Sunday, January 29, 2012

BUS STORY # 273 (The Ruckus)

It's The Law by busboy4
It's The Law, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

It’d been a couple of years since I’d last seen Pete,* and here he was, struggling aboard the bus with a walker, a shadow of his former vigorous old man self. (You can read about Pete here.)

The driver had put the bus in the kneeling position. Pete maneuvered, somewhat unsteadily, past the till, and found the bench seats reserved for the elderly and infirm full on both sides.

On the passenger side was an overweight white guy in his late 50s, and an overweight white woman in her early 40s.

On the driver’s side was a trim black school kid, maybe 5th grade or so. Next to him was an overweight black woman -- his mother, as it would turn out -- and next to her, another overweight black woman who, as it would also turn out, was unrelated to mom and son by anything other than chance seating.

At first, none of the five made any move at all. Then a sixth person, an older student sitting in the aisle seat of the first pair of seats facing forward, got up and headed for the back.

I didn’t hear what Pete said.

I saw the kid start to get up, then stop and turn and look at his mother.

I recognized that look -- remembered that look from when I was his age. Someone tells you to do something. You start to do what you’ve been told because you’ve been raised to be obedient and respectful of your elders, but you pause because something about what is being asked, or maybe in the asking itself, isn’t right. You are momentarily paralyzed by your inability to sort out what is happening that isn’t right, and not always fortunate enough to have one of your parents right there to look to for help.

Everyone heard what mom said. “You can’t talk to my child like that!”

The woman across the aisle interjected that those seats were for the elderly, as if her seat wasn’t one of “those seats.”

Mom told her she knew that, and that was not the point. The point was how Pete said whatever it was he said to the boy. “He can’t talk to people like that!”

The Pete I’d encountered a couple of years ago would have lit into the ruckus. But now, he was leaning against the partition behind the driver, looking like he would slide on down to the floor when his strength gave out, and saying nothing.

The kid looked like he wanted to be invisible.

The other black woman got up and took the seat vacated by the student.

Mom and the boy moved down one seat, and Pete settled into the vacated seat behind the driver.

Mom continued to give Pete a piece of her mind.

Pete twisted away from her in his seat and fixed his face toward the windshield.

The woman across the aisle rolled her eyes and looked back at the rest of us.

Mom and son exited a few stops later, and Pete got his tongue back. But his voice was too feeble for me to make out most of what he was saying. I did hear something to the effect that kids aren’t being raised right anymore. And I could see the woman across the aisle nodding vigorously with everything he was saying.

Later on, I watched Pete labor to get off at his stop. Out on the sidewalk, he paused, leaned on his walker, and looked into the sun. He looked befuddled. The bus pulled away and left me with that last image of him on the other side of the window.

Now, I don’t know what Pete said to the boy, and I don’t know how he said it. So I am once removed from the incident.

Like most everyone else, I don’t let not having all the facts stop me from drawing conclusions.

I do have previous experiences with Pete which suggest he has been provocative and cantankerous with other riders in the past.

And there is something I feel certain did not escape this black woman: Pete had decided the “black” row rather than the “white” row needed to accommodate him.

Perhaps even more provocative to a mother of any color, he bypassed the four adults and went for the child. Her child.

Still, I’m wary of the conclusions I’m drawing here. We have simple explanations for why people do what they do to console us for the fact that we cannot possibly know all the circumstances and their influences, nor understand all the algorithms, that go into the making of any human decision, our own included.

One of the best things about riding the bus is that you can take in what you see and let your mind wander wherever it takes a notion to go.

Mine wanders into “What if?” territory.

What if Pete hadn’t always been the thin guy we saw on the bus this morning? What if he’d been overweight himself sometime in his younger years? He’d know something about the extra effort it takes to gather up all your stuff, get up out of your seat, and move down the aisle to another seat.

What if Pete saw it would be a whole lot easier for the kid to give up his seat than for any of those other folks of all colors and genders in the designated seats?

And what if that effort is part of why all four overweight adults elected to make an equally poor choice to not surrender their seats -- seats which by law were more Pete’s than theirs -- to this decrepit old man, setting the stage for the ruckus to happen?

