Adventures In Busing.

In The Dark.

darkbusAlthough the change to Daylight Savings Time is a couple of weeks behind us it still means I have a few more weeks of getting up in the dark, which makes me think that maybe instead of changing the clocks twice a year we should make it something like Groundhog Day, except tied to birds or squirrels or aardvarks. If they sing before dawn or lose their nuts or dig up an anthill before dawn on a certain day we’ll have six weeks of getting up an hour earlier and if they don’t—and let’s make it something really unlikely to happen—then we can all sleep late for six weeks. I’m kind of worried about this, though, because the whole joke hinges on a holiday from more than a month ago so I should have come up with all this then. Maybe I can pull it back out next year when everybody’s forgotten this, including me, which means I won’t remember to pull it out until the middle of next March.

Anyway getting up in the dark also means sometimes getting going so early I have to catch the bus in the dark, which I’ve done a few times. And it always amazes me that even when I’m at an unlit bus stop far from the nearest streetlight and also dressed like a ninja bus drivers still see me and stop. How they spot me is a mystery, although those headlights probably help. I’ve never had a bus driver fail to stop in the dark. I have had some zip right by me in broad daylight, though. I must be hard to spot when I’m not dressed like a ninja.

Hey, Happy Birthday Carrott!

On my first trip to Britain I flew British Air. A lot’s probably changed since then but the amenities were unbelievable, even compared to other airlines at the time. The seats were comfortable, alcohol was free, and it was impossible to sleep because every ten seconds somebody was coming by to offer me tea and biscuits. And the crazy thing is this was regular coach. What did people in first class get? Four star meals? Individual hot tubs? Massages? I’m not sure I want to know. It’s even more incredible to look back on it now when airlines nickel and dime passengers in a dozen different ways—although I guess British Airways shillings and bobs them, but that’s another story—and are looking for ways to pack in even more passengers.

Anyway the most surprising feature was the airline radio. If you’re of a certain age you may remember that some airlines had a headphone jack in the armrest and you could tune it to a small number of stations: easy listening, contemporary jazz, light rock, death-techno-thrash-metal, and, of course, an endless loop of babies crying. I remember some airlines made you pay for the headphones. I’m pretty sure British Air would have given them away for free but since this was the early ‘90’s and I was a college student I had a Walkman and my own headphones. To save the battery and to enjoy the soothing sounds of sobbing toddlers I plugged them into the armrest and discovered that in addition to the music stations British Air had a comedy selection. The whole thing ran about an hour and was composed of short bits from various comics, most of whom I knew. And then this guy started talking about a mole problem. If the seats hadn’t been so wide and comfortable—I swear I’m not being paid by British Air which is probably bankrupt now for being so nice anyway—I’m sure I would have disturbed everybody around me because I was laughing so hard.

The comedian was Jasper Carrott, whose birthday is today. My British friends were pleased and a little surprised that I liked Carrott so much and the local video store provided several of his performances, including American Carrott. He’d been to America. I wonder what his flight was like.

Here’s the mole story.

Dances With Dogs.

dogsMany of us have daily routines, but something I only realized recently is how often our routines are shaped by things we don’t control. I like to think I set my own routine but circumstances help shape it. This occurred to me when my afternoon walk home from the bus stop changed. Every day for years I walked by a neighbor’s house that had a fenced front yard. And every day two dogs would come running up to the fence. They had their names stitched on their collars in bold letters so I knew they were called Major and Minnie. Major was a gray and white mix of, well, who knows, but at least part Boxer judging from his broad head and muzzle which I think makes Boxers look very thoughtful and distinguished. And Minnie was at least part Labrador retriever, but she was small and leggy with a splotch of white on her chest. I’d say hello as I went by. Major would whine at me and Minnie would bark and jump on him, clearly saying, “Play with ME!”

One day I walked up to the fence and they both stood up on their hind legs and wagged their tails. I didn’t put my hand through the fence—never, ever do that, kids—but I did put it up flat against the fence and let them sniff it. This made them happy although I’m not sure why.

