Friday, April 22, 2016

Bus Report #918

The 22 Fillmore was crowded tonight.

My original seatmate (young, small backpack, map clutched in his hands), got out at Mission and a twitchy man who smelled of stale alcohol slid in to the seat beside me.
He kept crossing and uncrossing his legs, and then when he found a comfortable position he leaned forward a little, both hands holding onto the metal bar of the seat in front of us.

He was skinny. His legs were like sticks, so much so that at first I wondered if they were both some sort of lightweight, slim prosthetic.
He sat pressed right up against my thigh and my hip and I could feel his bones moving, moving.
He could not sit still.
He twitched more, he shivered his leg, and then - oh, please no - he was grinding his bony leg and hip against me.
I shifted in my seat and he stopped for a minute.
Then he started up again and his hip rose up just the tiniest bit so that he was almost in my lap.
I moved away. I cut my eyes at him. Shot him a look - I'm onto you. Cut it out.

I couldn't tell if he was doing this on purpose or if it was a side effect of his twitchyness. He did not look at me but he also did not obviously avoid my eyes.

But he kept sliding up against me.

He was so thin his leg felt like a package of cut-up chicken, muscles and bones all jumbled up together, sloppily. It was almost worse than the grinding. It made me feel sick. For the duration of the ride, I swore off of all meat products.

He stumbled out of the bus at Church and Market. The girl who took his seat, one of the Ethiopian high school girls I see from time to time, hesitated before she sat down. She sat on the edge of the seat. I did not want to know what kept her from leaning back.

She hopped out at Hayes and the man who took her place smiled so widely as he sat down that I wondered if I knew him. Nope, he was just friendly.
He took a lip balm out of his pocket and liberally applied it to his lips.
It smelled, strongly, like strawberries and cotton candy.

On the 38, two stoned teenage boys teased each other about failing a quiz at school.

A mother and daughter spent the entire ride in silence, each one playing with her own phone. They passed a travel mug between them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bus Report #917

Last night, Muni meltdown.

Well, it was actually a major San Francisco traffic meltdown, but I was feeling it on Muni.

I had to be in Chinatown by 6 PM - no big deal usually.

But I knew the 10 Townsend would be a nightmare so I did my new (yet seemingly counter intuitive) Muni route - the 19 Polk to the 1 California. Crazy, I know. But last time I did this, I was in Chinatown in less than 35 minutes. It was faster than taking the 10.

So I waited for the bus yesterday afternoon with some students from a local hippy-dippy alternative medicine school in the neighborhood.

When the 19 showed up, the driver was my favorite driver along the 19: A bearded, turbaned man with a wide, friendly smile. His turbans always match his uniform in some way, shades of bright, beautiful orange or pristine golden yellow. He is a star. He is, in my opinion, one of Muni's best.

He slowed the bus and opened the door. We greeted each other and I sat down next to a man who leaned out into the aisle to keep an eye on his bike, which was mounted to the front of the bus.

It did not take a genius to know there was a traffic problem. Cars, buses and trucks were backed up even further down 17th Street, 16th Street and it did not look like it was any better anywhere else.

What's a girl to do? I couldn't walk to Chinatown and with such bad traffic, any other mode of transit was bound to get stuck, too.

So I hoped that we'd be through the roundabout by 5:10, up at Market by 5:20, hell, I would have been happy to hit Polk Street at 5:45, where I knew I could easily grab a cab to take me the rest of the way.

5:20 and we were still barely past 7th and Townsend. My seatmate said, "I usually ride my bike but since I'm going downtown, I thought this would be a good way to go."
"Oh, man, you could be there twice already," I said.
"We'll get there, I'm not in a rush. Besides, this driver, I know he'll get us there."
"He is great, but I have to be somewhere soon," I told him. "Let's hope for the best."

Meanwhile, a few rows behind us, a woman was talking at the hippy-dippy girls, asking them if this was normal or an aberration, blaming an unseen and unknown accident somewhere "near 9th Street" for the problem.

5:47, and yours truly tumbled out of the 19 at Market and 7th, and flagged down the first cab I saw.
Pure and utter traffic chaos on Market and all throughout downtown. Lots of honking horns, dozens of people waiting at bus stops for buses that were no where near arriving.

We got caught in the traffic too, for a few minutes, but transit miracles can happen.
I got to my destination at 6:10, sweaty and tired but unscathed.

Across town, The Teacher's Pet was caught in the meltdown, too. She texted me the evidence: Nextbus app reporting three 22 Fillmores within a minute of arriving, then a photo of... nothing. Not a single bus to be seen in any direction. She eventually got home, but not on any of those ghost 22 Fillmores.

Three hours later, E. and B. and I walked down a quiet and dark Grant Ave. towards Market, and BART for E., the 7 for B., and the 38 for me.

Chinatown at night is my favorite iteration of Chinatown. The neighborhood was closing up shop for the day, tourists hustled out of storefronts, the menu ladies still trying to get some takers. The great neon signs in Chinatown glowed orange and red. The lanterns hanging above the street swayed a bit in the slight wind. Smells of garlicky food, of trash and compost, of freshly washed laundry and of incense mingled in the air.

We chatted along the way, watched some filming over by California Street and Grant. A car commercial, perhaps? And then I ran to catch the 38, the guys went to catch their rides home, and that was that.

My driver careened down Geary and I was home by 9:45.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Bus Report #916

Be careful what you wish for. It's been a few weeks since anything strange has happened during my commute, but tonight... Well, it was a weird night.

The 22 was uncrowded between Potrero and Mission, where it filled up with some regulars (a mom and her two kids who I've watched grow up, from afar - the daughter has to be fourteen, the son maybe ten or eleven), some SPCA employees, foster dogs in tow, two tourists with large suitcases and a man I'll call the Unsolicited Evangelist.

