part, is known as a “Roman honkwanger”, which, let’s face it, already sounds like a euphemism.
That’s why I predict that emojis on license plates will be a short-lived phenomenon, but also they’re called “vanity plates” for a reason. Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time and a place for all things but also that all is vanity, that all things will pass in time, although “Ecclesiastes” is really hard to fit on a license plate, except in Germany.

The Long Walk.

I like to walk. If I didn’t taking the bus home from work most days would be a lot more of a chore because I have to walk a few blocks to the bus stop–and these are Nashville blocks which are variable in size and can be large or small, and there may not be sidewalks, and even where there are sidewalks they tend to be pretty narrow. Nashville is a city built on the idea that everybody drives everywhere, probably because most people do, although I wonder which came first: the drivers or the narrow sidewalks? And, funny enough, even on days when I drive to and from work I park in a parking garage that’s at least half a mile from where I work, which means I have to walk a pretty good distance no matter what, so it’s better if I’m not carrying anything heavy.
Once, outside the building where I work, which is at the corner of West End and 21st Avenue, a young woman carrying a tuba case came up to me and asked where the Blair School of Music was, and I felt really bad about telling her that it was about a mile away because I couldn’t imagine having to schlep a tuba all that way. Even worse there’s really no convenient bus route that would take her there. Then, later, I realized that, as a tuba player, she was probably used to having to schlep it all over the place, and also sharing this story gives me a convenient excuse to use the word “schlep”, but that’s another story.
Anyway the other day I made my usual long walk to the bus stop and, for a change, it was a nice day. Nashville had forty days and forty-one nights of rain in February alone and even though I like to walk the rain tends dampen my enthusiasm. As I got close to the stop the bus passed me so I started running, hoping the driver had seen me. The bus stopped at the stop and a couple of people got off. I kept running and got to the bus. The driver smiled at me as I got on.
“I saw you running,” she said.
“Yeah,” I panted.
“It’s a really nice day,” she said. “You coulda walked.”
Sure, and I’ve even thought about it, but there are stretches with no sidewalk, even places where there’s almost no shoulder, and it’s really too far to walk the whole way, even without schlepping a tuba.

Take A Stand..

An article over at CityLab looks at seat design for public transit around the world, taking in the good, the bad, and–in the case of the Los Angeles bus lines–the psychedelic designs. Many use moquette, which is the peculiar fabric so popular on planes, trains, buses, and and occasionally hotel pillows, although as I’ve mentioned previously Nashville’s new WeGo buses have plain plastic seats that may be easy to clean but are also slippery and with their complete absence of any design are just begging for a permanent marker makeover, although I haven’t seen any redesigned just yet. And there are the moquette-covered seats with a musical design, pictured at left, which is an interesting idea–Nashville being known as Music City–but the printing job was so badly botched no one can name that tune.
The article’s author, Feargus O’Sullivan, gets a bit snarky–a Warsaw, Poland bus seat design evokes “some biblical rain of blood”, Boston’s old MBTA trains have a seat design that “looks like a diagram of a serial killers brain synapses”, and seats on Dublin’s Luas light rail have a design that suggests the city’s “monuments apparently sinking Titanic-like into a sea of fire”–and those are some of the nicer descriptions. He acknowledges the difficulty seat designers face, though:
Seat-cover fabric designers have to create something that looks pleasant for—or at least doesn’t actively offend—the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people. That’s an all-but-impossible task. It’s somewhat cheering that fabric intended to please as many people as possible ends up being not bland, but often wildly eccentric. If nothing else, the interiors of these public vehicles are certainly way more interesting than the interior of almost any private car.
Almost any private car. I think we’ve all had that friend–or maybe I’m just lucky–who eats a lot of fast food and has never cleaned the interior of his 1976 Dodge Dart so when you hitch a ride with him your feet rest on a decade-old detritus of drink cups and burger boxes.
And distinctive seat design–whether creative or horrifying–does serve the function of drawing attention to public transit, which it desperately needs. With increasing traffic congestion public transportation is increasingly important. As a guy I used to work with would say, “People really should use public transit. It’s better for the environment, better for the city, and I’d have an easier time finding a parking space.” And I’d look at him and think about suggesting he should get rid of all those burger boxes on his floorboard, but that’s another story. It just has to be the right kind of attention. An important thing about seat design, O’Sullivan says, is it “shouldnt be so bright and busy that it turns stomachs”. The reason for that is practical as well as aesthetic. A lot of riders of public transit–kids, pregnant women, people too drunk to drive–are already likely to be sick, and a dazzling design could just serve as camouflage. With some designs I’d rather stand and admire them than worry about what I might sit in.

