Writing Club: Commute

Maybe it’s under the old name, the Georgiana Court Apartments; it’s been years since it was called that, but maybe you can look it up by street address…”

A mother and her daughter must exit the bus before I can enter, but the small child has become fascinated with the fare box. The mother coos something gently and they both step down.

Although this was one of the last buses scheduled for the morning commute, it was still quite crowded.  It was striking how somber all the passengers were. Despite the fact that it was Friday and peoples’ spirits should, by all reason be more jovial, not a single person is engaged in conversation of any sort. Silent, staring forward with glazed expressions, trying desperately to avoid eye contact.  Instantly I become self conscious about the business transaction transpiring in my cell phone…

Weeks ago I had been admonished by a fellow commuter for talking too loudly. I had been enthusiastically recounting the events which had transpired the night before; events which had resulted in the hangover I was then experiencing.

I can’t even hear my fucking music!” he leaned across the aisle to bellow at me.

How could I have been so bawdy? I couldn’t shake that ugly feeling for some time. That afternoon I read somewhere that one of the new 10 commandments was to include “Thou shall not talk on thy cell phone on public transportation.” I casually pretended as though I hadn’t heard him and maintained my conversation. Internally, however, I was shocked and embarrassed and hastily wrapped up the conversation, albeit in a slightly less boisterous fashion.

I manage to find an open seat on the right side, about a quarter of the way down the front half of the coach. Next to me by the window is a young man immersed in some sort of serious reading.

In my ear the man from “Fire Chief Equipment” was struggling to find my building’s account in his computer. The fire extinguishers at my building expired two years ago, and I am making arrangements to have them recharged. I am trying to think of ways that I can end the conversation tactfully. He’ll never know if I just press the end button and hang up now. Phone calls get dropped all the time these days It’s a part of our modern idiom.

Still struggling, he asks if he can put me on hold while he tries to find someone else to deal with me.

Actually,” I attempt to mutter as discretely as possible, trying not to disrespecting the tomb-like solitude of the bus, “let me call you back in about half an hour.”

Sure,” the man replies, “Just ask for Missy when you call back.

Missy… What a gross name. I won’t have any trouble remembering that.

– – –

I settle into my seat. The young man next to me is reading some thick technical manual, no doubt helping him prepare for some upcoming certification in the flavor-of-the-month programming language or technology. I am so thankful that I am not required to absorb any such dreary slog.

In spite of myself, I try to peer unnoticed at some of the text he is reading, hoping my sunglasses will be a sufficient smokescreen to cloak my curiosity.  The first paragraph underscores my initial prejudice: Mind numbing. I am positive that this book would be a highly effective sleeping pill and I feel a vague tinge of sorrow that he is conscripted to assimilate this type of information. Perhaps he comes from a world where page after page of neatly ordered text is a welcome escape. It could be his ticket out of an even more oppressive regime in his homeland.

My thoughts of sorrow turn to resent, however, when I happen to glance down at his arm. The crisp, black embroidery on the sleeve of his polo shirt reads “Casual“.

As though anyone would need that embroidered on their sleeve to remind them their shirt was casual. It was a strange epitome of the clothing people wear to work on a daily basis. The shirt itself was not objectionable. It was a grey polo shirt, but had some nice vertical ribbing which made it sort of unusual. Why the designer would mar it with such an exclamation of mediocrity was puzzling.

As though this guy needed to shout to everyone that he understood the dress code was “Business Casual”.

See?! It says so right here on my arm! Don’t send me home to change again, please!

Given that people obviously don’t object to having this classification branded on their arms, I am surprised that the ateliers haven’t starting scrawling “Business Casual” on the sleeves as well, so as to avoid any confusion. It’s an untapped market.

I put on my headphones and take out my book…

– – –

Traffic is dense, but it seems to be flowing at a fairly good clip, which is unusual for a Friday. Generally the bus comes to at least one full stop as the vehicles trickle through the Arboretum bottleneck.