A few years later a For Sale sign went up in the yard in front of the fence. I didn’t really think about it until the house was sold and one day as I went by Major and Minnie weren’t there. Then the new owners tore down the fence, and that’s when I realized that not only were my canine friends gone but there wouldn’t be any others to take their place. They weren’t my dogs and I only saw them for a few minutes a few days a week but they were part of my routine—a part I looked forward to. I missed them.

And then as I was passing another house I heard barking from the fenced in backyard. He’s some kind of Terrier mix and I have no idea what his name is, and I’m not going to cross someone’s yard to get close enough to let him sniff my hand, but we say hello to each other. We’ve become part of each others’ new daily routine.

All Together Now.

Source: Encyclopedia Spongebobia

It was cold and windy. There was a light drizzle coming down mixed with sleet. My feet hurt and I’d been stuck in a late afternoon meeting in a building several blocks away from my office so my walk to the bus stop was even farther than usual. And I’d missed my regular bus by more than an hour. I didn’t have a schedule with me and experience has taught me schedules are unreliable anyway. Also I really couldn’t gauge how long the trek to my regular stop was going to be. It’s a rule of buses that even if you miss one another will be along eventually, but I wondered how long “eventually” would be. I really didn’t want to stand around on the sidewalk waiting for forty minutes to an hour but I really didn’t have a choice.

Then, still several blocks away from my bus stop, as I was waiting to cross the street I looked over and noticed half a dozen people huddled in a bus shelter. And it occurred to me that even though the bus they were waiting for would take me in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go it would, in about a dozen blocks, intersect with my bus’s route. It would be a short reprieve from the weather and there was still no knowing how long I’d be standing around but this bus could deposit me right at a stop where I could catch my bus.

The traffic light turned yellow. I didn’t have much time to decide. Would I or wouldn’t I?

I did. I shuffled over and joined the people in the shelter.

Now here’s the question for you: how did the people influence my decision?

End Of The Line.

hospitalSometimes when I’m the last person on the bus I pretend it’s one of those party buses, but a really cheap one so it doesn’t have flashing lights or a minibar or a disco dance floor or a hot tub or a bathroom or a kitchen with a celebrity chef or wifi or an espresso machine or a fireplace or a tape dispenser or a gym or a library or a holographic chimpanzee or a carpentry class or a hedge maze or a miniature boxing ring with brown recluse spiders going at it or a racetrack. I’ve never been on one of those party buses so I don’t really know what’s on them in case you couldn’t tell. Anyway I sometimes get distracted by my own thoughts or a podcast I’m listening to so I zone out and don’t pay attention to where the bus is. My stop is the last one before a long stretch of interstate entry and exit ramps where there are no stops. There’s no place for the bus to stop. If I forget to pull the stop cord in time I might as well ride the bus all the way to the end of the line and circle back.

And that happened to me once. I’m proud—maybe a little too proud—to say it only happened once, although it’s not really a big deal. I felt like a schmuck and tried to pay a second fare but the driver just laughed and told me to sit back down.

When we arrived at the end of the line—the parking lot of a large shopping center—I sat back and thought about what being at the end of the line meant. Have you ever seen a mile marker to the next town and wondered where exactly the boundary is and where does town really begin? I’ve heard the phrase “the edge of town” in so many stories. It’s always a place where shady things happen so I picture it as dark and lonely place, even if the events occur in the middle of the day. The point where the shopping center is was once a Native American burial ground, and even before the shopping center came along must have been on the outskirts of town. Urban sprawl has pushed the outskirts farther out. I wonder whether the town boundaries have been redrawn to keep up or if the road signs still mark the same number of miles from one town to the next.

The bus started up again snapping me out of my reverie. I didn’t want to miss my stop a second time.

