ON THE BUS MALL
I sometimes get nostalgic for my old bus commuting days, usually in reference to the fact that I devoured so many books when I was riding public transit to and from work. It was my most prolific reading period since leaving college, and I loved that I had all this time to devote to other people's words.
All it takes is one good bus ride, however, to squash any such dreams of the past. I actually live near a hospital, which has always made bus rides in and out of the neighborhood interesting, because all sorts of people go to the hospital for all sorts of reasons, and the ones who have to take public transportation to get there often have pretty good reasons for needing to do so.
Yet, one can't really appreciate how Dante-esque a bus ride is unless one takes a longer trip and crosses the river. I rarely cross the river. Portland is cut into four quarters. The street Burnside cuts the city between North and South, and the East/West dividing line is the Willamette River. I'm straight up Westside, represent. We keep all the hippies on the Eastside, anyway, and I like having a big body of water between them and me. I say take the bridges down, make them swim over here if they want to hang in my 'hood. At least then they'll be clean. (And don't even get me started on this Fifth Quadrant business.)
Today, however, I had to go across the water because a friend was having a tryout for a new hair salon and needed models, and hell, a new haircut is worth a $1.85 in bus fare. Not surprisingly, the ride over was smooth, and the bus wasn't even half full. No one was going to the SE; not so on the way back. The bus was packed with people clamoring to get back to the West. Right now, we're in the middle of heatwave, too, and that's never good. The city was already starting to boil and people were getting cranky and weird.
To make matters worse, on the way over the bridge, we got stuck waiting for the drawbridge to let a boat through. All of these cranks and weirdos locked in a big metal thermos on wheels with me. Great. At least we had air conditioning in our cylinder. The bus I was on goes by the courthouse, and so at least one person was freaking out that this delay was going to make her late for her arraignment or trial or whatever. Most likely she wasn't the only one. I am not sure if "poor commuter planning" is an official legal plea.
I was standing at this point. When I first got on the bus, the only seats were up front, and when a couple of people with canes and walkers got on the bus, I was one of those to surrender my seat. This put me by the back door, and also near a visiting Chinese family that consisted of an older couple and their two younger children, and their high school-aged cousin who was showing them around. I only knew this because a clean-cut man in his late '20s was quizzing the girl after hearing her explain things to her visiting relatives in their native tongue. At first he just seemed inquisitive, but I should have recognized the uniform. He had on a necklace with a rather large gold cross, and it was draped over a red T-shirt with the American flag sitting side by side with the Old Navy logo. Commercially sponsored pride of country.
After getting the rundown on where the Chinese family was from and what they were up to, the young man asks the translator to tell her family that Jesus loves them. He repeats himself multiple times, and asks her to do the same thing again multiple times even after she had done it once. I think he had a little OCD because once I looked around and he was air scratching at his face, the way my cat does when I hit that sweet spot behind her ear and she has to resist joining in with the action. The high school girl, who I think said her name was Carmen, translated something to her relatives, but who knows what. The poor girl. Every time it seemed like he was going to leave her alone, the dude starts quizzing her again. "Do you go to church?" "Do you know that Jesus is the ever-livin', ever-lovin' God?" and other such things. Stuff like this is always a weird situation, because part of me wants to jump in and tell the guy to shut up, and another part of me says there is no point and I'm just going to cause more trouble, particularly in a confined space where tensions are mounting.
Eventually, the guy decides to pack it in, and he asks Carmen to translate one last thing for him. She agrees, and he launches into some complicated, obtuse selection of verses about Abraham and his trust in God and loving God with the eyes of a child. I grew up in a church and I could barely make sense of it, I don't know how he expected this kid to translate such convoluted rhetoric for people who likely did not know or care who Abraham was. Then again, I guess if he realized this, he'd not be bugging other folks in the first place. To use another pet analogy, religious people are like dog owners. They want to take their dogs out in public, show them off, and get you to acknowledge their weird relationship with said animals. Cat people are just as weird, but we keep it to ourselves more, I like to be alone with my psychosis. (Anyone who has worked retail in an establishment that allows dogs knows what I mean.)
