Sunday, August 20, 2006

BUS STORY # 2 (Made In China)


Not everyone who rides the bus is an accountant or an attorney or someone else “pretty much like me.” Which can make picking a seat after boarding a cross-town transfer a nerve-wracking process. If you’re lucky, there’s an empty seat – by that, I mean an empty pair of seats – so you don’t have to deal with whom you end up sitting next to. There are some obvious byes: the sacked-out cowboy with the unbuttoned shirt and greasy hat sprawled across both seats; the guy in black leather with the iridescent red Mohawk and 14 facial piercings. There are the less obvious passes as well: the guy in the aisle seat whose bag occupies the window seat and who’s either looking out the window or has his head down in a book; most of the women unless they’re old because you don’t want to make anybody nervous.

And you have to be fairly quick because you’re moving down the aisle and people are behind you and the bus is gonna be lurching forward any second and you don’t want to find yourself spilled to the back of the bus and left standing because you failed to recognize an OK seat when you saw it. Not to mention the dreadful realization that you are now signaling to everyone you passed by that you preferred to stand rather than sit by them.

Maybe the egalitarian experience of riding the bus has left me with excessive feelings of goodwill toward men. Or maybe it’s because my commuter neighbors had given me such a warm welcome into the fellowship. In any case, when I happen upon an empty pair of seats, I spare some fellow future passenger the same angst of where to sit by moving to the window seat and stowing my bag underneath. And every time I do this . . . nobody ever sits by me. Well, almost every time. There was that guy who sat down next to me but kept his feet in the aisle and his back to me, ready to make a run for it if necessary. Maybe I’ve made it look too inviting? Like I’m up to something? “Hey, cowboy, wake up or I’ll have to sit next to that creep in the button-down shirt with the bus pass hanging around his neck.”

So I’m making my way down the aisle of the San Mateo bus after getting off my friendly No. 11, and I’m three-quarters down the way and it’s decision time. I spot a guy in the window seat, blue jeans, plaid shirt, baseball cap, with a plastic bag in his lap which contains something very tall and thin and white. Nice proletariat kind of guy, blue collar, salt of the earth, backbone of the country, etc. I puff up my liberal heart and soul and sit down next to him and flash a smile. He’s too busy talking to notice. Oh, yes, indeed, he’s talking. Or maybe praying, it’s hard to tell. No, he’s talking. I can’t make out most of the words, but the conversation is non-stop. Conversation? Monologue? I can’t tell. I make out an occasional verb or adjective or article, but that’s it. I notice the tall object poking out of the Wal-Mart bag is a door sweep, to be attached to the bottom of a door to prevent drafts. I’m not sure, but he may be talking to it. Or maybe about it. I decide this is a great time to reach into my bag and pull out the new AARP Bulletin. I’m reading away trying not to listen for the occasional audible, intelligible word when I realize he’s quiet. And he’s looking at me. Oh boy. What else can I do? I look back. He nods to the door sweep. “It’s made in China,” he says. I nod. He leans in a little closer and whispers, “Everything is made in China.” And then he sits back and resumes his conversation. And here I’d been thinking he was crazy.

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