Sunday, May 31, 2015

BUS STORY # 447 (Part 1: “You Smell Like Cigarettes!”)

"No Fish," © all rights reserved, by Rose Mercado

This is the first of a four-part series. I wrote these stories several years ago, when I was still working and riding the bus, after my wife wouldn’t kiss me one evening when I got home from work. I knew these were more memoir than bus story, and I always seemed to have a bus story about someone else in the here and now that I wanted to tell instead. But after last week's post, this seems a good time to go ahead and finally post them. Besides, there are some good bus-themed photos to go along with the stories.

“Phew! You smell like cigarettes!”

This from my wife who pulled back just as I was about to collect a welcome home kiss at the end of my workday. She knows I’m not sneaking smokes or hanging out in bars. She knows I’ve been riding the bus again.

This has been a small issue between us since I began riding, some six years now. Like another bus-related issue between us – getting home later than I would if I drove a car – it’s only a problem on the ride home.

Smoking is not permitted on the bus. That smell of stale cigarette smoke is seeping from the clothes and hair and pores of the riders who smoke elsewhere. Or from riders who spend their workdays in the close company of smoking co-workers.

Fortunately, it is a relatively infrequent occurrence. I’ve come to the conclusion that, like the “perfect storm,” there has to be a convergence of several conditions for anything to happen.

First, there’s the time of day. This is almost always an afternoon, not a morning, problem.

I think this is because most smoking riders haven’t had time to undo the effects of showering, teeth brushing, and changing into clean clothes. By the commute home, they’ve managed to re-saturate themselves, and we non-smokers end up experiencing the stink.

Then there’s the time of year. The warmer the weather, the more likely the problem.

This isn’t ironclad. I remember a cold winter evening standing in the aisle behind a man in a black greatcoat that reeked of old cigarette smoke. But there’s something about warm weather that brings out the odor of just about everything.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a packed bus offers a far greater opportunity for experiencing second-hand stench than a half-empty bus.

Finally, and really the most interesting of the conditions, there is the route itself. I encounter the problem much less often on the 11 than I do on the Rapid or on the 140/141. And neither of the latter can hold a candle to the dependably crowded and noxious 66.

I find myself generalizing a correlation between the ridership and the level of noxious air, and smoking demographics studies.

There may be a fifth factor: whether or not the bus is one of the older 300s or the newer 700s and 900s. More field study is required.

Although I consider this a minor problem, I do think it is overlooked by those promoting public transportation to those of us who don’t smoke and who have the luxury of an option. And, short of smoking and non-smoking buses, with smokers voluntarily refraining from boarding the non-smoking buses (like that is ever gonna happen), I don’t think there’s a solution.

Nor do I foresee folks starting to make healthy choices anytime soon about tobacco based purely on reason. I didn’t.

(To be continued.)


The photo at the top of this story is titled “No Fish,” © all rights reserved, and is posted with the permission of Rose Mercado. You can see Rose Mercado's photostream on Flickr here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

BUS STORY # 446 (It’s The Little Things)

Downloaded from The Daily Mail

I’m downtown at the ATC, sitting on a bench reading and waiting for the 8 to pull into its bay.

I see an old guy picking up trash in the long waiting area between the docks. Blue and orange stocking cap, black jacket, dark blue jeans, a back pack... It’s the backpack that catches my attention.

Then I see he’s putting the trash into a plastic grocery sack. The trash is mostly cigarette butts, with the occasional candy wrapper. He isn’t wearing a yellow safety vest. I can’t see from my angle if he has an ID badge or not, but I’ve already decided he’s not a city employee.

When he works his way over by my bench, I ask him if he’s with the city or just being a good citizen.

He tells me his bus only comes every 45 minutes, so he kills time by picking up the trash. He says he was inspired by a guy he always saw picking up the trash when he arrived at work. He’d get to work at six, and there’d be this guy picking up the trash. One day he asked the guy why he picked up the trash.