Perfect Timing.’d rather have a root canal than go to the dentist.
Maybe that’s not exactly true, but I did have a dental appointment for a regular checkup and cleaning, so I left work early to catch the bus. The Nashville MTA app is now defunct. It used to show riders when specific buses were due to arrive. Now it just lists the scheduled arrivals at different stops which is pretty useless because its rare that buses are ever on schedule. I was reminded of this when I was standing on one side of the street and the bus I wanted, not due for another ten minutes, pulled up to the stop across the street, paused for a microsecond, and went on its way. Once on that side of the street I set off on my merry way with plans to catch the next bus or walk to the dentist’s office, whichever came first. Fortunately I did catch the next bus, and when I got on the driver said, “Nobody’s ever at this stop at this time of day,” and I said, “Well, someone was today!”
Then at the dentist’s office the hygienist asked me if I were feeling better and I asked, “Was I feeling bad six months ago?” I’d forgotten that I’d had a dental appointment the week before but had to reschedule because I had a cold, which is how my short term memory is, but that’s another story.
When I left the dentist’s office I checked the bus schedule, thinking I’d catch the bus going back, and while I was doing that the bus, due in about five minutes, sped by, so I started walking.
As I was standing on a corner waiting for the light to change a young guy and his large black Labrador Retriever came and stood next to me. The Labrador Retriever looked up at me and I asked the guy, “What’s his name?”
“Oliver,” he told me.
“Hello, Oliver,” I said, and Oliver wagged his tail and rubbed his head against me, and I petted him, which made us both pretty happy. And I was actually glad I missed the bus because if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have met Oliver.

There Went The Sun.

It’s been raining. We’ve had heavy rain, rain that’s caused the backyard to flood, that’s sent cascades of water down the stairs leading to the driveway, rain that’s caused me to say, “Why didn’t I bring an umbrella with me and do I really want to go back and get it because I’m already soaked?” And we’ve had light rain, rain that’s barely even wet, the kind of rain that’s caused me to say, “I don’t need an umbrella if this is as bad as it’s going to get,” and then it gets worse, it turns into moderate rain that’s not that bad but it might as well be heavy rain because I’m probably going to be out in it for a while. There have been a few short periods when the rain stopped but during those times it turned really, really cold and still overcast, and people in the elevator would say, “Can you imagine what it would be like if all this rain were snow?” Yes, as a matter of fact I can imagine that and I’ve been through ice storms and I’m glad that even though the combination of cold and rain isn’t pleasant it could be so much worse.
Finally there was one day last week, the first of March, in fact, which is supposed to come in like a lion, a saying that always confuses me because lions are hot weather creatures. If March comes in cold and wet then the animal it should come in like should be a polar bear, since it’s going to maul you and maybe have a liver with toxic levels of vitamin A. Then, the saying goes, March goes out like a lamb, which makes sense for a month that seems to shit on everything, but that’s another story. This day, though, was not only dry but the sun came out, which was a real kick because most of us had forgotten what it looked like. It was warm too. Well, warm-ish. The temperature went up to almost sixty, Fahrenheit, which is in Celsius is, I think, the square root of 17.2. I left the office in a mood almost as bright as the weather and had a nice walk to the bus stop. There were lots of other people out walking too, and people jogging. Once I got on the bus I saw even more people out walking, jogging, just out enjoying the day. We passed a restaurant with a patio that’s been a pond for the past month, and I’m pretty sure the inside was empty because everyone was sitting outside.
For the first time in weeks I was looking forward to the walk home. Then we got to my stop, I got out, and it started raining. I didn’t need an umbrella when I left.

Dream Ride.

