Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bus Me

I like riding the bus. Since the price of gas has gone down I almost always get a seat to myself and enjoy the ride. My work schedule varies from day to day, so does the bus I ride. Some of the drivers recognize me, but they don't know me, the way they know their regulars. I read on the bus, I daydream, sometimes I talk on the phone. At least once a week on the way home I find myself calling the members of my little sub-team one after the other to give instructions for the next day. Often I take a brief nap.

I'm not alone sleeping on the bus and I don't ride on the bus with anyone weird. The people who ride my bus are nurses, professors, lawyers, accountants, people who work for the city or the state, college students, the minister's wife who sells the paintings she makes on the bus every day
(, another bus driver or two and me.

Early in the morning the laptops are out, commuters without machines sleep or read. It is very quiet.

In the afternoon, especially on the buses the nurses take, a festive atmosphere ensues. All the moms check in with children or spouses and then the party begins, chattering like magpies about everything under the sun. Most of the men shrink a little, take seats towards the rear. Buses in the next hour are full of city and state workers, quieter, speaking softly, reading, dozing. Buses after 6PM are full of students. Often this is the most serious group. Grown-ups are done for the day, students must go home and be studious, or work.

Yes, I like riding the bus. It is the getting on and off I have problems with. A chinese girl who sits near me has me wake her when we reach her stop. She sleeps deeply and has ridden to the end of the line more than once. I've never slept through my stop, but I've read through it more than once. The buses I take after dark are nearly empty when I get on, and have become nearly empty again for the twenty minute express section of my commute. I turn on the little light above my seat, just like on an airplane and soon I am lost. The bus is pitch dark and quiet, just me and whichever written world I have entered. The bus driver does not like it when I scramble to the front as he is pulling away from the park and ride station. He is not supposed to let passengers off anywhere excepting his proper bay. But he does and I am grateful. The next stop is in the next town. When I ride to the end of the line in the morning it is not so tragic, only a few blocks beyond my stop. I have looked up to find the driver bending over me, laughing, asking don't I want to get off.

Austin is currently in the middle of SXSW (South by Southwest) our own little Mardi Gras, or it feels like it, though it isn't really the same. Every school child and university student in the Austin area has spring break the concurrently. The students and the families leave town, the film and music people invade. People watching, always pretty good around Whole Foods World Headquarters, becomes breathtaking. The energy just walking the six blocks from there to the bus stop swirls you up. Dancing will break out any minute.

Street closures and sheer humanity play a little hell with the buses. Today I got on the one just in front of my bus. The first bus was NOT supposed to be there, it should have left ten minutes before. The bus driver didn't recognize me, almost asked me if I was in the right place, but did not. He apologized. I said please don't worry, because he was. I rode half way home and he bent over me, this is my last stop, don't you want to get off?

It was a beautiful day, the bench was comfortable. I waited 25 minutes for the next bus, the one going to the right place. I read, but not much, no time to get lost again.