“He told me he was retired, and he didn’t have anything else to do. Now I’m retired, and I don’t have anything else to do.”

He tells me he also picks up the trash on his morning walk, from Central to Bridge. The ATC is only when he’s waiting for the bus. But he’s hoping the folks who are littering will see him picking up their trash, and maybe it’ll plant a seed.

You know, he tells me, there’s a sign saying nobody’s supposed to be smoking out here. I laugh. I’m remembering the old toilet paper commercials on TV: Mr. Whipple puts up a sign that reads “Don’t squeeze the Charmin.” These days, the best way to get people to do something is to put up a sign telling them not to do it.

Still, there is something to be said for this old retired guy’s fighting the good fight against the tide. I’m an old retired guy, too, and our sensibilities are going the way of the dinosaur. I don’t think picking up the trash is going to plant any seeds or make anyone stop littering. But it’s not hurting anyone, and he’s found a way to make his small place in the world a nicer place, even if only for a few minutes.

I remember when my generation was going to do more than pick up the trash. We were going to stop war and end racism. We were young, and we had no idea that the way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. We’ve many of us struggled since to bring integrity and grace and peace to just our own lives.

Watching the old guy picking up the trash reminds me of Theresa of Liseaux, a young woman whose story was told to me during my impressionable childhood as an example of how to become a saint without all the fireworks. We were told she’d gained sainthood despite living a short life in an out-of-the-way cloistered convent by quietly doing little things. Things like picking up the pins dropped and left by her fellow sisters. Her spiritual practice was called “the little way.”

There’s no way of knowing if the old guy picking up the trash has ever heard of Theresa of Liseaux. I figure the odds are slim. Nevertheless, he seems to have discovered her secret for himself: it’s the little things.


Remembering the old Charmin commercial prompted me to go looking for it with Google. Sure enough, here’s the “Honey, there’s a sign” commercial: Vintage Old 1960's P&G Mr Whipple Don't Squeeze The Charmin Bath Tissue Commercial 3.

And that prompted another memory, of Charlie Walker’s country western hit, “Please Don’t Squeeze My Charmin,” inspired, of course, by the commercials. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

BUS STORY # 445 (Portrait # 28: Honeymoon)

Photo by Busboy

The bus is pretty empty for this hour, but up front are two kids on the way to school with their dad.

The kids are little, maybe two years apart, maybe kindergarden and second grade. They’re in T-shirts and shorts, carrying skateboards and wearing helmets. The younger boy’s helmet has a friendly shark’s face on it, with a dorsal fin on top.

I’d put dad in his twenties. He looks like a kid, too, even with his mustache and chin beard. Black Rain T-shirt, olive green cargo shorts, and a skateboard of his own. No helmet.

The boys are sitting together on the bench seat facing the aisle. Dad’s in the aisle seat of the first row, leaning in toward them. He’s talking to them, and they’re listening and and talking back. He reaches out and gives the older boy a quick nose squeeze between two knuckles. The kid giggles with delight.

When we’re getting near the elementary school, dad stands up and peers through the front windshield. He surprises me when he pulls the cord himself; I was expecting him to tell the boys to pull it.

When the bus is stopped, the littler one runs and hugs his dad, and dad wraps him up tight and tells him to be good.

The older boy takes his turn. I can see his face and it says he’s loving having his dad to hug on. And then before letting go, he puts his mouth to dad’s head, just above the ear, then he’s off to the front door.

Dad follows them to the door. He tells them to be good, and he’ll see them right here after school’s out. Then he walks back down the aisle, following them as they walk along the sidewalk toward the crosswalk. He doesn’t sit back down until they are out of sight.

It’s heartwarming. I love how special this moment is to all three of them, and that is when I realize this is not a routine seeing-the-kids-off-to-school experience. This is more like being in love.

I look for a wedding ring and see no rings at all, except for an earring in the left ear I missed earlier.

