04 October 2014

A Tale of Two MUNI Rides: Ghosts of Beat Writers and We're Having a Heat Wave

Burroughs and Kerouac.
He wasn't that old and he didn't seem all that insane. Mild insanity isn't such a big deal ya know. He didn't smell and he was carrying a few bags of groceries that I couldn't but think that he'd just purchased the contents of -- maybe he was given them, I don't really know. He was hunched over in a manner that gave him an odd and sad appearance. His clothes did not suggest that he was poor or anything else about him for that matter. Nondescript I believe is the word. He shuffled onto the bus and stood. There were empty seats he could have had but he choose to lean in the nook between the front and back of the bus reserved for wheelchairs. I was sitting right near him.

He spoke to me. I was just finishing a game of Words with Friends on my iPhone that I'd started while waiting for the bus. He asked about it. His voice must have been exactly what William Burroughs sounded like on his deathbed. I don't imagine Burroughs' voice faded all that much even at the end, though I can really only guess, not having been there.

There was something in the man's manner and the way he asked the question that made me shy away from responding. The bus was noisy enough and there were enough people around that it wasn't extraordinarily rude of me to ignore him. I simply didn't feel like engaging with him. Sometimes after working all day and being at the beginning of an hour long commute on a hot day you don't feel like exchanging pleasantries with some old kook. And kook he was for my failure to answer his query did not deter this gentleman from talking what they call a blue streak.

He went on and on about this and that and then about that and this, oblivious to the fact that not a soul was responding let alone listening. I can't tell you what he was saying because I'd move on from my iPhone to a book that I'm quite enjoying (The Blue Star by Tony Earley, if you must know). His chattering was just more of the background noise one grows accustomed to on busy city busses.

After only a few blocks he got off seeming to have no trouble with his groceries or with keeping his running monologue going. I kind of liked him actually. He was different. Really how many people who are talking to themselves carry bag of groceries? How many look as ordinary as he did? And how many sound like Burroughs?

At the time the bus was in the general vicinity of North Beach and City Lights Bookstore and thus the general area that the Beats of the San Francisco variety congregated. So Burroughs' voice kind of fit in. I just wish Kerouac or Ginsberg had been with me so that I could have compared notes with them about the guy's voice. They heard Burroughs up close and in person.

I always like when the bus goes through North Beach. I can feel the presence of the Beats and I thus long to be pounding out novellas on an old Royal typewriter taking breaks to listen to jazz with Jack and Allen.

The hottest recorded temperature that a human being has ever survived was on a crowded MUNI bus.  MUNI does not do heat. San Francisco does not do heat. I do not do heat. Riding the 30 through North Beach and Chinatown on a day of record breaking temperatures is as comfy as wearing a hair shirt in a sauna, only this smells worse. Some passengers in Chinatown take it upon themselves to bring fresh kill from local markets on the bus with them. I believe someone was transporting a recently slaughtered zebra yesterday. Needless to say there is no air conditioning on buses. Unless one counts a slightly ajar windows that let in hot air and flies.

The bus yesterday had a wonderful combination of high school students, tourists, the elderly and infirm, the homeless (who bring their own special aromas with them) and the recently deceased -- or so it seemed. I swear there were a few cadavers on this bus, not to mention a several others who died en route.

On a hot bus ride there is absolutely no doubting that an enormous person whose waist measurements are in triple figures will sit next to me. If by some miracle this does not happen it will be because that space is occupied by a person who is fundamentally opposed to bathing. Of course yesterday I hit the jackpot and a 400 pound behemoth who eschews all manner of soap wedged himself next to me. My joy was complete.

To make it a perfect ride, the driver was passionately in love with the breaks and delighted in slamming them every few seconds. Bodies flew about the bus and backs were thrown forever out of alignment. When the bus arrived at my stop I knew who POWs feel when the armistice is signed. I was free at last to navigate the hot streets of San Francisco in a mad dash to get to BART and a train home.

I zig and zag from near Union Square to the BART station passing through all the construction going on and the shoppers and workers and dealers and schemers and tourists. The BART station was nice and toasty but fortunately the train was not long in coming and felt fairly arctic relative to where I'd been. Almost home.

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