The old Chinese man sitting next to me on the bus was picking his nose. Across from me an au pair was struggling with a toddler in a stroller. I thought that Toddler in a Stroller sounded like a really weird heavy metal song. The bus came to sudden stop causing two tourists to skid a few feet. The woman said: “it’s just like water skiing only different.” Right on the money, I thought. I happened to glance toward the back of the bus, saw a tall lovely young woman of about 18 trying to look disaffected. She was doing a damn good job. I wondered why she wasn’t staring at her cell phone like everyone else her age does when confronted with an empty moment.
The bus driver barked at passengers to move back to allow room for the flood of people who were struggling to get on. Many of these people were old and only boarded with great difficulty. Still others were very young and were in a desperate hurry to get on because it was the next thing in their life and they wanted to hurry up and experience it so they could move on to whatever was next. No one young seems to want to wait anymore. As people got on it was evident that there was plenty of room on the bus. The driver had been evidently unaware that passengers had gotten off the bus too, at the back door. Maybe he forgot that people get off as well as on the bus. Maybe he forget he had a rear view mirror. Maybe he was just surly. The last one for sure.
I had just started a book that I was quite enjoying but somehow today’s activity on the bus was particularly distracting. Sometimes its like that. You can be engrossed in a book on a bus ride and not notice a knife fight taking place right next to you. Other times you can be fascinated by a little kid’s lunch box and the way an old lady fusses with her purse. Who knows why.
The bus zipped along. Evidently the driver was behind schedule or was desperate to get to a stop were he could dash off the bus for a few minutes and relieve himself somewhere. Every so often a bus driver will get off and disappear into a store or cafe then re-emerge minutes later. I guess they go pee. Maybe some of them shoot up. I’d sure be tempted to shoot junk if I had to drive a bus in a big city. Making it through a typical day…forget about it. Nerves of steel and a long, long fuse. I’m surprised none of 'em ever pull out a .44 and start settling scores with bitchy passengers.
When I taught middle school it always seemed like a good idea that none of my colleagues were packing heat. Or me for that matter. I’m telling ya, some of the students — 12 -14 years old, mind you — are a caution. Attitude like you wouldn’t believe. I had more than one who were crack babies. One of them literally could not keep his trap shut. I would calm him down and get him focused and turn around and he’d be yapping again, likely as not something rude or inappropriate or loud or disturbing or any combination thereof. I asked the principal what we could do for the kid and he said to just keep documenting his misdeeds until there were enough suspension days that we could move for expulsion on the little bastard. That way he’d be someone else’s problem. Great. But I didn’t blame the principal. There were no resources. Our school district wasn’t exactly in the Ozarks (Berkeley, CA if you must know) yet there was next to nothing to be done for kids like this one. When I say next to nothing I mean sitting right beside it. Practically on its lap. Eventually kids like him become society's problem. Often stewing in prison. What a got a great system. Shuffle em along, like the homeless. Make em someone else's problem.
The whole expulsion process was a joke. It just meant shifting some miscreant to another school district. We got our share. Usually from Oakland. You’d get a new kid late in the school year and pretty much knew the score. He’d come walking into class late on his first day, with no backpack and an attitude the size of Missouri. You know not to judge the book by its cover but you also knew that this was bad news. Why pretend? You can put on the happy face and welcome the little bugger but could bank on trouble within the week. Sometimes less. So it went.
But I started off with the old Chinese man picking his nose. He was like a lot of geezers on the bus who seem perfectly content to just sit there. No book, no paper, no cell phone, no chatting, no absorbing the sights and sounds of the passing city. Just being. Maybe kind of zen. Maybe lost in thought. Maybe wondering where all the damn years went. A lot of people get old and start wondering what the hell happened. Like it was a big surprise that they got older. Who’d have figured? Then they start looking back and mostly see all the mistakes and what-ifs and roads not taken. You can make yourself pretty fucking miserable doing that. On the other hand the proverbial “they” say that nostalgia is good for you. I indulge quite a bit myself.
So the bus got to my stop, as it inevitably doe,s and I damn near threw myself off. I’m always goddamned ready to get off a bus when the time comes. It’s not an experience you generally want to prolong.