A story begins to take shape: a daddy who’s just come back home and it’s the honeymoon... But is it just a visit or is he gonna stay? Other stories suggest themselves: an idolized big brother also back home, or maybe a favorite uncle. Or a new daddy audition.

But I see again the kid’s face when they’re hugging, and then the kiss.


He’s moved across the aisle now, sitting two rows ahead of me, his back against the window and his feet up on the aisle seat, scrolling through his smart phone. I feel the honeymoon wilting like a midmorning moon flower.

Mine and his. Mine because I have romantic tendencies, his because the kids are gone now. What else is left but prosaic real life?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

BUS STORY # 444 (A Foolish Thing)

Photo by Busboy

It’s just past noon when my bus comes. I board, and there’s only one other person on the bus. And he’s sitting in -- I laugh to myself -- “my seat.” I take the seat across the aisle.

He looks over, smiles, then asks if I’m just starting my day.

I tell him I’ve been up a good while.

“I’ve been up since six,” he says.

I ask where he’s been.

He points to the collar of his white dress shirt. “Court.”

There’s a pause, then:

“I did something foolish back in January. I got a DUI.”

He has a public defender, but until this morning, he didn’t think the PD was doing anything for him. He was ready to plead guilty when his lawyer starts firing off petitions for this, petitions for that... Nine of ‘em. He’s glad he kept his mouth shut.

So what’s next, I ask.

He doesn’t really know. But he’s got a plan when he does. “I figure I plead guilty to the first charge. That way, they drop the reckless and the aggravated.”

Then he’s gonna buy a car, put an interlock on it, and not drive it for a year. That way, when he’s ready to drive again, he can get rid of the interlock.

I’m thinking he means to take the bus for a year while the interlock does its time in the new car. But then I wonder what happened to the old car. Did he total it in that January DUI? Or does he mean to drive it instead of the new car and not get caught? I think about how getting the DUI, not driving drunk, was the “something foolish” he’d done. His stop comes before I can ask more questions.

“Wish me luck,” he says in the aisle.

“Good luck,” I say back, but inside, I’m shaking my head. It seems to me it’s the rest of us on the road that’ll need good luck.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

BUS STORY # 443 (Clueless)

Downloaded from Leaving Tracks

We pull up to a stop, and I see a not-all-that-old guy with a walker and a large plastic bag of groceries.

There are three people in the front of the bus: a woman sitting in the first forward-facing bench seat on the passenger side, right in front of me; a young woman, in a black velvet hat with a large scarf hatband, short hair curling up from beneath the brim, sitting in the bench seat behind the driver; a young guy, T-shirt and jeans, white earbud in his left ear, holding a large black case the size of a big, three-ring binder on his lap, sitting in the bench seat opposite the woman in the hat.

The woman sitting in front of me sees the guy with the walker and gets up and heads further back.

The woman in the hat also sees the guy with the walker, and after the woman in front of me goes to the back, she also gets up and moves to the back.

The guy, who cannot see the guy with the walker unless he turns around to see why the women are moving -- and he doesn’t -- watches the two women leave. He remains where he is.

The driver kneels the bus, and the guy with the walker struggles aboard with his walker and groceries.

He is grimacing with the effort, and when he gets past the till, the aisle is partially blocked by the legs of the man on the bench seat.

Who is watching but doesn’t move.

The man with the walker manages to negotiate the obstruction, but almost loses his balance when he tries putting his groceries on the bench seat with his walker turned at an odd angle to accommodate the legs of the guy on the bench seat.

He recovers, reorients himself, maneuvers the walker as close as he can given the room he has to a position that will help him sit down.

The walker is partially collapsable, and, after sitting down, he does something I don’t recall having seen someone with a walker do before. He folds it up, then pulls it up on top of his lap and holds it with both hands so that it does not form an obstruction in the aisle.

He grimaces with the effort, smiles in between the grimaces.

The guy across the aisle watches, as do I.