Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bus Report #615

You're running late, again, but still manage to catch the 38L just as you get to the bus stop.
It's a smooth ride down to Fillmore. You don't care either way; if you're late, you might get your favorite driver, and that is never bad.
Instead, the driver is new to you, friendly and smiley, but new.
You settle in to your seat after opening a few windows.
At McAllister, the poles come down so the driver slings her purse over her shoulder and gets out of the bus to fix it. You are on your way again in a couple of minutes.
At Mission Street the poles come down again, this time for good.
At least it is a straight walk down 16th to get to work from there, and the driver is apologetic as she explains to the boy with the limp: "There's no way these poles are gonna keep up for the rest of my route."
So you hop out and start walking, glad it's not too hot, glad you're not walking from McAllister or Church like you've done before.
Perhaps because you're not stressing, after a couple blocks a 33 Stanyan pulls up and you get on, ride a few stops to the coffee shop.
And maybe this is why you're a few minutes off schedule today - James is sitting in the window. And you've been worrying about him. It has been months since you've seen him, and as you open the front door you think, "he's still alive."
And he smiles, and he says, "Hey, I was wondering where you went!"
And you reply, "I'll come visit with you, just let me get my coffee first."
The barista fills your thermos, slides you a coupon for a free cup. You'll use it weeks later, running to get something hot to drink before a volunteer gig downtown.
Thermos in hand you go over to where James is sitting.
He greets you in his usual, friendly way, stuttering a little, but that's okay because for him, you've got the time.
"I can't complain," you say, an answer to his question about how things are going.
He smiles and throws his head back and says, "well, you could, but no one would listen to you!"
You leave the shop, telling James it's great to see him.
You say hi to the man pruning the hedge next door. You wave to the cluster of blue-jacketed people waiting to be let in to their office.
Across the street, Frank has his headphones on and is washing down a patch of sidewalk in front of the garage. He takes off one earphone and says, "Hey! What's going on?"
"Same old same," you reply. Which is true and also not true. But he smiles, wishes you a good day and gets back to his work.
The sun is so bright you are blind even with your sunglasses. As you climb the hill you feel the familiar pull in your legs that reminds you how good it feels to be walking up the street at such a steep grade.
And that's your morning.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Bus Report #614

Last night's 22 Fillmore bus was one of the diesels, so it was hot, it was crowded and there was a lot to see.
Kids trying to pretend they were tapping their non-existent Clipper cards.
Two guys discussing a third friend's military experience: "It was either the army or he'da had ta go to prison."
I had my headphones on, listening to The Cuban Cowboys, then Orphans & Vandals, then Jorge Drexler. But I could still hear my neighbor's conversations.

Dramatis Personae: Snappily dressed girl with slight pompadour, to her friend, dressed head-to-toe in black, some of her clothes faded to different shades to make the over all look kind of shabby. For convenience sake, let's call them Mary Sue and Jane.

Mary Sue: I don't know what you know about 90s music, but basically a lot of it was really screamy female bands and stuff like that. [oh Mary Sue... You were still in diapers in the mid-nineties, are you sure you want to talk about things you don't really know about? -ed.]

Jane: Like what are some examples?

Mary Sue: Well, like for example this band The Gits? They were a 90s band, but like, a punk rock band. From Portland. [Incorrect. Seattle. - ed.]

Jane: I've never heard of them.

Mary Sue: It's sad because like, the singer's voice? It was really strong? And then like, she got MURDERED.

Jane: Oh my god, that's like, so RANDOM.

Mary Sue: Yeah. She was on her way home and like, went down the wrong street and she was killed.

Jane: Wow. So you like their music?

Mary Sue: Well, I haven't really heard more than a couple songs. But I have all their CDs!

I sat there and wished I hadn't just overheard their conversation. I think I lost some brain cells.

At Geary I switched to a very packed 38L. In the back of the bus I stood between a pack of teenagers and a woman probably not much older than the kids. The kids couldn't stop snickering about the woman, and staring at her.
She wore one of those unflattering, stretchy empire-waist shirt dresses, the top of which was stretched out over her lumpy, drooping breasts, the rest of it looking too upcycled and drapey to do anything for her.
She had both arms in the air, her hands clutching the poles. Her arms were all scratched up, her skin flaky, her underarms a mess of scraggly red hair. The kids just couldn't handle it.
To finish the look, the woman wore thick tortoiseshell glasses. The kind of plastic frames that didn't look good on me in seventh grade. Her hair was a mess, too. As though she had just rolled out of bed.
The kids laughed and stared. The woman did not notice.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Bus Report #613

I can't read on Muni without getting motion sick, but tonight my 22 Fillmore was full of people reading books.

A man sitting in front of me read one of those rapture/end of days kind of books, title and author unknown. I wouldn't have guessed: he looked fairly normal.

