Still don't know what I was waitin' for
And my time was runnin' wild
A million dead end streets and
Every time I thought I'd got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse of
How the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test"
- From 'Changes' by David Bowie
Ancient Japanese man talking animatedly to himself to my right. Then two young German couples sit either side of me with the females perched on the males’ laps. They are loud. I am on a San Francisco bus. A giant duck boards the bus and proceeds to lecture us on calendar reform. Jesus Christ appears in the middle of the bus and shouts at a teenager about smacking his gum. The bus hits a pothole and we fly upwards orbiting the Earth and nearly colliding with a space station. I get an angry email complaining about my alleged overuse of adverbs. I smirk — no — I happily smirk and throw the letter in the waste basket. I should have recycled it.
Back on the bus. I recoil at the sight of Theodore Roosevelt vomiting out a window. He is cheered by Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy. The latter boards the bus and claims to be holding a list containing the names of 23 communist bus drivers. He is heckled. The bus stops an extra minute in Chinatown so passengers can observe the 7th inning of 1953 World Series game. The space time continuum needs servicing -- "clearly" needs servicing if you like your adverbs.
I levitate while teaching my ESL class. Students don’t notice. (It seems the bus ride was yesterday and I am currently teaching class. Whatever.) Tempest in the hallway as broiling carousing rapturous minions of beauty twirl towards calypso. A ballet dancer gives me a five dollar bill.
There is a grinding numbing quality to commuting five days a week. It hardens you to life in surprising ways. It is a world of regimentation and unwritten rules and social norms that are rarely violated. Tempers are always one small incident from flaring but it takes an extraordinary event to spark anger. Many people are sullen, it is hard to be cheerful when you are edging your way here, waiting there and standing here and shoving there and smelling this and hearing that and touching those and processing a work day and anticipating home and hearth. And of course maybe the domestic pleasures do not await. There may be more unwanted necessary tasks ahead. Obligations, duties, responsibilities. You shuffle grimly. Your eyes are steely or droopy or closed and your body is tired from all the little steps. You remember to be polite.
Your commute is chock full of people. Tall, fat, skinny, ugly, beautiful, young, old, crazy, boringly normal, nattily attired, in veritable rags. Some are rude and thoughtless others are kind and friendly. Most are just there, just being, just filling up those spaces on buses and subway cars and platforms and escalators and sidewalks. Some walk in front of you too slowly, some brush hurriedly past you. Many get too close, but usually out of necessity. Conversations are generally reserved for acquaintances. Only rarely will strangers chat. Few people have the energy to make small talk. Some people impose conversations on others. They are outliers and usually fail to get satisfactory responses. There are wisecracks when things go amiss; the sarcastic are particularly welcome in such situations. Gallows humor reigns during particularly nasty commutes, as does the potential for commuter rage (a far milder condition than its nasty cousin, road rage).
Those commuting home take solace in the fact that their work day is over. Friday commutes are carnivals compared to Monday’s. People are joyously anticipating their weekend. Even Thursday commutes feel lighter. Monday and Tuesday commutes maintain a stoicism. Of course the morning commute is a different animal entirely. Folks are fresh or sleepy or even a bit of both plus the commute times are spread out a little more. There are generally less hiccups in the various systems in the morning and commuters are not weighed down by just having labored for eight hours.
Some commutes feel like the Bataan Death March. Connections are missed, there are delays, something smells awful, there are obnoxious high schoolers, it is too hot or is raining, police action, mechanical problems, health emergency, war declared.
The smooth and easy and incident-free commutes are quickly forgotten. They are like referees who don’t make any egregious calls. Expected, accepted, unrecognized.
This morning I had a 25 minute wait for a trolley that never came. Obstruction on the track. I had to catch a cab. This evening I breezed home without a care. So it goes.
I love my job. I hate my commute. The latter is not strong enough to ruin my days but it is a powerful force to be reckoned with that exacts its toll on me. I survive it principally because I am an avid reader and the hour and a quarter (two and half hours total, if math is not your thing) affords me ample reading time. Were it not for that, if I was someone who could not read on the bus or subway, I should imagine that I’d have gone starkers by now. But I am quite sane…no, that’s not right. I am less the lunatic than I could be. Still a strange case for psychologists to study but not yet a candidate for a straight jacket. I’m a tough nut.
Speaking of madness…That classroom scene finally resolved itself and I stopped levitating which finally drew comments from students. Not wanting to break the mood I performed gall bladder surgery on myself. The scalpel was handed to me by a Rastafarian Ulysses Grant.
Nude never noxious nouveau normative nomenclature nocturnal nonsensical notary nursing newfound naturalistic nebbish nectarine nacho Nicholas Nickleby napping.