Monday, July 25, 2011

Bus Report #625

This morning I missed the 38 and then a 38L, so I waited in the early morning mist-that-was-really-more-like-rain. It felt good on my face. The light wind was refreshing, too.
A 38 pulled up and I got on. We booked it down Geary, and got to Fillmore before the 38L that had been behind us.
As we got to the stop I saw a 22 pulling in to the stop a few feet away, so I ran across the street and made the bus just as the driver was about to shut the door.

The bus wasn't very crowded, but it smelled awful, like stale cigarettes and old food. There was a big puddle in the back of the bus, but I couldn't tell what it was.

I sat in a window seat by myself until we got to Church and Market, where a woman with a large, bulging tote bag and her purse sat down beside me. Her purse was a garish polka-dotted number that she kept open on her lap the whole ride, so she could reach in and pull out pieces of a sandwich.
When we got to my stop I signaled that I needed to get out, and she looked at me, and then swung her legs into the aisle.
This left just a few inches for me to slip out, with my purse and my lunch bag. I sighed and the Cor-O-Van guy sitting across the aisle from us caught my eye and shook his head, then rolled his eyes. I smiled and gave him a shrug. What can you do? I thought.
The woman must have caught our exchange because she suddenly hopped up and made some room.
I got out of the bus and went for my coffee.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bus Report #624

Friday afternoon on the 19 Polk.
You can sit in the back of the bus with a family of loud talking teenagers, or in the front with a toothless woman who says "Hello" any time your glance drifts toward her and the window.
You choose the woman, deciding that repeated friendly greetings are more your speed than cackling teenagers.
The bus stays oddly empty until Market. Usually this is the stop where the 19 empties out, but not today.
A dozen students from the ballet school get on, and then a handful of other folks who suck their teeth at the students and tell them to move to the back of the bus, come on now, move.
A man stands next to you. He clutches a cup of coffee in one hand and holds onto the back of your seat with his other hand.
The pocket of his stained jacket rests on your shoulder. No amount of wriggling or leaning away from him seems to help. The pocket is not going anywhere. He talks to himself. Sometimes loudly, sometimes in a voice barely above a whisper.
"You can't go in without an appointment," he says. "You gotta make the appointment and you gotta show up early so they know you're there. You gotta make the appointment." He watches a young man slip in to the only open seat in the front of the bus. "Unh uh," says the man standing next to you. "You can't take that seat, gotta leave it for a lady."
Even though it doesn't seem possible, even more people crowd in on Larkin. The driver tells everyone to move on back.
Someone standing in the back of the bus yells back, "Ain't anywhere else for us to go."
The man standing next to you gets out at Sutter. Your shoulder is finally pocket-free.
A few blocks later, you turn to your toothless seat mate and ask her to pull the signal cord for you.
She says, "hello," and pulls the cord, and smiles a mushy but sweet smile before you stand up and get out of the bus.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bus Report #623

Last Thursday, late, coming home on the 38 Geary.
I'd spent most of the ride listening to music and hadn't paid much attention to the other passengers.
The usual late night mix of drunk kids, folks on their way home from work and tourists unsure of where they were going. I thought I saw the handsome South Asian chef's boyfriend, but not the handsome South Asian chef himself.
The lights on the bus were bright and irritated my eyes. I didn't feel like I needed to put on my sunglasses. That seemed like overkill.
The bus approached my stop so I pulled the signaller and went to the door. I turned my head to the left and saw a familiar face framed in white-blond hair.
The Alien Donut Man was sitting two seats away from me. As always he sat rigidly upright, his hands on his knees, his blue parka zipped up to his neck, and his feet tucked in to their velcro orthopedic shoes.
Where was he going, I wondered? The donut shop was a few stops back. As always, I wanted to swaddle him in soft blankets, or bubble wrap. I wanted to give him money for his donuts and coffee.
Instead, I got out of the bus and walked down the street towards home.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bus Report #622

This morning I overslept at least an hour. My alarm clock had died - I woke up to my neighbors coming down the stairs, the light streaming through the slats of my blinds.
I don't think I've ever gotten out of my apartment as quickly as I did today.
I ran out to catch the 38. The bus approached the stop but made no effort to stop.
"Hey!" I called out, almost running out in front of the bus. The driver, someone I'd never seen before, stopped but he didn't seem happy about it.
I made sure to thank him as sweetly as I could, and went to sit down.
I soon realized our driver just didn't feel like stopping the bus for anyone. He bypassed half a dozen stops. We got down to Fillmore in ten minutes.
The Clean Team truck was parked in the bus stop. A woman stepped down from the truck and began sweeping the bus stop with a small broom. I thought it would take her forever to clean the whole stop.
It was so bright out. I put my sunglasses on and squinted up the street to look for the bus.
The 22 arrived and I got on. It felt strange, almost like it was my first day of school. The bus was full of new faces. The price of sleeping in, I thought.
I was the stranger on their route, not the other way around.

Bus Report #621

And now, a story that I probably should have recounted weeks ago, but forgot about.