We all have our accounts, and sometimes, some of us even have hold of the tail-is-like-a-rope or the trunk-is-like-a-snake or the ear-is-like-a-fan of that vast elephant of the truth. We just have a hard time believing we don’t have the elephant itself -- the whole elephant, and nothing but the elephant.

*Real name changed.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

BUS STORY # 272 (Score!)

During the school year, we begin accumulating students bound for Jefferson Middle School somewhere around San Mateo. Pretty soon, all the seats are taken and the aisles fill up.

A lot of them are still what I’d call “kid cute.”

That cute quality is more than physical. There’s a still not-yet-fully-tamped-down exuberance and spontaneity that animates their expressions, and their mannerisms and behaviors. I know many of them are destined to evolve into what fellow bus blogger Richard Isherman calls the “Sullen Teens,” but right now, they’re bright-eyed and fresh-faced and fun to watch.

One morning, I watch two of them nab a pair of bench seats at the front when two adults get up for their stop.

One is a boy, probably a sixth grader, with long black hair, a black sweatshirt, and a skateboard. The other, sitting to his right, is a girl, with long black hair pulled back, a striped sweater, and a purse. She is obviously older, certainly taller, probably an eight grader.

They sit side by side and look straight ahead or away from each other or at their stuff.

Then I see the boy move his eyes to the right without turning his head, then up at another boy his size in the aisle, and the look he gives his friend takes me back a few decades.

It’s the “Lookit me sitting next to this hot eight-grade chick!” look.

I keep watching his face. It’s easy to see he’s trying to figure out how to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity -- what to say or do, and when to say or do it.

His opportunity comes when the bus brakes suddenly and she lurches sideways and up against him. He turns his face halfway to her and says something.

She turns to look at him, smiles, and says something back.


She goes back to looking straight ahead, and after a few minutes, I can see the look of pure triumph in his face give way to figuring out how to up the ante on that first success. He knows better than to look at her, and I’m guessing the next move is to turn that smile into a laugh.

But that second chance never comes. The bus arrives at the corner of Lomas and Girard and empties out.

I watch the girl go first, turn left, and quickly fall in with a group of girlfriends. She doesn’t look back.

The boy steps out, turns right, and joins up with his aisle buddy. He doesn’t look back.

Me, I’m thinking back to when I was his age, when all my brilliant strategies always came to me well past the window of opportunity. And even if they’d been timely, I would likely have experienced a failure of nerve. I’d’ve been sitting on that bench spinning my skateboard wheels and going nowhere.

But when I’d’ve gotten off the bus, I would have looked back. Looked back and sighed deeply, because I would have been watching another the love of my young life walk away oblivious to my existence.

But it all worked out for the best: I was available when my wife came along.


The photo at the top of this story is titled "Deviousness Disguised with Freckles," © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of Beth Crawford 65. You can see all Beth Crawford 65’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

BUS STORY # 271 (Shorts 23)

Untitled by chuckbiscuito
Untitled, a photo by chuckbiscuito on Flickr.

She looks like she oughta be a cheerleader: tall, slim, long blonde hair, conventional California-girl pretty face. But I know she’s not. It’s not just the custom, well-worn skateboard she’s carrying, either. That pretty face is also pretty cool. She’s got faded jeans (not tight), a gray tank top (neck and arm holes tight), and a leather band around her wrist. Before she sits down, she acknowledges someone in the back of the bus with a nod. Just a nod; no smile, no wave, no “Hi, there.” Kill Bill’s Uma Thurman comes to mind, followed by the image of some poor quarterback whose season ends early when he tries to move on this chick. Definitely not a cheerleader.


Standing room only, and the woman who’s just boarded and ends up just ahead of me is strikingly tall. And rising from the top of her head another good six inches is an assembly of beaded corn row extensions that lift up, then go cascading down over her shoulders. The next person who boards is a little girl. She walks up to the woman, stops, looks at the woman’s belt, then tilts her head back and looks up and up, until she reaches the top. She stands there staring, open-mouthed, like a kid who’s never seen a skyscraper before.


