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

Monday, August 13, 2007

Back in the back of the bus

Richard Brautigan's "certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along" was welcomed this morning after a week at the suburban ranch harvesting "Honey, Do..."

Back to work means back to the bus. And that's probably the best demonstration of what is wrong with the transit options in suburban areas served by Sacramento Regional Transit. Outside of commuting to work and the odd special event -- Jazz Festival, Mather Air Show, Raley's Field baseball -- there's little reason to leave the car at home when "Honey, Do ..." calls.

This morning I took my customary seat in the first elevated row in the back of the newer bus. In the front, three women occupied the seats immediately inside the door. As the bus continued on its route the matriarch of the three resumed her conversation with the driver. It was a very animated conversation, with the occasional hand gestures from the driver when the bus was stopped.

I have no idea what the topic was. The woman and the driver were talking in Russian or Ukrainian or Bulgarian or some language transplanted to Sacramento by the breakup of the former Soviet Union. As the saying goes, it was all Greek to me.

The matriarch did all of the talking for the three. It could have been grandmother, mother and daughter. Certainly they were family.

So engrossing was the conversation that the women forgot to remind the driver of their stop at Butano and Sam's Club. When everyone finally realized the mistake, the driver pulled over. The matriarch rose and stopped at the door. She turned and shook the driver's hand.

A woman anxious to get to the next stop pulled the stop request cord.

"Stop requested," announced the bus.

There was more talking as the matriarch and driver said their goodbyes. The two other women stood silently.

The anxious woman pulled the stop request cord again.

Once the three women were on the sidewalk, the driver gave a final wave. The women waved back. The driver then closed the doors and the bus traveled the half-block to the next stop, where the anxious woman anxiously departed.

I went back to my book, welcoming a return to my routine.

5 comments:

ByJane said...

A sterling vignette. Do you create a narrative or just observe?

John said...

Darn. Caught in the act. Now I have to admit that I don't know the difference between creating a narrative or just observing.

My blog was three goals: Promote transit for its value as an environmental tool; help new riders understand the limitations of the system and thus, it is hoped, reduce the chasm between expectations and the reality; and, finally, to return to writing.

I first discovered I like to write during the night shift aboard the USS Midway in the maintenance administration office of Fighter Squadron 151. I spent 11 months at sea during the Vietnam War, much of it in a place called Yankee Station. Writing letters was a wonderful outlet.

Eventually, I went to college, got a journalism degree and then a job. And then I gave up writing. Why I turned to editing is a long story best told elsewhere.

Today, I have rediscovered my enjoyment of writing. My vignettes are writing exercises. Some are more accurate than others, but all find their origin in my experience riding RT buses and light rail. I narrative of my observing perhaps.

John said...

And since I can't edit comments, I will point out that the last sentence should have started with "A narrative ..." rather than "I narrative..."

I suppose I could make the case for turning narrative into a verb but the intent was an incomplete sentence.

There is nothing more frustrating than being an editor who wants to write. It is soooo painful.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you try riding light rail for a couple years? I guarantee you will never want to ride public transit again.

If you could answer these questions every day during rush hour I would be eternally grateful:

- Will everyone be packed in like sardines because the train is 3 cars short?
- Will the train be late?
- Will the train even show up at all?
- Will I have to sit next to someone who stinks to high heaven, yammers incessantly on their cell phone, panhandles, asks questions, is loud and obnoxious, has a screaming kid, or is likely to commit some crime.. ie stealing, trading drugs, assault, battery

John said...

- Will everyone be packed in like sardines because the train is 3 cars short?

- Will the train be late?

- Will the train even show up at all?

- Will I have to sit next to someone who stinks to high heaven, yammers incessantly on their cell phone, panhandles, asks questions, is loud and obnoxious, has a screaming kid, or is likely to commit some crime.. ie stealing, trading drugs, assault, battery


Such a list. I can certainly understand why an anonymous person like yourself would rather be stuck alone in traffic, safe from the rabble.

Today on the bus to work I listened to a guy use the walkie-talkie feature on his cell phone to find out if a store had a battery for his power drill. Now, why would someone want to carry a conversation like that on speaker phone? Really annoying. Of course, the same thing happens at the mall or in a restaurant. Some people are just jerks.

And I have experienced a late train -- two in fact -- and even missed a bus connection as a result once. I will readily admit these are not Mussolini's trains.

I even had one real day from hell, including falling face first into the parkway grass when I got off a bus. Karma payback is tough.

But I do take exception to your suggestion that you could divine that someone riding on the train with you "is likely to commit some crime." How would you know this about a person? Most of the people who I have talked with who don't like riding public transit express the problem as "those people." They don't want to be near "those people." I find "those people" to be . . . well, just people. And I certainly don't mind sharing the bus or light rail with them.