October 25, 2010

A Bus Ride in San Francisco

I like taking the bus, or MUNI, as it is called in San Francisco. Living near the center of the city, I am fortunate that many different routes, going in all different directions, pass within a few blocks of my home. I actually get a little bit of a thrill thinking I could hop on any bus and it could drop me off in a neighborhood so different from my own, kind of like going on a mini-vacation. I could take the bus to the far west reaches of the city by the ocean, or I could take it over harrowing hills to the bay, or I could take it to the Mission, or I could take it downtown. Being from a rural area in Pennsylvania, I didn't ride a public bus until I was in college. My roommate, Jen, discovered I had never been on a public bus and I noted that it was ironic that the bus stopped right in front of our house on College Avenue. One afternoon, we decided to take the bus to the mall, which was twenty minutes away. She was amused as I asked how you let the bus driver know when you wanted to get off. That was the day I learned all about buses.
There are eight quarters in my hand. I examine each one. One is the bicentennial quarter, which I haven't seen in a long time. Maybe I should save it? No. One is a Missouri quarter with the arch of St. Louis. One is a Utah quarter, I haven't seen that one yet. The rest a regular, old quarters. I stop at the last quarter, a normal quarter, I wonder where it was minted? I wonder how many hands it has been in, or pockets or change purses. I wonder how many people have touched this quarter. Who were they? What were they spending it on? What has this quarter seen?
I am standing at the 38 bus stop with four other people. Two of them, young men, are speaking a foreign language that sounds like Italian. The 38L bus passes by us and one of the Italian guys gets on his cell phone and starts talking rather quickly, the inflection of his words rising and falling to extremes. Yes, he is definitely Italian.  I think he is getting excited about the bus not stopping. I wonder if I should tell them that was a limited bus and won't stop at the regular stops? But he is too busy talking. A few minutes later the regular 38 bus comes by and I am the first one on, depositing my eight quarters in the machine and taking my transfer ticket. I always kind of feel like an outsider, when I take my ticket. The regular bus riders have bus passes and I always wonder, just a little bit, if they are thinking "She's not one of us." But that's silly and I try to walk to the back of the bus with confidence and take a window seat. In the front, I hear the Italians ask the driver if this bus goes to Union Square.
The Italian guy stands by the back doors
These buses are double long buses, with a swivel thing in the middle. They are kind of fascinating to be in, like riding in a caterpillar. I am examining the wear of the bus interior when a man sits next to me. Behind me, in the back row is a group of kids, high school kids, probably freshmen. Three girls and three boys and they are all Asian-American except one boy. He is the loudest, which means he is very loud because I think most high school freshmen must be loud. Their behavior is interesting, not yet mature enough to be dating, but still not immature enough to be pulling hair and throwing spit balls. Nostalgia embodies me, as I remember, for a moment, exactly how I felt when I was that age, acting that way. And now, I know what it looks like too.
There is a boy across the aisle from me looking at the high school kids. He is a little pudgy, but looks strong. He is about seven or eight, I think, but that age seems to always trouble me when it comes to guessing. He still has a look of innocence clearly on his face, yet he is completely intrigued by the behavior, the language the camaraderie of the high school kids. I wouldn't say his admires them, he is just very interested. He looks too young to be riding the bus by himself, too innocent to be riding the bus by himself. There is an empty seat next to him on his left. On his right is a man engrossed in his cell phone. He seems oblivious to the boy. They could be related, maybe. It must be his father, no one else fits the bill and he is sitting right next to him. Why is he ignoring him so much?  Doesn't he realize what an innocent boy he has on his hands? The high school kids are swearing and talking about sex (not sex that they are having). Doesn't his father care? But the boy is not paying attention anymore. He is staring across the aisle and out the window with a blank look on his face.
The innocent boy watches the high school kids
The boy looks at the man sitting next to me, who I had barely noticed. Then I realize he must be the boys father. They are built the same, they definitely are father and son. They have similar coloring, although the father is darker, Latino. He is very aware of his son and the surroundings. He is watching intently, noticing everything. I watch him watch his son, and I get the sense that he is trying to figure out how to preserve his son's innocence about the world while also trying to figure out how to prepare him for it.
Near where the father and son get off
At the next stop the father and son get off. I notice the father is carrying a worn metal baseball bat. Of course! They got on the bus the stop after me, which is right next to the baseball fields, they must have been playing baseball. The Italians get off too, which I think is odd since we are still one stop from Union Square. I wonder if they are going to get lost.
Near where the bus lets me off, near Union Sqare
I get off the bus near Union Square. Its a nice night, clear with a pleasant, dry chill in the air. I am there for three reasons. One, is to purchase something specific, which I do immediately. The second reason I take care of shortly after that. The third reason I am there I do not discover until after it is over, because sometimes there are reasons that we just don't plan on. Tonight, synchronicity has come out to play.
A pedestrian crosses the street to get to the bus stop.
Night has fully settled in when I walk to the bus stop to go home. There are three people sitting on the four stools in the bus stop shelter. Behind the shelter is an old man with a long, straight, thick beard. He kind of looks homeless, but, maybe he is too clean to be homeless. His clothes are very worn, stained and don't fit him very well. He has a very old navy baseball cap on and I think he is missing some teeth. He has an large, hard-sided, turquoise piece of luggage on wheels.
The bus comes, and suddenly, out of nowhere, a dozen or so people swarm to get on the bus. The "regulars' with the bus passes go straight on, like the cool kids, swiping their bus passes as they enter. The rest of us stand in line to deposit our money and collect our transfer ticket. I go towards the back of the bus again, but there are no seats, so I hold the metal bar. There is a young, thin women, about my age, with a baby strapped to her chest. She is dancing in the aisle, the wide area near the back doors, to keep her baby happy and sleepy. A man with a large nose and a thick green turtle neck sweater is sitting next to a young girl, about three years old, in a pink coat. There is a man, about my age, sitting in one of single bus seats and I wonder if he has offered his seat to the women with the baby. He has longish hair and light colored eyes, he looks European. The homeless looking man with the turquoise luggage manages his way to the back of the bus next to me. The middle-aged, Asian American man next to him moves away. The young girl in the pink coat laughs as another man with a camera makes finger animals dance on the bar between them.
In the back of the bus, a young, large black man is rapping. He pulls out a tape recorder that plays a background beat and he continues his rap, much to the admiration of the people sitting around him. I hear him tell them that he has a Facebook fan page.
A seat opens up next to the European man and I take it. Should I offer it to the lady with the baby? As I am contemplating this, she starts speaking to the European man in French. He must be her husband, or at least, the baby's father. I figure, she must want to stand and continue to dance her baby to sleep. Two stops later they get off, seeming a little unsure. The man with the camera, the green-sweatered man and the young girl in the pink coat all get off too. They are speaking to each other in French and one of them is lugging a stroller. They look around, as if trying to figure out which way to go. They must be tourists.
I pull the cord to get off at the next stop, at Fillmore and Geary. As the bus stops, I touch the bars of the door and give them a light push. The door opens and I walk out and cross the street, hoping anyone looking might notice the confidence I have in which direction I am going. I am a city girl now, so far from the countryside of Pennsylvania. Could I imagine myself getting off a bus in Philadelphia? Yes. Will I ever? Maybe.

1 comment:

  1. Kathleen I love your writing. It is so refreshing to dive into a mind that communicates with every color with such pleasing admiration. You know I am often amused about being able to get onto the subway and go anywhere in Philadelphia. There is something special about it. It's so satisfying to let the mind wander off with every passenger! Thank you for sharing a piece of your life. I should try and do the same!