At first, the Unsolicited Evangelist just sat next to a young woman who had been playing with her phone. The U.E. asked her why people spent so much time on their phones. He didn't wait for an answer. "You are all zombies, that's why. Zombies who are connected to your electronics with your wires. You got these bitches taking pictures of themselves all the time, and the rest of you, you're losing your souls to the devil. There's only one way to save yourselves. You have to read the bible, the word of Jesus Christ."

Great, I thought. Just what this bus needs.
The young woman was kind and patient, perhaps also a bit baffled. The man treated her as though she was on his side, a confidant.

He went on, and on, and on. "You're Catholic," he said to the girl, "And that's fine, you pray your rosary and you read your scriptures and you'll be just fine. But everyone else, I tell you, they're going to hell."

He kept on with this for the next few blocks. At Church, a kid slid in to the seat beside me. He was probably in his early to mid twenties, nicely dressed, friendly. He overheard the U.E. and put his phone away in his coat pocket.

"I don't need any trouble," the kid confided.
"This guy is just crazy," I said.
The kid nodded. "Yeah, I've only been here three minutes, I can only imagine what you've heard."
We rode in companionable silence for a few blocks more - until the U.E. stood up and began walking up and down the bus, spouting his nonsense, his hatred. He wasn't directing his 'message' at any one group of people but it was clear he did not respect or like any of the other passengers

He moved to the front of the bus and began spewing more heated hate speech garbage - racist, sexist, xenophobic bullshit. I may be Jewish but I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't hate people the way this man did. Jesus would probably not call women bitches, either.

There were several older folks in the front of the bus, a couple of nicely dressed gentlemen, a disabled Russian couple and an elderly woman. They unfortunately became the U.E.'s audience.

The atmosphere on the bus had been more or less normal, a little jokey, but now it was tense.

The U.E. addressed the Russian couple, said something about illegal immigration, something about the court system. Then he looked straight at the well-dressed men and went on a rant against men who wore ties out in public, segueing in to a rant about the media, and the people who ran the media. Can you guess who he thought ran the media? Jewish people.

I shook my head, sucked my teeth. The same old story. I felt my jaw tighten. Free speech is one thing, but hate speech? No. Unacceptable. I wanted to say something, but I also didn't want to make the situation worse.

My seatmate yelled up to the front, "Hey man, cut it out, cut out all that racist crap, no one wants to hear it. Leave the seniors alone."

Someone in the back of the bus called back, "But everything he said, it's true."

I told him to go fuck himself.

My seatmate yelled at the U.E. again.

The driver, as always, ignored everything until the entire bus was hollering for the driver to put the U.E. off the bus.

Then the driver stood up and asked the U.E. to "Please sit, and act calmly."

Nice. If an entire bus full of people couldn't convince the driver to kick someone off the bus, what would?

My seatmate turned to me and said, "I hate that kind of talk, I apologize if I bothered you. But I'm Jewish and he went to far, talking about my culture. Plus, These old people, I just feel bad for them."

"Not at all," I said."The driver should've thrown that guy off the bus, this is ridiculous."

The well-dressed gentlemen, still seated in the front of the bus,  thanked my seatmate for sticking up for them.

"Of course," said my seatmate. To me he said, "They're all like, my parents' age. I wouldn't want my parents to have to listen to that crap, not when they're just trying to have a nice evening."

I wanted to pin a medal to my seatmate's chest, or at least hand him a strip of gold stars. A good citizen's award.

A couple other passengers thanked my seatmate, too. The U.E. shut up, hopefully for the rest of his ride.

At Fillmore I transferred to the 38.

The man who, around Christmas, called me his "Hebrew Sister," was on the bus but he was too high to recognize me or do anything other than mumble to himself and sway back and forth.

At Arguello, a woman I've known for years from around the neighborhood and from our mutual commutes on the 22, got on the bus with her husband. She smiled and said hi, and then slid in to the seat next to me.

"He can find his own seat," she said, cheerfully, gesturing for her husband to grab a seat in the back of the bus.
We chatted a bit, probably said more in the space of ten minutes than we'd ever said to each other before.
When the bus pulled in to my stop she hopped up so I could get to the door.

"Nice talking to you," I said. "By the way, I'm Rachel."

She grinned. "I'm Meagann."

"See you around, Meagann," I said, and headed down the block towards home.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Bus Report #915

Last night I stepped off the 38 on the corner of my street and was greeted by a familiar, petite figure.
One of the women I used to see on the bus all the time was waving at me, and smiling. She is a tiny woman with curly salt and pepper hair and big, plastic-framed glasses. Years ago, I remember her trying to give me a cabbage she had just gotten in Chinatown. She is a sweet person.

I took off my headphones. "Hi," I said, smiling back at her. "It's been a while."
"Long time no see," she said, grabbing my arm. "You work?"
"Yes," I replied. "Still working. Are you retired now?"
She nodded her head vigorously. "Retire two years." She shrugged her shoulders. "Retire good, but no money."
I laughed. "Ah, well, I guess it's a trade off."
She shook her head, all the while still smiling, and said, "Free time but no money."
We walked down the block a few paces before she had to cross the street.
"Nice seeing you," I said.
"You, too," she replied.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Bus Report #914

This morning when our bus completed its hairpin turn on to upper Market Street, we were rewarded with a beautiful sight: a thick band of fluffy fog hanging low over the city, with a bright orange sunrise above it.

A couple sitting a few rows behind me snapped a picture.

I just marveled at the fog and the sun, and was glad to be home after a few days spent in a fog-less (but fun!) Los Angeles.