Snow Route.

snowrouteIt started snowing before I left the office. Instead of individual flakes big clumps of snow were falling and waves of snow blew across the street like sand on the beach. That always means sooner or later the roads will be covered. I walked to the bus stop at the top of the hill where I can see half a mile or more down the street—at least when the weather is clear. There was no sign of the big green and red LED route number and name in the distance so I started walking. Snow was already piling up on the streets, and the sidewalk. I thought by walking toward town, toward the bus depot, I’d get closer to the bus and that way get out of the snow sooner. I reached the bottom of the hill and walked more blocks until I got to the overpass. Sometimes—at least when the weather is clear—I’ll cross the overpass, although it makes me nervous to have cars zipping by on my right and only a short concrete wall between me and a twenty-foot drop on my left. Since bridges and overpasses freeze sooner than roads I stopped, turned, and went back to the nearest bus stop. Still no sign of the bus so I then walked to the next bus stop, away from the depot now, but at least moving was a way to keep me warm. Cars were crawling by and I knew I’d be able to flag down the bus when it came.

Then my phone rang. It was my wife. “I think you’d better ride home with me.”

I started trudging toward her office. We’d walk to her parking garage and ride home together.

The bus never did come.

2016: A Bus Odyssey.

“You’re odd-I-see, true to your name!”

-the goddess Ino to Odysseus, from The Odyssey, translated by W.H.D. Rouse

The construction went on for a surprisingly short time: less than two months. I assumed it was one of the local companies that had torn up and closed off a section of the sidewalk, blocking off pedestrian access because that is what’s happening all over town. And there was already a perfectly good bus stop there—and by “perfectly good bus stop” I mean a metal sign stuck to a pole. But then when the construction was done there was this…thing.


Source: Essays & Articles of Cinema

Okay, it wasn’t exactly like that, but it was a monolith next to a bus shelter where there had never been one before. Because of the construction I’d been catching the bus at a different stop so its appearance was a bit of a surprise.

odyssey2Hesitantly I touched it.

odyssey3Nothing happened.

What is it? What is it supposed to do? Based on a single picture I found on the Nashville MTA website it looks like it will eventually have a large route map, but the information is scant and for now it’s just this big blank thing standing on the street next to the bus shelter. It’s probably something to do with the project to install 100 new bus shelters, but what are the proposed “amenities” and how does the signal work? I contacted the MTA and got this answer:

When the button is pressed a small light flashes atop the bus shelter.  It is best used when the bus can be seen in the distance.

Which is fine, except in those places where the hills or turns or construction that’s torn up the sidewalk make it so the bus can’t be seen in the distance.


Source: Essays & Articles of Cinema

Walk On Guy.

walkI like to sit at the very back of the bus, especially during the winter since the engine is back there and the back seat is warm. As I walked past the other passengers I made eye contact with a guy in a dark green coat and a black cap. Was that a flicker of recognition on his face? Did he wonder why I was boarding the bus here?

I walk a lot. It’s a little over half a mile from the bus stop to my house, plus there’s the walk to where I catch the bus. Some days I’ll walk more than a mile and a half from my office to the bus stop. There are nearer stops but unless I can see the bus coming I keep walking. And depending on personal whims I may walk with the traffic—taking me slightly closer to home—or I may walk against the traffic, taking me farther away from home but putting me closer to the oncoming bus. And even when I get to a bus stop and settle down to wait I won’t always sit down. Sometimes I’ll pace back and forth covering who knows how much ground before the bus finally arrives.

It’s just a weird habit. Out on the road I don’t feel like standing still. So I keep walking. The other day I passed a guy sitting at a bus stop. He had on an army jacket and jeans. A cascade of copper dreadlocks spilled from under his cap. He looked up at me as I went by. I wondered if he were waiting for a bus or just resting. Maybe he was out walking too. I continued on for about six blocks and finally hit a point where the stops are so far apart–the next one is on the other side of a long overpass–I was afraid the bus would zip by me before I could get to the stop, so I stood where I was. And then paced around where I was.

