There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Serving trout with mayonaise on the bus

I finished "Trout Fishing in America," it's only 112 pages, and I wanted to put it aside. I decided to take the 82 bus line that leaves American River College at 8:04 a.m., the dangerous "payback" bus. And I also opted for the Transitarian Diet two-stop walk to be sure the mystery woman wouldn't be a part of the story.

The cellphone alarm went off at 8:03 a.m. and I was waiting for the bus at 8:07. By 8:10 I saw the bus turn from Eastern onto Engle and lumber toward me, slowly rolling side to side as it settled in its new course.

But I couldn't put aside "Trout Fishing in America" because it is bound to Richard Brautigan's "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster" in the same way today is bound to yesterday.

As I settled in the back of the bus and got my book out of my backpack, the bus arrived at Mission and Engle. There were no passengers waiting to board. The bus stop shelter was empty. But the driver stopped anyway and waited for a full minute before continuing.

A moment of silence? Do whales mourn their dead the way elephants mourn? I didn't see a memorial to the 82 whale, now long gone as though it had never existed. Maybe only the drivers and the buses have eyes for them.

By the time the bus arrived at Kaiser Hospital we were two minutes behind schedule. "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster" is a collection of poetry. The title comes from this poem:

The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster

When you take your pill
it's like a mine disaster.
I think of all the people
lost inside of you.

The poem is undated but the collection was originally published in 1968, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Comstock laws that banned contraception.

As the bus pulled away from Kaiser I found this floating among the poems:

The Symbol

When I was hitch-hiking down to Big Sur,
Moby Dick stopped and picked me up. He was driving
a truckload of sea gulls to San Luis Obispo.

"Do you like being a truckdriver better than you
do a whale?" I asked.

"Yeah," Moby Dick said. "Hoffa is a lot better

to us whales than Captain Ahab ever was.

The old fart."

And perhaps after Hoffa went missing the whales felt safer with Division 256 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, AFL-CIO.

I finished "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster" before the bus arrived at Sac State, but I didn't want to start Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar." So I started reading the poems again. Reading poetry twice doesn't seem as odd as reading a novel twice. You need space between novels -- say, 37 years -- in order to really discover what you have forgotten.

The bus arrived at Sac State at 8:52, seven minutes late. I watched my connecting 30 line bus pull away from the curb as the 82 bus came to a stop. As I was about to step from the bus I could hear yelling and see flailing arms in the crowd of passengers exiting the front of the bus. Once off the bus I walked to the front in time to see a very angry Sac State student very loudly and with much profanity suggest to the driver that he should do a better job of keeping the bus on its schedule. He finished with a two-handed, middle-finger salute and stormed away.

I could have stayed on the 82 bus and taken light rail to work, but the 30 line runs every 15 minutes. The next 30 bus was scheduled to depart at 9:07. I decided I might as well start reading "In Watermelon Sugar." The book begins:

In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.

While I was reading, a "NOT IN SERVICE" bus arrived and, as if my magic, was transformed into a 30. I boarded and took a seat in the rear.

When the bus arrived at 29th and L Street for its driver change, 40 or so kindergartners and a half-dozen adults were waiting on the sidewalk, held together with colored yarn. I moved to an empty seat near the front while a teacher negotiated the children's entry. Then the driver opened the floodgates and the miniature people flowed into the bus and all the way to the back and then back toward the front as every open space filled. I got up again and moved to a place where I could stand near the front. The wave of kids quickly filled my empty seat. Eddies of kids swirled around me, settling in seats reserved for the elderly.

Once the flood had found its level, the bus made its way carefully down L Streets so as not to spill its load. The sound of the school of children that filled the bus reminded me of a babbling stream of cold mountain water cascading over rocks on its way to the ocean.

I couldn't leave "Trout Fishing in America" today. I'm sure there were trout on the bus.

Maybe tomorrow. For now, you will have to read "Trout Fishing in America" yourself in order to understand why this blog post must end with the word mayonaise.

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