Sunday, June 24, 2012

BUS STORY # 294 (The Last 12 Hours: Rider # 4)

I board the San Mateo bus and the first thing I see is the hand dancer sitting on the bench seat behind the driver.

The bus is crowded, as usual, and I quickly figure out the place to sit is on the surprisingly empty bench seat directly across the way.

I’ve seen the hand dancer several times since that first time on the bus, but never on the bus. I’ve seen him at bus stops around town. And every time I’ve seen him, all of him is dancing. Energetically. Right out there on the sidewalk before God and everyone. He’s impossible to miss.

This morning, he’s dressed the same as always: earphones, black hand splints, tank top, shorts, boots. But either I missed all the tattoos the first time, or he’s added a whole lot more since then.

He’s effectively occupying three seats. He’s square in the middle seat, but his legs are spread wide and are moving, presumably to whatever he’s hearing in the headphones.

His arms are down by his sides, each hand on the empty seat on either side of him, but they sometimes can’t help themselves and gesture to the music before returning to the seats.

His face alternates between just listening, and contorting, sometimes ecstatically, sometimes darkly, to whatever is playing. And then I read in his face an ongoing effort to control himself until he gets to wherever he’s going. He’s barely containing himself.

The atmosphere is a bit tense up here in the front of the bus. A young woman sitting two seats away from him shoots me a meaningful look.

At a stop where several people are boarding, he surprises me by abruptly moving into the last seat on the bench and making himself compact enough to open the other two seats. One of the boarders takes the seat at the other end of the bench. She is, probably fortunately, on her cell phone and oblivious to everything else.

But he stays much quieter now until we reach his stop. He pulls the cord and leaps to his feet, shoots to the front door. When he exits, he throws both hands in the air and lifts his legs in an exaggerated march.

I don’t know if he got to where he was going, or if he just had to get off the bus and let the spirit out. 

Later, when I think about whatever he was listening to, I wish I had tracked the wires from his headphones. I’m wondering if the music really is all in his head.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “20101009 1546 - NYC - subway - breakbuster - IMG_2244,” and is posted with the kind permission of Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (Clint JCL).  You can see all Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (Clint JCL)’s photos on Flickr at:


See This Week’s Featured Link for the Rev.’s video of the same breakbuster performing on the NYC subway.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

BUS STORY # 293 (The Last 12 Hours: Rider # 3)

Paint by Jordyn Raia
"Paint," © All Rights Reserved, a photo by Jordyn Raia on Flickr.

Shortly after the little old lady with all the baggage boards, I see David Ortega again.

Or, rather, he sees me and taps me on the shoulder as he’s heading for the back of the bus.  He’s recognized me, and I have no problem remembering him.

I ask him how work is.

He’s happy.  He’s got a job tomorrow up in Santa Fe.

I ask him how he got it.

His landlord.  His customer is a lawyer, and he’s got a room or two that need painting.
It’s a sweet deal: David’s gonna catch the Rail Runner tomorrow morning.  The lawyer will pick him up at the station, drive him to the job.  When he’s finished, the lawyer will drive him back to the train station. 

I tell him that’s great. 

He says the Big Man is looking out for him -- at which point he makes prayer hands and looks up toward the ceiling and says “Thank you.”

By sheer coincidence, I will see him again on the same bus, but different run, tomorrow morning.  He’ll be all decked out in his painter whites, painter cap, and carrying a stepladder in one hand and a big bucket full of paint brushes and a collapsable roller pole in the other. 

He’s almost as loaded down as the baggage lady.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Paint,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of Jordan Raia.  You can see all Jordan Raia’s photos on Flickr at:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

BUS STORY # 292 (The Last 12 Hours: Rider # 2)

Chelwood Park Layover by busboy4
Chelwood Park Layover, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

The following morning, on my way into work, we pull into the Chelwood Park layover, and I see a memorable rider from about a year ago. She’s the little lady with all the baggage. (You can read about her here.)

This time she’s about three miles east of where we picked her up the first time I saw her.

She’s standing at the till with a bill in her hand.

The driver knows her. She tells the woman how she’s told her over and over that she needs to have exact change. The woman turns to the rest of us.

