Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Weird meandering post that starts with sleeping kitties and ends with bus people

It's hard to write when there's a purring kitty draped across you.

Well, not so much when it's a Tigger, since he's so malleable, conforming to my every contortion with no more protest than an occasional sigh. Once, while napping, I managed to get him completely buried between myself and the couch cushions. Intrepid Tigger did not fear, but merely waited until I woke, then extracted himself and perched on my hip, triumphant.

But attention from the other two is more rare, and therefore more precious. Tonight it's apparently my pleasure to serve as lounge furniture for GrayBoy. Thus the attempt to write without moving (much). Tigger I'd just manhandle into another position. Grayboy won't even tolerate a sneeze.

Anyway, something I wanted to say: Was reading at Echidne's just now a little vignette on public transportation. And I remembered that somedays I miss the bus.

Now mind, public transportation in Iowa does not lend itself to the kind of crushing circumstances she describes. During rush hour sometimes a few people have to stand. That's generally the extent of it. So one of the major drawbacks for big city dwellers just isn't there for me.

But there's still plenty of inconvenience there. Everything takes longer when you do it by bus. The weather's more important when you take the bus. Weird people ride the bus.

And yet the same things are simultaneously its attractions. The bus has its own schedule, and the unspoken implication is, "You're not the only person in the world." My car has never even thought of suggesting that to me, but some days I need the reminder.

When I drive to work, I spend maybe a grand total of sixty seconds outdoors during the whole process. When you ride the bus, you have to be prepared to deal with the elements. It's inconvenient, yes, but it feels authentic. These days when people say, "It was a really mild summmer" my response is a kind of half-hearted, "Umm, sure." When you ride the bus, you're a weather expert.

Weird people do ride the bus. But for people (like me) who have a bit of a voyeuristic streak, it's satisfying to have this glimpse into one little half hour segment of peoples' lives. You get to know the regulars. There's the guy who shows everyone pics of his third world Sally Struthers adopted kids. There's the woman with the eerily white shoes. There's the immigrant couple who get on at 6:50 in the morning in the middle of a commercial district. (Where do they sleep? Or are they just getting off work?)

And those strange people? They get to know you too. You're sure they have their own nicknames for you. (Sally Struthers guy? He called me "Red".) When you're running late, they'll keep an eye out for you and get the bus driver to wait for you when they see you coming. If you miss a few days, the bold will ask why. If you say you were sick, everyone will commiserate. If you were on vacation, they'll be jealous.

I'm not going to go so far as to say that these strangers care about you, because I'm not quite ready to get that sappy. But they'll watch out for you, and it's always nice to know someone's got your back.

And years later, occasionally you'll have this moment where you run into someone that looks familiar. Finally it hits you; "We rode the bus together!" you'll exclaim. "Oh yeah," she replies, "I never see you anymore. What happened?" "I bought a car," you'll say, and it feels like an admission of guilt. "Oh," she says, and you see in her eyes that you're no longer one of "them" -- the bus people.