Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bus Report #596

This morning I was running a few minutes late, but it didn't bother me. I caught a crowded 38L down to Fillmore, then waited for the 22.
The bus came a couple minutes later and I got on. It was empty so everyone had their pick of seats. I opened the window above my seat. The bus smelled like mildew and unwashed bodies.
I sat against the window, listening to music, not really paying attention to anything or anyone.
When our bus stopped at Turk a few of the usual suspects got on: the teen girl who goes to Catholic School in the Mission, the older Russian woman with the fried, permed hair and a slouchy kid with an over-sized sweatshirt.
A familiar figure got on and walked towards me. It was James, an elderly man I sometimes talk to at the coffee shop in the morning.
He smiled at me and sat down beside me. "You stay out here?" he asked. "I thought you stayed by the coffee shop."
"Nope, I'm over in the Richmond," I said. "And I thought YOU lived closer to Potrero."
He shook his head. "I just like to get out in the morning and go somewhere, get some coffee." He laughed and his whole body shook. "I've got nothing else to do," he said.
James has a small diamond stud in his left ear. He is clean-shaven, with big wire frame glasses, a black baseball cap and if he isn't wearing a Giants jacket he's wearing a black sweatshirt. He stutters a little when he talks but it is barely noticeable.
He's lived in San Francisco for over forty years. He's retired now, and spends his time visiting his friends and family and drinking coffee at the coffee shop near my office. He's a friendly, chatty man and someone I always look forward to seeing.
I pulled the signal cord as we approached my usual stop.
"I usually get out at the next one," James said, "But I'll walk with you today."
We waited at the corner for the light to change.
"I don't feel like getting hit by a car today," I said, as a red Camry bore down on us.
He laughed. "Me, either. I'm 72 this year and I don't need to go that way."
We walked to the coffee shop together. The baristas were all dressed in 60s-style garb, and they had some music on. "It's 60s day!" said P., which made his hippie headband and necklaces make more sense.
James, always the gentleman, motioned for me to get in line in front of him.
"Thanks," I said.
When I put in my coffee order I leaned in close to K. (dressed in a green and cream patterned button up shirt, how retro!) and said, "Is there any way I can get his coffee, too, whatever he's getting?"
We were conspirators now. She nodded, shot James a glance. "No problem," she said.
When L. started to ring him up, she said, "It's already taken care of."
I thanked the ladies and wished everyone a great day.
"I'll see you later, James," I said, as he settled into his usual seat by the window.
"You have a good day now," he said, lifting his coffee cup in my direction.
"You,too," I said.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bus Report #595

The 22 Fillmore died at 16th and Church this morning.
"Sorry," said the driver as we all got out of the bus, two dozen annoyed, sleepy commuters who did not need to be where we suddenly found ourselves.
I turned up my music and started walking, figuring that even if we waited for a bus it would be crowded and slow and not the right way to approach a Monday back at the office.
16th Street was quiet, so quiet that for a moment I thought there was something wrong with my hearing. I kept pace with a blond, bearded boy who had been sitting in front of me on the bus. We didn't talk, didn't acknowledge each other, but kept catching up with one another at each street corner when the lights changed.
The knot of passengers thinned out as we walked down 16th. People turned down Guerrero and Valencia, others maneuvered through the scarecrows and overflowing shopping carts in 16th and Mission plaza, heading underground to BART.

I walked past the Victoria Theater: empty marquee, and a bright orange used condom on the sidewalk.

Orchids in the windows at the Poppy Flower Shop.
A length of rusty chain looped around the door to Irma's Pampanga Restaurant. Who would try to break in there? I thought.
Out front the health clinic, a handful of people already waiting to go inside.
I got to Potrero just as a 22 Fillmore bus pulled in to the stop.
I didn't get on, but kept walking the rest of the way to work.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bus Report #594

On my way to meet The Teacher's Pet I took the 22 up the hill to Farley's.
The bus wasn't crowded, and it was mostly quiet. Everyone looked tired and beat down by the rain, which had stopped for a few minutes. Still, we were all damp in our jackets and the teens in the back of the bus weren't even smack-talking each other.
A couple rows ahead of me sat a little boy with the coolest metallic red hearing aids. He talked to his dad about school and things he could see out the window.
A couple of men got out in front of Sunflower. The back doors didn't slide shut behind them as they should have, and the driver tried a couple of times to close them.
Everyone sat still, no one did anything.
Finally I got up and tugged the right-side door shut. The other door snapped back into place too.
The driver called back, "Thanks."
I sat down.
The little boy turned around in his seat and stared at me. I grinned at him and wiggled my eyebrows, winked. He burst out laughing, and I felt happy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bus Report #593

For the fourth day in a row, the woman sitting across from me on the 38 was highlighting and underlining passages in the book she was reading, some book about teenage life in the countryside. I get sad when I see people writing in books, I can't help it. I wanted to pass her the sticky notes I use to mark my school books, say, "use these instead, you won't be sorry."