So I’ve been battling a cold: runny nose, sore throat, and feeling like I’d just like to crawl into bed and sleep for three or four days. Or rather that’s what I should do, but life goes on, even when it’s being invaded by a virus. When I was a kid colds seemed to have a perverse way of hitting me on days when I wanted to go to school, when there was a special event or a friend’s birthday happening. And in the morning I’d wake up with a sore throat and I’d sneak to the bathroom and practice saying “I feel fine” to make sure I sounded fine. And then I’d get panicky and not say anything except “I feel fine!” I’d be on the school bus and my friend John would sit down next to me.
“Hey, Chris, have you got an extra pencil?”
“I feel fine!”
As an adult I have even more responsibilities and there’s no way I can let even a cold get in the way. I have to get by on tea and cough medicine and various remedies and I have to get sleep when I can, which reminds me that I’ve never slept on a bus. Sure, the list of other things I haven’t done on the bus is almost infinite, but it’s kind of weird that I’ve never slept on a bus, not even on long bus trips from one city to another. That’s weird because on road trips in cars I never have any trouble going right to sleep as soon as we get on the highway and get going, which tends to upset people if I’m the one driving, but that’s another story. On buses I’m just always worried that if I fall asleep I’ll miss my stop and end up at the end of the line or, worse, in a weird repair depot or wherever it is they take buses to refuel them or do repairs, or just shut them down for the night. I can be a pretty heavy sleeper so there’s no telling what I might miss.
Once riding home from work I sat down across from a guy who was slumped back against his seat with his mouth open. He even snored a little, deep in Morpheus’s embrace. Lucky guy, I thought, but then I wondered where he was going. I assumed he’d ride the bus all the way to the end of the line, but you know what they say about assumptions: they’re like armpits. Everybody’s got a couple and some of them stink. We were several miles from the end of the line when suddenly he woke up, looked around, and pulled the stop cord. The bell dinged, the driver stopped, and the guy got off and walked away. I wish I could do that even when I don’t have a cold.


Stopping And Starting.

So I caught an early morning bus and thought, hey, I’ll get to work early and be able to leave early. And the bus sped through the pre-dawn light, but then stopped to pick someone up. I couldn’t complain. That’s what buses do, and if the bus didn’t stop to pick up someone else it might not have picked up me either, and then I’d be really late getting to work. Then the driver started up again and rolled on to the next stop a couple of blocks ahead. There was no one there but the driver stopped anyway. Then went to the next stop and stopped there too even though there was no one to pick up. And I get it. Buses are supposed to run on a schedule. It’s the nature of public transportation, especially in a city like Nashville, which doesn’t have a lot of public transportation but is spread out. Most people drive their own cars, and pretty much have to. I once asked a friend if she ever took the bus and she said, “Well, I would if I didn’t have to walk three miles along busy roads with no sidewalks.” And even if she could get to the nearest bus stop that particular route only runs once every two hours so missing one could wreck her schedule for the day.
So I really appreciate it that some drivers are considerate enough to want to keep to the schedule. Not everyone does. Once I was on a bus that stopped for about fifteen minutes at a stop. I guess the driver had gotten more ahead of his schedule than he meant to. While we were sitting a guy in front of me started fuming. He didn’t step up and say anything to the driver; he just sat in his seat muttering, “Why have we stopped? Why aren’t we going anywhere?” Then he pulled out his phone and called the MTA customer service. I’m not sure what he thought they were going to do. Maybe he thought they’d send a message through to the dispatcher who’d radio the driver to say, “Get moving!” but by the time that was all done we’d be moving again. At one point when he was talking to customer service he said, “I work for the MTA!” Well, I thought, then he should know that buses are supposed to stay on a schedule.
Anyway I couldn’t be too annoyed when I ended up being a little late getting to work.

In Memory.

Every once in a while I get lucky and ride one of the buses with the small plaque to the memory of Rosa Parks over the seats on the left side at the front of the bus. I wish it were larger, and I wish it could somehow make clear that anyone who rides the bus can sit wherever they want. Rosa Parks played a large part in making that happen.