At this point I realize that I hadn’t noticed the driver at all when I entered the bus.  It could have been because of the mother and her kid, or because I was on the phone, but I could not picture who was driving the bus. Man or woman. Old or young.  I usually try to at least make eye contact when I enter a bus to show that I am human and not ungrateful.

I resume reading.

– – –

As the bus crosses the 520 floating bridge, I notice that on one side, the water is very choppy and violent. When I look across to the other side of the bridge, sure enough, the water is smooth… Mount Rainier is not visible through the clouds. In spite of the fact that it is late July and has been quite hot lately, today it is overcast and cool. It was windy as I walked to the bus and I tried to remember what causes wind. Is it differences in temperature or air pressure? “Nature hates a vacuum,” I know that has something to do with it.

Several chapters later, I notice that someone is having a conversation in the seat across from mine. I look over and notice a man who sat next to me in the very back of the bus last week. He carried on a conversation the entire trip at that point. It didn’t bother me in the least.

Does he have an accent? It’s hard to tell. I am not paying close attention to what he is saying. I have no concept of the nature of his conversation. It seems to be breezy and casual though. Maybe it’s his wife or his lover. I do remember that in the conversation he was having last week, he described himself as being “really angry” that he didn’t take some lettuce from someplace, because they could have had a “free salad” for dinner.  It was odd to me that he would use such emotion to describe leaving a salad.

Really angry” is not a feeling I could ascribe to myself about most things, let alone something as trivial as leftover lettuce.  It also seemed odd that this guy looked to be making decent enough wages so that he wouldn’t have needed to bring free lettuce back to his home. I classified him as an emotional adult, probably with a short fuse. Don’t do ANYTHING to upset him! Maybe he’s one of those adults who throw tantrums in public.

– – –

I am suddenly aware of the fact that I have been wearing my earphones since I sat down, but my music player had been turned off the entire trip.

I am momentarily a bit embarrassed until I realized that there was absolutely no way anyone on the bus would have noticed, let alone cared, that I hadn’t been listening to anything through the things in my ears.

– – –

Sitting in the very front seat is a large man dressed in black wearing a camouflage jacket.

A man like that doesn’t care about his body at all,” I thought, “He eats whatever he wants and he never works out!

It was hard for me to believe that this fellow probably never gets any exercise at all. I work out all the time and I still have a long way to go. I’d hate to see how I’d look if I threw in the towel and stopped caring.

I wonder if this man is some right-winger militia type with his fatigues. However, as we approach our final destination, I see him flash his corporate badge which doubles as a transit pass. He’s a full time employee. He must be doing something right. Maybe he’s just a big guy in an unfortunate outfit.

– – –

As the bus cruises into position, I decide that I will remain seated until the bus comes to a full stop, like a ride at a theme park. I’m not in that big a hurry. Several other people apparently do not share my notion and are already getting in queue to exit the bus. I am always curious whether anyone gives any thought to which order people should leave. The people seated in the vertical benches seem to believe they have precedence over the people seated in the horizontal rows of seats, even if this involves cutting them off until they exit. It is a strange quadrille, which is worthy of future study.

When it is my turn to stand, I allow the person sitting directly across the aisle from me to go first, as they are shorter than me, I suppose. I do not allow the person sitting next to them by the window to get out before me. This is the gentleman who had been on the phone earlier, and I guess I still held some contempt for his incident with the lettuce last week.

I march forward with the rest of the commuters as I fish my wallet out of my back pocket and produce my bus pass. I always spin the card around a few times to orient its magnetic strip to the direction of the fare box. Sometimes I don’t have time to adjust it correctly and end up having to spin my entire body so that I won’t have to place the card in my other hand.

Today however, a young Japanese man is fumbling with his wallet at the fare box as I approach.

No transfer,” he tells the bus driver, who turns out to be a well-groomed dad-type, probably in his late 30s or early 40s.

Have you paid yet?!” he asks the Japanese man in a “can you believe this guy” sort of tone.

It was distasteful. I then realize that he is wearing trashy Nascar-style chromatic sunglasses, and has groomed his goatee in a jerky way.

Rather than wait to slide my card through the reader and see what transpires, I flash my pass and exit the bus.

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