At Fillmore I stood alone in the bus stop until a man walked up and stood right next to me, asked, "How long you been waiting?"
"A couple minutes," I said, and moved away from him.
He kept pacing in the stop, crouching down to try to see the bus coming over the hill. He walked into the middle of the street to look, too.
I had my headphones on and tried not to pay attention to him, but his twitchiness was making me feel twitchy, too.
A Muni driver who is usually on our bus crossed the street and said something to the twitchy man. They both walked off together towards the 38, which didn't make any sense if they were heading towards the Mission or Potrero Hill.
A couple minutes later my favorite 22 Fillmore driver pulled up, flashing his beautiful smile and saying, "Good morning, dear, it's been a while."
I smiled and patted his arm and sat down.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bus Report #592

Tonight I caught a 33 Stanyan bus at Potrero and 16th. It was a diesel bus (they must be doing some overhead wire work - all the 33s I saw tonight were diesels) and it was full but not packed.
I took a seat in the back of the bus across from a man who was doing some embroidery. He had a metal embroidery hoop (I've never seen those! Mine are all wooden, really crappy fakey wood) and it looked like he was doing some sort of multi-colored design.
"What are you working on?" I asked him.
He looked up at me and said, "A birthday card."
"Cool," I said. He lifted the hoop for a moment as he adjusted the tightness. I saw that he had already embroidered a pretty design on the bottom and there was writing in three colors that spelled out: Happy Birthday Aunt Ellen.
What a great idea. What a great nephew.
We had a smooth ride up 16th to Mission Street. There were a lot of people in the plaza, as always, but I didn't see anything unusual tonight. Maybe the intermittent rain was keeping the crazies away.
The bus emptied out in the Castro. The embroiderer got up and waved goodbye to me before he left.
In the Haight two cops were trying to get some sit/lie kids to move on. It didn't look like it was working.
The bus spit me out onto Clement Street. From work to home in less than forty minutes today, lovely.

Bus Report #591

Late afternoon, waiting in front of Thee Parkside for the 22 Fillmore bus.
I've got my headphones on, listening to some music, when I notice a high school kid in a baseball uniform standing next to the fence at Jackson Playground.
He sees me and calls out to me. I take off my headphones, yell back, "What was that?"
He points off to my left and says, "Can you do me a favor? Can you grab that baseball and toss it back over the fence?"
I look at my watch. Couple minutes before the bus is supposed to arrive, so why not?
I jog across the street and follow his pointing finger down to the street, where a filthy, worn out baseball sits next to a parked car. I pick up the ball and throw it over the fence.
The kid catches it and says, "hey, thanks a lot!"
"Welcome," I say, and cross back to the bus stop to catch the bus that's just now coming around the corner.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bus Report #590

Late the other night I walked out to Market Street with A. after drinks and dinner in North Beach. She took BART back to the East Bay. I waited at Market and Montgomery for the 38.
There were a handful of people waiting, most looked like they'd just gotten off work.
The bus was pleasantly empty at first. By the time we got to Union Square it was packed.
I sat towards the back of the bus, surrounded by tourists with big backpacks and some down-and-out folks just trying to stay upright as we rode up Geary.

One man looked very sick. He had his hood pulled up over his face but I could see his bloodshot, watery eyes and his open, toothless mouth. He clutched the pole with shiny, red, club-fingered hands. His sweatsuit was covered in flecks of dirt. No one wanted to stand near him. He didn't look like he wanted to be around us, either.
He got out at Leavenworth, lurching to the stairs and almost falling out the door.