As this is going on, there is another contingent on the bus who are insisting on opening the windows, despite the signs on the windows that ask people to leave them shut when the A.C. is on. Signs are the most useless thing in the world. Be they informative or instructional, people don't read them, they are just there for the rest of us so we can point to them when someone does the thing the sign warns them against and say, "See? You should have known better!"
A couple of different people were trying to open their windows, and they were getting told to close them by the bus driver, and one guy near the bus driver even walked back and shut a window on her behalf. A lady in pink was insisting she could not breathe, which I don't understand. It was very cool in the bus. I am a guy who runs hot most of the time. Even in a snowstorm I sweat like a ham in an oven. I felt just fine. Not Pink Lady, though, and eventually she and the other window people, who turn out to be a group that has scattered themselves across the bus like a sleeper cell, decide they will not wait any longer. They rise as one and come to the back door where I am standing and suddenly crowd all around me and the men in the quartet start shouting for the driver to let them out.
The driver tells them that she cannot let them out on the middle of the bridge, she is required to let them out at designated stops. In response to this, Pink Lady bellows at the top of her lungs, "YOU HAVE TO LET ME OUT BECAUSE I AM ASKING POLITELY!"
Here again life is offering me a choice. My brain immediately wants to correct her and note that not only is that the first time she spoke regarding anything but the window, so she in fact never actually asked to be let out, but barking a command of this kind is anything but polite. It's like that girl who got kicked off of Project Runway last week who claimed her designs were surreal. I don't know what she thinks surrealism is, but whatever that may be it's different than the rest of us define it; likewise Pink Lady and politeness.
Thankfully, I didn't have to make a decision at this crossroad, because the driver here decided to let this band of idiots off of the bus. Even better, the Bible thumper jumps up and follows after them, maybe to witness to them about when God closes a window, he opens a door, I don't know. Part of me suspects that the driver saw the bridge was lowering, something we could not see from our vantage point, because the bus started moving almost immediately after their shoes hit pavement. If I were her, I know it would have caused me no end of pleasure.
At last we were were on our way and I was two stops from freedom. Traffic was bad, though, and we were just off the Hawthorne Bridge in the Park Blocks were a two-lane one-way street is split in the center by a statue of a reindeer or something. We were on the curve coming around the statue when a pair of the courthouse people, a man and a woman, had realized they had missed the stop they needed. Traffic is just starting to move when they wake up to this error and they start shouting at the bus driver to let them out right there. Even if she wanted to, this is not a spot that a reasonable person would think she could stop her bus without causing disruptions to the flow of traffic, and she refuses. The man, who could not even find a T-shirt for his court appearance that was better than one that was the color of Gatorade and had its sleeves ripped off, exposing more of his armpits than any of us needed to see, decided this was the height of illogical, and he starts cursing out the bus driver. "Fuck you. You're on the goddamn side of the street already. You can stop anywhere. Now we have to walk four fucking blocks back to where we were going."
That's right. Four whole blocks. His mistake constituted having to walk four blocks. Except, no, it wasn't his mistake, clearly it was the bus driver's fault. I can only imagine the justifications he had prepared to offer a judge.
Last I looked, Yahoo was claiming Portland was currently 101 degrees, though it apparently "feels like" 104. How did I not notice the "feels like" index prior to this? I'd say it feels like the world has lost its mind, but that would suggest I believe it had one to begin with. On my way out of downtown, I stopped at a Rite-Aid Drugs to get some cat food. As I was looking for the right aisle, I noticed that one aisle, in addition to carrying other things, advertised that it was also where you could find "Douches." In fact, "Douches" was top of the list on the overhanging sign. As if I needed any help finding any of those!
Current Soundtrack: shufffffle: Midlake, Diablo ("Jail flock...ahh!"), Beatles, Lonnie Donegan ("Frankie and Johnny"), Charlie Parker, Doris Troy, Cutting Crew, Buzzcocks, the Jam, the Clash, the Fratellis, James, Bryan Ferry, Supergrass, Yardbirds, Elastica, Depeche Mode, George Michael & Elton John, Placebo, Paul Weller
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All text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich