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
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
|Near where the father and son get off
|Near where the bus lets me off, near Union Sqare
|A pedestrian crosses the street to get to the bus stop.
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.