At the Larkin Street stop I saw a familiar figure slowly walking down the aisle. It was the alien donut man, in his blue parka, his white white hair glowing under the light.
There weren't many seats available, at least that I could see from where I was sitting.
I resolved that I'd give him my seat if he needed it, even if that meant we'd have an actual interaction instead of the quick glance, nod and wave we always exchanged when I passed by the donut shop.
It didn't come to that, though. He found a seat right before the accordion section of the bus.
He sat perfectly straight in his seat, his head and shoulders up and back.
Every now and then the crowd would shift and I'd catch a glimpse of his fine white hair against his pink scalp.
He got out at the corner near the donut shop and I pictured him shuffling up the street in the dark to the brightly lit store, where he would have his usual: a cup of coffee and two glazed donuts. He'd sit in his regular spot, of course, sit there until the sun came up or until he finished his coffee, whichever happened first.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bus Report #589

Tonight's commute home:

Across the aisle from me sat a man and his little daughter. The girl was around 3 years old, very cute with her hair all braided and barretted. She started grabbing at a bag of cheese puffs that her dad was trying to open for her.
"Hold on, G," the dad said, "man, dude, don't you be grabbing on those cheese puffs. Now you've spilled them, G. That's not right." And then he said, "When I was your age if we got cheese puffs we wouldn't have been all spilling them on the bus. Damn, that's our tax dollars cleaning that up."

A block away from Potrero an older man with torn jeans and a cane that didn't seem to do much for him shuffled to the back door and waited for the bus to stop.
"Thank you," he called up to the driver. "Thank you."
The driver was confused. "What are you thanking me for, sir?" he asked.
"For getting me where I need to go," the man said.
"Oh, all right, you're welcome," said the driver. "Just hang on until we get to the stop."

Bus Report #588

This morning on the 22 Fillmore:

One man dug into his tote bag and took out a box of dental floss. He tore off a long piece and set to work flossing his teeth. I think I said, "God, that's disgusting," out loud instead of just thinking it.
I tried to look away but caught his reflection in the glass. I looked down at my hands instead.
A few minutes later, he hacked up what sounded like several ounces of phlegm. I didn't watch him do it.

Later, at Valencia (or 'Valensha' as the automated recording says) two men tried to get out through the back door after the driver had already shut it. One of them kept banging the door until the driver opened it for them.

The other man had fresh blood smeared over his nose and cheek, and a large patch of blood on the white part of his windbreaker. I know I wasn't the only person watching to see if he touched anything, so I could avoid it later.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bus Report #587

I don't think I ever wrote about this strange driver on the 33 line I had about a month ago.
He seemed normal enough at first, calling out stops and making everyone pay their fare, shooing people towards the back of the bus for a wheelchair passenger.
Our bus rode up through the Castro.
Did someone have a cat? There was a loud meowing sound coming from the front of the bus. I looked around to see if anyone had a cat carrier or anything like that. Nope.

It was then that I realized: Our driver was the one meowing, not a cat at all.

We hit Ashbury and the driver said, "Ashbury. Blueberry. Strawberry. Blackberry. Ashbury, folks."

On Haight Street we passed a street-ratty-looking girl enveloped in a cloud of pot smoke. The driver got on the PA again: "Someone's smoking that wacky tabaccy," he said. "Better not be smoking that stuff here."

He laughed, he babbled, he called out stops and made comments. No one seemed to be amused, though. I grinned at a man sitting a few rows ahead. He rolled his eyes back at me.

Has anybody else experienced this odd driver?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bus Report #586

On the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the Fillmore this morning: one stainless steel spoon, face up on the tile.

Hermann Street, near Church: two small speakers in blond wood cases, one large, brown, battered shoe.

16th and San Jose, behind the barbed wire fence: a large pink beanbag pillow with a beige dog's paw sewn on the side.

A few minutes later: I was halfway to work when a 22 Fillmore bus pulled up alongside me. My favorite driver, now on the later shift, flung open the doors just to say good morning to me.
I smiled and waved, and kept walking.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Bus Report #585

I had a nightmare last night, and it was about Muni.
I dreamt I was babysitting for the newborn daughter of a friend of a friend.
I had the baby with me on the 22 Fillmore. She was asleep in her little carrier. Her diaper bag was right next to her.
At Potrero and 16th I decided to go run a few errands, but I'd let her sleep on the bus and after my errands I'd rejoin the bus a few stops later.
I got out, leaving the baby and her stuff on the seat.
When I caught up with the bus at Rhode Island and 17th a few minutes later, the baby was (predictably, yet alarmingly) gone.
No one knew where she was or who had taken her.
The driver suggested I try the lost and found.
Another passenger said I should call 311.
And of course the on-board video cameras were broken.