Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On the Bus

If you had asked me in 1987, upon first moving to New York, if I’d still be taking a bus to make the NYC/PA trip in 20 years, I’d have laughed. “Surely, I’ll have a car at that point. Or something.”

Well, here we are, and no car. It’s funny how in your 20s, you project all these things onto your future: marriage, kids, houses, money, fame, cars, etc. And you get in your 40s and recognize the world is nothing like how you thought it was going to be. I’m not married – nothing against it, just haven’t placed myself in that situation yet, after a few close calls in my 20s. (Believe me, after seeing what various friends have gone through, aint nobody going to lecture me on the wonders of marriage. Hats off to you if you’ve made it work!) No kids that I know of. A house in New York? I’d have to rob a few banks to pull that one off. Fame? Not much, a smidgen within the city, and from what I’ve seen, it’s worthless without the money. I can guarantee you, if I had all these things, it would still be nothing like I had imagined it.

Cars? To have one in New York is a huge hassle. Insane insurance rates. Basic maintenance. Gas prices. Finding parking spaces. Changing sides of the street every day. Having it messed with by teenage goons and thieves. Only using it on weekends. And then having to deal with NYC traffic, which would age me in dog years. Sure, it would come in handy for trips back to PA or simply getting away certain weekends. But when I weigh all these things out, I can live without a car. Having a car in New York is much more of a luxury than it would be in the suburbs or country, where a car is a necessity. Here, most people really don’t need one. Once upon a time, that would have seemed like a very abnormal set-up to me, but you live long enough inside the insanity of New York, cars stop making sense.

Leaving the bus to get me back to Pennsylvania about once every six weeks. Normally, the bus is entirely doable, as I avoid traveling on major holidays. Plenty of room to spread out, traffic usually not so bad, and aside from getting one old coot driver who’s purposely late (and apparently unfireable), no hassles on the trip, which takes about four hours and drops me off literally down the street from Mom’s house. Used to take under three, but that implied taking an express bus directly to Hazleton, PA and Dad picking me up at the station for the half-hour ride back home. With Dad gone, it just aint happening anymore, so I have to take the milk run bus that hits all those small Coal Region towns.

One of my least favorite things to do is to take a bus any time around a major holiday, which invariably happens every Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I can swing a few days around each, I do so, mostly to avoid all the assholes, agoraphobics and skanks who tend to pile on the bus at these times of the year. You’d figure riding a bus wouldn’t take any sort of special ability, that anyone could do it. But you learn fast after a few holiday runs that there are uh, problematic people, who, let’s look at the big picture, have problems doing anything, and riding a bus is a subset of that unfortunate whole.

This time, there were a few people to file in the “special memories” folder. On the way from New York, there was some girl in the back blabbing on her cellphone. This alone is not a punishable crime – people do this all day long everywhere. Just another person with bad manners, talking way too loud, personal conversation, obviously could wait, I don’t understand how cellphone people have these useless conversations when they know everyone within a 50-foot radius can hear what they’re saying.

The real issue was the neurotic middle-aged woman in the seat in front of me. You know the kind. She’s reading the Book Review section of The Sunday New York Times, but she’d be just as happy wrapping and unwrapping a ball of tin foil. Or scratching at her window. Or bouncing a ball off a brick wall for hours. Like all of these neurotic harpies, she has all her shit spread out over the seat next to her. I guess that’s her survival kit of an Ayn Rand novel, the latest “hate Bush” book, bottles of anti-depressants and tofu sandwiches on 12-grain bread. Normally, I don’t care about that, but when the holiday buses get crowded, this really annoys me, as they guarantee people (like me) with manners are going to get hit up for that open seat.

Anyway, when cellphone girl started her navel-gazing monologue, this harpy went nuts. It was like a dog hearing a high-pitched whistle. She started squirming in her seat. Then turning around, full face, which really grated on me. Finally, she started commenting. “Oh, my god, is nobody going to stop that woman? Is this allowable? Are we supposed to put up with this sort of behavior?”

And all I could think was, what if I was having a conversation with the person in the seat next to me. Would that be any different? Would she still be writhing in agony? Finally, I just said, “Look, I don’t like that sort of stuff either, but there are no rules against talking on a bus.”

She looked at me as if I had just told her Santa Claus wasn’t real.

“I know that, but it’s the manners more than anything.”

Like spreading all your shit over two seats to ensure no one sits next to you is kosher. Or repeatedly turning around full-face on someone and grimacing.