Next to him a woman read one of Tracy Kidder's books. I didn't see the title. I hoped she was reading Home Town, but I bet she was reading Mountains Beyond Mountains (I liked them both!).

At 16th and Church, a regular commuter, a woman who works near Carmen, got on with her library book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Right behind her, a woman who looked just like Rayanne Graff worked her way towards the back of the bus with an unmistakable, gigantic book, Roberto Bolaño's 2666, one of my favorite books of all time.

On the 38, two middle school girls got on and stood in front of me. While she wasn't reading it, one of the girls had a textbook that was called something like Health for a Lifetime, or Lifelong Health.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Bus Report #612

This morning, on a quiet 22 Fillmore.

A man in a suit bidding farewell to the Muni driver who often rides with us down to Potrero: "Have a good day, Doug, and be kind to the American public today."

The boy with the limp, the skateboard and the Thermos tucked in to his back pocket. Today, he'd left his limp at home.

The sun poking through the layer of fog above the Castro. The huge AIDS ribbon on the hill a stunning shade of red.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Bus Report #611

The 22 was on time but already getting full. I asked a kid who had her backpack on the window seat if I could sit down, and though it killed her to do it, she heaved her bag onto the floor to make room for me to sit.
The second my body made contact with the seat, the seat felt a little damp and a little sticky. I hoped it was just from the bag being out in the rain earlier. I decided to wash all my clothes when I got home anyway, just in case.
I got a new seatmate at Mission - a man dressed head to toe in the same color denim. Denim porkpie hat, denim jacket, matching jeans. Quite the look.
I caught the 38 at Geary and Fillmore and sat in the back, right near the accordion fold.
There was a woman sitting in one of the seats in the accordion, a sleeping 3 or 4 year old next to her and her 2 year old little guy strapped to her chest, also sleeping.
Right before her stop, she started shaking the older boy awake. She roughly pushed him to his feet, but he was still so sleepy he didn't know what was going on, and he fell forward, his face hitting the floor right in front of the woman sitting across from him.
Those of us in the back of the bus gasped collectively as the woman sitting across from the family picked up the little boy and stroked his hand, telling him he was okay even as he began to cry in that silent way that always seems to signal intense pain.
His mother passed her hand over his face. She grabbed his hand and made him hold on to the pole. He started to climb up into the seat again but she didn't let him, insisting he stand and wait for the bus to stop.
Everyone's eyes followed her as she led him off the bus.
He's going to have a hell of a bruise in the morning.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Bus Report #610

Last Sunday, showing the Little Sister a good time. We caught the F Market down near Embarcadero, planning to get some cake at our brother's favorite cake place in the Castro.
The train was crowded, the driver, someone I've seen before, tried to get everyone to load and unload the car as quickly as possible.
"I'd like to go home," he said over the loudspeaker.
Little Sister and I sat on a bench across from two couples - the men in khakis and button down shirts, the women dressed straight from a J.Crew catalog. They were all headed somewhere on Valencia and 15th - and I hoped they weren't planning to go to Zeitgeist while they were over there.
Someone sitting next to Little Sister started talking loudly on his phone. It was an older teenager or early-20s kid in jeans and a skull-patterned sweatshirt, with a flippy skater-kid hat.
"Yeah," he said, "grades should be in soon. I think I'm getting a B minus in my Queer literature survey class, a C in Psychology, and an A in Tae Kwon Do."
Little Sister and I stared at each other, trying not to laugh.
The foursome across from us did the same.
I couldn't help myself and burst out laughing, so hard my eyes were tearing up.
One of the men across the aisle said, "I needed to know about that Tae Kwon Do grade," and he grinned.
The kid went on, oblivious, talking about how he doesn't get more than 10 hours a week to practice skateboarding, but how he tries to watch the good skaters to learn their tricks.
Little Sister, the folks across the aisle and I kept looking at each other and tried not to laugh. The same chatty man across the aisle said, "This just gets more interesting as we go."
I nodded in agreement, clamped my hand over my mouth.
"Yeah, Grandma," the kid said.
Grandma?!?!? It set us all off again, laughing, smiling, trying not to arouse too much suspicion because we wanted to hear what this kid was saying.
"It was my boyfriend's birthday the other night," the kid went on. "He wanted Italian so I took him out. You know I'm not much for spaghetti but it was the only thing on the menu I could afford after he ordered his meal, so you know what, Grandma? I'm learning to eat spaghetti. It's not bad."
Little Sister, spaghetti aficionado extraordinaire, couldn't believe this.
The foursome stood up and got out near The Mint.
"I'm sorry to miss the rest of this," said the man from across the aisle.
"We'll let you know how it turns out," I promised him.

Little Sister and I got out at our stop and crossed the street, heading towards the cake shop.
"He needs a name," Little Sister said. "Let's call him Spencer."

We wish you the best of luck, Spencer: With your classes, your boyfriend, your skating and your spaghetti eating.