A woman boards the bus with two older children and begins haggling over the fare with the driver. The driver says he doesn’t cut deals with the riders. She gets angry and tells him what she thinks about that. He tells her to stop cussing him. She says she’s cussing the fare business, not him. She lectures him on the difference. He tells her to either pay the fare or get off the bus. She grabs a purse from one of her daughters, pulls out some change, and starts feeding it to the till, still carrying on the whole time. He tells her if she doesn’t like it, she can get off the bus. She says, you know what? She doesn’t like it, and she herds her kids off the bus and her right behind. When the bus pulls away, the guy sitting in the seat by the door tells the driver this same woman pulled the exact same stunt right here on the same bus about a month ago. Go figure, he says.


A rider pulls the cord. There is plenty of time between the pull and the stop, but the driver sails right past the stop. “Hey, driver! Stop!” The driver realizes his mistake and immediately pulls over. The rider heads to the front door from the back. We all know he’s got something to say to the driver. So does the driver, who apologizes for missing the stop. The rider replies he knows the driver is really busy and has a lot on his mind, and he appreciates his pulling over for him now. And then he says thank you, and steps off the bus.


The photo at the top of this story is unititled and is posted with the kind permission of
chuckbiscuito. You can see this and all chuckbiscuito’s photos on Flickr at:


Thanks to JM in Brooklyn for this week's featured link: One Year Ago In: Birmingham, Alabama

Sunday, January 08, 2012

BUS STORY # 270 (Bus Songs)

RoundTuit by busboy4
RoundTuit, a photo downloaded from Wictionary by busboy4 on Flickr.

Some time ago, one of my Bus Stories-reading nieces sent me an email asking if I’d heard the song “Bus Driver” by Caedmon’s Call. I had not. So I went looking for it.

In the process of looking for it, I discovered there were several other bus driver songs out there, and beyond that, a whole world of bus and subway and light rail songs.

Some of them are famous, some are obscure. Some are old, some are new. They run the gamut of musical genres -- pretty much everything except classical and opera.

It occurred to me at the time that I could add a new link to my blog: “This Week’s Featured Bus Song” to go with “This Week’s Featured Link.” And I decided I would do so just as soon as I got around to it.

And now I have.

I’m going to try matching the songs with the stories, either by content or by tone. Or else by tying the songs to the calendar (“Sister Rosa” by The Neville Brothers for Martin Luther King Day, for example). I realize a good match won’t always be possible, but the challenge interests me.

Sure enough, there's a perfect bus song for this post: the children's song, "The Wheels On The Bus (Go Round And Round)." But I’m initiating the new feature today with a link to “Bus Driver” by Caedmon’s Call. This by way of thanking my niece, Mer, for giving me both a new song and a new idea.

Please feel free to send your suggestions to

This should be fun.

This public domain photo is taken from Wictionary:

Thanks to MD in Brooklyn for this week's featured link: This Week In: NYC

Sunday, January 01, 2012

BUS STORY # 269 (New Job: Update)

Back in July, I posted a story about a co-rider who shared his excitement at finally getting a job in a fast-food restaurant. He also shared the rest of a remarkable turned-my-life-around story. You can read it here:

Bus Story # 244 (New Job)

I confess I had my doubts about just how rosy his future really was, and about how long his excitement and optimism would last.

Several months after that encounter, I ran into him, and his wife and his baby son, on a bus on the way home. We both recognized one another, and he immediately introduced me to his wife, Brenda.*

“And this,” he said, lifting the baby off his lap and holding him up, “is our son, Mitchell.”*

He was beaming. Mitchell smiled. Mom smiled when Mitchell smiled.

He told me what a happy baby he was all the time. And such a good sleeper. Well, most of the time, anyway -- and here he lifted Mitchell back up off his lap and brought him in for a kiss.

He was wearing the same work uniform I’d seen him in after that first day at work.

Yes, he confirmed, he’s still working there. He’s been there five months now, and he’s about to become a manager. He is as enthusiastic about this as he was five months ago after his first day on the job.

And still going to school?

Yes -- well, taking this semester off...

When they leave, I watch them manage Mitchell and the stroller. There is a mutual warmth and respect in their interactions that I find remarkable and touching.

Given everything he’s told me before, and everything I’ve just seen on this encounter, I’m surprised by the one word impression that comes to mind: Innocence.

Later, I decide it’s more likely they have a deep appreciation for just how much better life is for them now than it was before they met one another.

In this day and age, appreciation is almost as unusual as innocence.

*Real name changed.