A young woman near the front immediately goes into her purse. I can tell by the way she moves she really wants to help this poor, little old lady. She has change, and all is well.

Again, the woman exits the bus, then re-boards with two duffle bags. She sets them down in front of the bench seat behind the driver.

Then she looks at a young man sitting on the opposite side and asks him to help her carry the rest of her bags on. When he gets up and follows her out, everyone else on the bench seats moves to other seats.

As I watch the young guy bring a second load of bags aboard, it occurs to me that someone must have helped her get all her bags to the bus stop. She can’t possibly be moving around with all this baggage by herself. And how is it that once she was at Wyoming, and now she’s up here at Chelwood Park?

I remember the “lipstick telephone,” and keep an eye on her. But this time, she sits quietly in her seat, with her head down.

I get off before she does. But I wonder what happens when she gets to wherever she is getting off? And where does she go from there, and how?

A second reunion -- and a second bus story I don’t have.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

BUS STORY # 291 (The Last 12 Hours: Rider # 1)

Every once in a while, I’ll see a rider I haven’t seen in a long time.

Sometimes that rider used to be a regular -- or still is, just on a different schedule or different route. Sometimes the previous encounters have been infrequent, or random. And sometimes there was just a memorable only-once.

Maybe I’ve talked with them, maybe I haven’t. Maybe I’ve written about them, maybe not.

But such occurrences are infrequent.

So it got my attention when I had four such reunions, all bus-story worthy, in 12 hours; one on the bus home, and three the next morning on the bus into work.


On my way home, among the large crowd boarding across the street from Project Share is a woman who looks familiar. She takes the seat next to me. When she starts talking to the guy across the aisle, I am sure I know this woman from the bus somewhere.

She’s not a young woman, and if she’s an old woman, she looks younger than she is. That’s the best I can do with that.

After a while, it starts to come back to me. I remember her riding the Lomas bus on the way to work, but it’s been a long time. I think she worked in the medical field, or else was going to nursing school, but I don’t remember where she got on or off the bus.

And now I remember, I think she’s a Christian lady, although I cannot recall where that memory comes from. I may be conflating her with another rider, who also may have been in the medical field. Or who was going to school. Or maybe both. Or...

She’s wearing jeans and a white blouse, and she is pleasant and polite and that is what I also now remember about her. Always a nice smile.

I’m wondering if I should say something. But I don’t.

She does.

And it is nothing I could have anticipated.

She simply turns to me and tells me how funny it was today that several people told her she looked darker than usual. And when she looked in a mirror, she saw they were right.

She tells me, as if to make sure I understand she knows how funny this must sound, that she is an “African-American,” but that the sunblock she’s been using has, without her realizing it, made her look lighter. She forgot the sunblock today, and then started getting comments.

She smiles and shakes her head with wonder and delight.

I don’t know what to say. Whatever I did say I don’t even recall, and that is probably to spare myself the embarrassment of my ineptitude. But after a pause, I just ask.

“Didn’t you use to ride the Lomas bus?”

Yes she did, and she answers in a way that tells me she remembers me, too.

And wasn’t she working as a nurse?

Oh, yes, that was quite a while ago. But people started wanting so much more than she was able to do.

This explanation is crystal clear to her, but I can only guess at what she means.

Before I can ask anything more, she asks if I’m still riding the Lomas bus.

Yes I am.

She wants to know how I’ll get there from here. I explain I will catch the Rapid and take it up to Lomas, and transfer.

She tells me she just has to catch the Central.

That tells me she’s moved, as well as either changed jobs or, given that she got on at the Project Hope stop, is possibly unemployed. That latter would be a story I’d very much want to hear: how someone with nursing experience could end up unemployed. And how is she getting by, if that’s the case? She does not look like she’s on the street.

But I’m not gonna get a shot at the story because we are at Central now. I follow her down the stairs and out on the sidewalk. We stand facing each other for a moment. I have the fleeting impulse to ask her if I can buy her a coffee here at the McDonald’s.

It is, of course, a terrible idea, for more reasons than I have fingers to count them on.

I let it pass.

I’m sorry not to have the story, but I console myself with the thought that, sooner or later, we’ll likely cross paths on the bus again. As my wife might put it, the story will be told when it’s meant to be told.