Recently, though, I read an article about the movement for women’s suffrage and how much women of color, especially in the 19th century, were a part of it—a part that’s largely been erased from the history of the movement. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was a writer, journalist, teacher, abolitionist, and suffragist. In May 1866 she delivered a speech to the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City and cited, among other things, her treatment on public transportation. Here’s part of her speech:

You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me. Let me go to-morrow morning and take my seat in one of your street cars-I do not know that they will do it in New York, but they will in Philadelphia-and the conductor will put up his hand and stop the car rather than let me ride.

Going from Washington to Baltimore this Spring, they put me in the smoking car. Aye, in the capital of the nation, where the black man consecrated himself to the nation’s defence, faithful when the white man was faithless, they put me in the smoking car! They did it once; but the next time they tried it, they failed; for I would not go in. I felt the fight in me; but I don’t want to have to fight all the time. Today I am puzzled where to make my home. I would like to make it in Philadelphia, near my own friends and relations. But if I want to ride in the streets of Philadelphia, they send me to ride on the platform with the driver. Have women nothing to do with this? Not long since, a colored woman took her seat in an Eleventh Street car in Philadelphia, and the conductor stopped the car, and told the rest of the passengers to get out, and left the car with her in it alone, when they took it back to the station. One day I took my seat in a car, and the conductor came to me and told me to take another seat. I just screamed “murder.” The man said if I was black I ought to behave myself. I knew that if he was white he was not behaving himself. Are there not wrongs to be righted?

You can read the entire speech at Black Past, and note that she shared a stage with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Harper was speaking out eighty-nine years before Rosa Parks took a stand by remaining seated, which adds depth and context to the history of the civil rights movement, which is something to consider even now, when there are still wrongs to be righted.

Chance Encounters.

One of the downsides of riding the bus is I’m on someone else’s schedule. If I’m not at a stop at a specific time, or at least close enough that the driver can see me waving, the bus ain’t gonna wait around for me, especially in Nashville where the minimum wait time between buses is at least fifteen minutes and usually more. A little over a year ago when I was in Chicago I happened to notice that buses went by about every five minutes and there was the El that went by almost as frequently and I thought, what magical place is this? but that’s another story. Most of the time time isn’t a problem–I know when to leave work, and about when the bus will arrive–but then I have chance encounters with people on the street that make me wish I had a little more flexibility. For a long time there was a guy who stood on the corner across from where I work selling The Contributor, which is a newspaper written by and about people who are homeless in Nashville. It’s a way for them to earn money and find some support. I always felt guilty having to hurry by this guy and if I had a dollar I would stop and buy a paper from him, but mostly our interactions were limited to, “Hey, how’s it going?” He’d found a really good corner to sell newspapers, right at the intersection of two major streets, and close to a cluster of fast food places. A couple of them gave him free food in exchange for telling people how they helped him or giving out coupons with the newspapers. Sometimes he’d tell me he had a new issue and if I didn’t have a dollar I say, “I’ll get it tomorrow,” and the next day I’d make sure to have a dollar. After a few times he learned to trust me. And one day he stopped me and said, “Hey, I’ve got a new issue and this one’s really special. If you haven’t got a dollar today take it now and you can pay me tomorrow.” I said sure, and then he showed me that he’d written the front page article. It was all about how he’d finally saved enough to marry his girlfriend. There was a even a large picture of the two of them, he in a suit and she in a wedding dress. I read the article on the bus. They were planning to move back to his home state, temporarily at least, so he could take care of some legal issues he’d left behind when he became homeless. I really made sure to have a dollar for him the next day, and to congratulate him; I already felt like I’d missed a chance to get to know him, and I didn’t want any lingering debts. He disappeared not long after that, and I still wonder sometimes what’s become of him.
I was reminded of him when I had a very different encounter last week. I was standing on a different corner, waiting for the light to change, and I had three or four library books in my arms because I was researching something and I still like to use old fashioned books to do at least some of my investigating. And a guy came up to me, in jeans and a denim jacket and a woven cap, and he said, “Hey, are you a perpetual student like me?” I just stammered out a yes, and before I could say anything else he walked away, and even though he was going a different direction I thought about following him. I wanted to say, “Hey, what did you mean by that? And could you please tell me everything about you?”
Instead, when the light changed, I crossed the other street and went on to the bus stop. I still regret not following him even though it would have meant being late getting home. How do you prepare for such an unexpected encounter?

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