I was on the 22, heading home after work. The bus wasn't very crowded. I chose an empty seat in front of a couple who were talking very loudly. Almost as soon as I sat down, I realized why the seat was empty. These two people were all over the place.

The man, who sat in the window seat, kept standing up and moving around. The woman sat on the aisle. She wouldn't let him get past her. And just to add to my confusion, the man addressed the woman as Auntie, even though I doubted she was his aunt.
"Give me my damn phone," the man yelled.
"I don't have your phone," the woman yelled back.
"You'd best be giving it back to me, you bitch," he said. I heard a scuffle behind me but did not turn around, even though I wanted to. The woman cursed him out and moved to the seat on the other side of the aisle.
They kept yelling at each other, until the man reached in to his pocket and found his phone. He did not apologize to her.
"I gotta call Little Mama," he said. "What's her number?"
Another argument ensued: Auntie didn't want to give him the number. Finally, she snatched the phone away from him and punched in the phone number.
"Hey, Little Mama," the man said. Their conversation was short.
The bus crossed 16th and Bryant. The man said, "Yep, yep, we'll be at Mission Street in a quick minute." He ended the call.
Auntie sat back down next to him.
The man started rustling a paper bag. "I gotta divide this shit up," he told Auntie.
She took a deep breath and said, "mmmmm... I love that smell, but you know I don't smoke no weed. But that smells all right."
"You're not getting any of this," he warned her.
As our bus hit South Van Ness, the man said, "listen, we gotta get rid of this white powder I got, before we see Little Mama, or she'll have a fit."
"All right, all right," said Auntie.
And then, seconds away from the Mission and 16th bus stop, the two of them finished off the man's 'white powder'.
"Wipe your nose, wipe your nose," the man hissed at Auntie. "You've got it all over your face."
"I'm fine," Auntie said. The two of them stood in the stairwell, wiping their hands over their faces for a moment, before they got off the bus and met a woman who I assumed was Little Mama across the plaza.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fog City Notes Shills for Independent Bookstores

I love to read. I read for pleasure, I read for school, I read to pass the time.
This requires a lot of books.
It would be so easy to sit at my computer and buy all my books from a mega famous everything-for-sale store.
But you know what? I can't do it. Not that I haven't done it, I have, but I'd really rather not.

If I buy books online, I almost always go to Powell's. I can't recommend them enough.

And for those of us in San Francisco, we have plenty of local bookstores to take advantage of.
Green Apple, Dog Eared, Books Inc., Adobe, Forest Books, Phoenix Books, Booksmith and many more.
We used to have even more choices - rest in peace Abandoned Planet, A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, Casa de Libros, Stacey's.

Our local neighborhood stores are where we go for book signings and other related events.
They know what the neighborhood reads and make sure to stock the books we are interested in. They know about books, about literature. They want to share their favorite reads with the customers.
When I want something new to read, I know the Green Applers will be able to recommend something perfect.
I've been to Booksmith events featuring Paul Auster, David Sedaris, Andrew Sean Greer and Michael Chabon.
TC Boyle came to Green Apple and did a reading down the block at the Rocket Room bar.
Henning Mankell signed his latest novel in a cozy alcove in the Red Delicious Room.

Sure, the mega everything store can get me just about anything I want in two days, but you know what? If I can wait a few more days I know my local shop can get the same book for me, and I don't have to pay shipping.

What's the point of all this? This summer, this week, I've been thinking about how important bookstores are.

I'll leave off with this final observation: I've worked at three bookstores in my life - two of them, my favorite former places of employment, both closed and the third store will probably be closed soon. And it just breaks my heart.

So go buy a book.
(then leave me a comment about what you bought, and where you bought it!)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bus Report #620

Last night I took the 10 Townsend downtown to meet L & H for dinner.
The bus was crowded. I sat in a window seat with several different seatmates - a new one every couple of stops.
At 4th and King the neon was burnt out on the sign for Taqueria, so that it just read, queria.
Our bus inched up 2nd Street. Near Harrison, a woman carried a light blue bowler hat as though it was a precious object, holding it in both hands in front of her body.

The bus got caught at the light at Bush Street. It's a short light and cars kept stopping in the intersection. The man sitting next to me sighed. A woman standing next to him said, "This is insane, isn't it?"
My seatmate said, "The cars just keep coming."
I said, "Bet you that school bus stops in the intersection when it's our turn to go."
Four light cycles later we were on our way. I jumped out at Sacramento and walked up to Broadway, taking a roundabout route through Jackson Square. I love the old brick buildings and how quiet it is down there outside of working hours.
There were clots of people in front of Vesuvio and City Lights, taking pictures, smoking cigarettes, peering at the books in the window displays.
I saw L & H waiting for me on the corner.