“If you’re really that annoyed, go back and tell her to stop.”

She just stared at me. It was that simple. I think this woman was simply looking for the people around her to agree with her. Which I did in principal, but if assholic behavior was against the law, we’d all be in jail at one time or another, some of us on death row the rest of our days. At that point, I put my headphones back on and ignored her the best I could. I think she climbed a tree when we stopped in Lehighton, PA and started throwing whole-wheat pretzel bites at people on the street.

On the way back, two notable incidents. In Shenandoah, PA, two wiggers got on the bus, looking for round-trip tickets to Philadelphia, same day. They were wearing these puffy white hoodies that looked like berserk pajama tops for five-year-old boys – the matching sweat pants to their hoodies probably had built-in feet. They’d look like idiots anywhere, much less a small town in rural Pennsylvania. Of course, they start in with the phony standard-issue accent all these kids have had since 1988 (but magically lose when they become adults). People bust on me for how much I despise wiggers (is Bill really a racist masking his true feelings in his contempt for wiggers?), but these kids make hippies look cool. They’re insincere, false and usually idiotic. They’re what’s wrong with a lot of white people.

They had to buy their tickets on the bus, which is a sign of people who never ride the bus. I took one look at them and thought only one thing: call the DEA and alert them to stop the return trip from Philly that night, because these kids had “drug mule” written all over them. What kind of person takes a round trip to Philly that will drop them off around noon, and have them get back on the bus around 3:30 pm? You’d have to be an idiot to run drugs on a public bus. These kids were idiots. They spent the whole way to Lehighton (where the Philadelphia people get off), doing their little “yo, nigga, yo, for real, word” lines on each other. And left me wondering what new trend is bound to come along in the next few years that will make me nostalgic for the subtlety of wiggers. I promise you, this will happen!

Later in the trip, we pull into Easton, PA. I don’t like Easton. It doesn’t seem like a bad town, it’s just that people will often get on the bus at Easton to go to Somerville or Newark. If the driver doesn’t get anyone going to either location, he can bypass them and head straight to NYC, thus shaving about half an hour off the trip. This rarely happens, and it’s usually one of those Easton people who causes it.

By the time we got there, every person had his own seat, and there were probably about eight completely open double-seats. Five people got on. I wasn’t dozing, but I was pretty relaxed, as I always seem to get that way around Easton. Just then, I felt this whoosh of air then immediately felt a large weight pressing down against me. What the fuck, I thought, there are plenty of seats open, what’s going on here.

It turned out to be a very large, mildly-retarded girl. Is that the way to state this these days? I never went for that “god’s children” shit, and saying “Downs Syndrome” sounds too clinical. Special person? I can go with that. This very large special person plopped down next to me. Hard.

I'm not a huge guy, but I can guarantee there were people smaller than me with open seats, along with a few completely open double seats. For someone to sit next to me in that kind of scenario was really unnerving. Her girth was oppressive -- that's the feeling I get sitting next to really large people. You can feel their weight on you and understand how oppressive it must feel to be that heavy. A physical force against your skin. She starts waving out the window and going "buh-bye" to I guess what was some kind of relative.

And all I could think was, "Lord, I don’t ask You for much, but could You make one of these people get off at Somerville so this very large special person could get the fuck off me?" (This is the exact antithesis of my usual feelings towards Somerville.) I didn't have much to say to her -- I was incensed. I couldn’t move. And she kept moving her arms -- I could feel the muscles in her arms – she felt as strong as an ox. I pictured her throwing me over the edge of a cliff just to see if I could fly. If this was a normal human being, I would have considered this totally obnoxious, but this girl was special, so I understood she didn’t mean any disrespect or rudeness, and I rolled with it.

I later found out why she sat next to me -- she was jonesing for the front seat. At Somerville, a woman and her kid who had been in the front seat got off, and she bolted over there and clutched on the rail, ramrod straight and sat that way the rest of the trip. Really strange that a retarded girl would go off on her own to NYC unsupervised. But I was just relieved as hell that she was off me.

Once again, normally I get on these buses to Pennsylvania and have a relaxing four hours to listen to music, gather my thoughts and gaze out the window at the passing countryside, feeling myself getting closer to home with each passing farm field and patch of woods. All that shit goes out the window around the holidays. And I’m not even getting into that one Christmas trip when the woman next to me on a packed bus smuggled on her pet fox terrier, who kept leaving weird garlic-smelling farts all trip long.

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