The bus arrived and I boarded and as I walked to the back I recognized the army jacket, black cap, and copper dreads. He looked up at me. Was there judgment in those eyes? Did he recognize me, and did he wonder if there was something about him that made me unwilling to share a bus stop with him? I felt so uncomfortable about it I almost said out loud, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Planets Will Guide The Peace.

sagittariusI had to get a new smartphone. My last one was more than three years old. Wait a minute. Why did I have to get a new smartphone? The one I had was only three years old. I’ve eaten cheese that was older than that. After a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth and screaming “FORGET IT! I’M TAKING IT BACK!” at least twenty-seven times before we even got home and a sleepless night and a lot of frustration with trying to transfer most of my data I finally accepted my new smartphone. Mostly. I still wonder who the idiot was who thought putting the headphone jack on the bottom was a good idea, which I realize is a change Apple made not long after I got my previous smartphone and which, three years later, is still one of the stupidest ideas ever, but that’s another story.

Let me be blunt: I hate changing technology because I think 99.999999999% of upgrades are completely unnecessary and while I’m not a violent person the fact that technologically oriented people all seem to believe that new or different automatically equals better makes me want to punch something. And it doesn’t help that when I’ve talked to tech-types about this I feel like I’m talking to a character from Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano.

If it weren’t for the people, the god-damn people’ said Finnerty, ‘always getting tangled up in the machinery. If it weren’t for them, the world would be an engineer’s paradise.

A lot of my frustration was what I lost. The songs I’d downloaded were gone. Well, not gone, really, but needed to be downloaded again because they’d been put back in “the cloud”. Songs I’d added from CDs–soon to be an obsolete technology, if it isn’t already, because it’s so darn old–would need to be reloaded. Podcasts I’d been saving to listen to were gone. And several of my favorite apps simply don’t exist anymore. I had to hunt around and find new ones to replace them. One of my favorite astronomy apps is gone but I found a new one called SkyView that’s free–my favorite price–and, much as I hate to admit it, is actually much, much cooler than the old one. I was playing around with it on the bus and had some idea of where we were in relation to Mercury, Venus, and the constellation Sagittarius, still below the horizon.

The bus and all the riders and all of us were–and are–travelling in space. Being able to see where we are in relation to some of our closest neighbors, and some very distant ones–stars so distant we’re really only seeing them as they appeared long before humans even appeared on this planet–gave me some perspective.

In the book Centauri Dreams Paul Gilster goes over a lot of possible scenarios for reaching Alpha Centauri and other nearby stars. It’s pretty daunting. Our closest stellar neighbor is more than four light years away so even if we could get a probe there it would still take more than four years for the data to get back to us. It seems unlikely we’ll get there in my lifetime. Our nearest planetary neighbors are much more within reach—and if you count unmanned probes we’ve been able to get at least near all of them.

I could have put the SkyView app on my old phone, but I didn’t know it was there. I didn’t think to go looking for it until I got a new phone. It helped me make peace with my new phone, and I can accept that sometimes technological change is a good thing.

Just don’t get me started on how stupid it is that the power cords have changed.

As a bonus here’s a picture of the moon and Aquarius over my house. It was actually a crescent moon but SkyView superimposes a picture of a full moon, in case you don’t know what that sickle-shaped thing in the sky is.




IMG_2979These plaques were installed in Nashville buses following the death of Rosa Parks in 2005. They weren’t installed in every bus, just some, so you never know when you’re going to see them. It seems to me like a metaphor for what happened to Rosa Parks. The woman who asked her to move didn’t expect to be told “No.”
The story that was taught us in school was that Rosa Parks was physically exhausted, too tired to move. It’s more profound, I think, if she was able to move but mentally exhausted, tired of being told to move by people who were unwilling to take perfectly good seats farther back on the bus. It takes more courage to remain, to take a stand, when you’re capable of moving.
It was an important moment in the civil rights movement, a movement created and led by people who could have moved but instead had the courage to stay seated.


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