Later, after dinner and coffee, I left L & H near their hotel and walked down to catch the 38.
The bus arrived a few minutes later. I sat in the back. The man in front of me clutched his head in his hands and mumbled to himself. I hoped he wouldn't get out at my stop so I watched him, but at some point I must have gotten distracted because he disappeared somewhere between Divisadero and Collins.
I stepped out of the bus at my stop. The fog obscured the traffic lights so that they looked soft, almost a suggestion instead of a direction.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bus Report #619

Recent Muni sights I (don't think) I've mentioned yet.

-A sign from SFMTA hanging above my seat encouraging people to take Muni to Ocean Beach. No mention of the 38 Geary, the bus we were all on.
-A man reading Kavalier & Clay, one of my favorites, so devastating I had to put it down for several months, but so good I finished it in one evening when I picked it up again.
-A neon hotel sign shrouded in early morning fog.
-A man spinning wool into yarn on the 33 Stanyan. The entire process just mesmerizing.

Bus Report #618

Last night on the 22 I sat next to a slightly twitchy man who kept leaning forward to look out the window, then leaning back and sighing.
I knew him.
Rather, we'd met before, briefly, one night a couple years ago when he was out at a local bar with a friend of his. They were both drunk and very friendly, and P. and I hung out with them a little. I can't remember either of their names but he had a memorable face: very angular jaw, sideburns that didn't look stupid, and dark, dark eyes, so brown or blue they were almost black.

I got out at Geary and waited for the 38 huddled in the bus shelter with a half-dozen other chilly commuters. The bus came and we got on.

Another familiar face on this bus, too, L. who I took a class with a few years ago. He used to give me rides home from our foggy and cold Fort Mason campus. He'd pull up to me as I waited in the bus stop and he'd fling open the passenger side door of his little, beat up standard death trap. "Get in!" he'd say, barely stopping the car for me to jump in.
I know we got some weird looks from other folks waiting for the bus, but a ride's a ride and I never said no.
I hadn't seen him in a long time. Is it possible for adults to get taller, noticeably taller, like almost a foot taller? Because he looked as though he'd grown, and towered over me more than I remembered. His hair was wild from the wind, a little thinner and longer than I remembered. He had two grocery bags on the floor between his feet. He seemed lost in thought and did not notice me.

I worked my way to the back of the bus, wondering why it was so empty.
I smelled the reason a moment later - the rear of the bus smelled like fresh vomit and old clothes.
There weren't any obvious culprits lurking in the back of the bus, either. One woman kept her hand on front of her face. A young man I recognize from around the neighborhood kept his chin tilted up towards the open window.
I got out at my stop. The smell of fresh baked bread from the bakery nearby hung in the air. I gulped it in, greedily.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bus Report #617

Days and days on Muni and not much to report.
Yesterday I was walking to work after getting my coffee (and spending some time chatting with James about baseball) when my favorite 22 Fillmore driver pulled up beside me and opened the door, just to say hi, just to smile and wave and wish me a good day. I smiled and waved back at him, told him it was great to see him.

The guys at the garage were leaning over a work bench, their coffee cups holding down some papers. Frank looked up and hollered over, "Hey, have a good day, see you tomorrow!"

A friendly morning, to say the least.

Sunday afternoon I took the 33 Stanyan down to the Mission to meet E. for coffee.
The upper Haight was full of tourists and neighborhood people, some clowns (in every sense of the word) on stilts out front Ben & Jerry's. I noticed more empty storefronts than the last time I rode through the Haight. Add the impending closure of the Red Vic to the list and it is not a pretty picture. But the Booksmith looked busy as did the Haight Street Market, so all is not lost.

After a fun couple hours drinking coffee, looking at murals on Balmy Alley and pricing Lucha Libre masks down on 24th Street, I headed back up to the bus stop.
Back in my neighborhood, the fog had already rolled itself out over the avenues and the wind had picked up. I buttoned my jacket and hurried down Geary to home.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Bus Report #616

Back in San Francisco after almost 2 weeks in Boston. This morning I got on the 38 and the driver said, "You been on vacation or something?"
"I was," I told him, not feeling the need to go in to detail about school.
"Well I hope you had a good time," he said.
"I did, thanks," I said.
I tapped my Clipper card once to (hopefully) activate my autoload, then again to make sure it accepted my card. Success! But I won't be autoloading again. I think it's stupid that it can take 3-5 days to register on your card. No thanks.

Boston was good - just as it should be. It was hot, humid, a different summertime experience than what we're used to out here. I spent my mornings riding the 66 bus to Cambridge in air-conditioned silence, the bus barreling through traffic, picking up people dressed in summery clothes we just don't see enough of around here.
A cheerful see-you-later to the driver always resulted in smiles and waves and a joke or two when our paths crossed further up Mass Ave.

Later, I'd wait by the cemetery for the bus home. A ritual dating back to my high school days.

One night, waiting for the 66 across the street from Charlie's Kitchen, I felt transported back in time over a decade.
I pictured waiting for the last bus out of the Square with Andy, while our co-workers stayed upstairs knocking back beers ahead of last call.
Andy lighting a cigarette on our often-times-true assertion that smoking accelerated the bus' arrival.