I experienced a perfect storm riding MUNI to the subway on Monday. The bus I take is incredibly reliable and usually comes within three minutes. On this day I spent nine minutes in the sun before it pulled up. The bus was packed. I was lucky to get a seat but that was all the luck involved in this trip. MUNI buses do not benefit from such modern comforts as air conditioning, so on such a hot day it would naturally feel as if one was sitting in the middle of an oven. Of course the bus was packed with humans so it was more like being inside a blast furnace. But, as they say on infomercials, THAT’s NOT ALL! Traffic was unusually heavy so I got to enjoy more time on this moving broiler. It should not surprise you to learn that as we slowly wended through Chinatown someone boarded the bus carrying a shopping bag from a local market that — from the smell of it — evidently contained a halibut with amoebic dysentery. This aroma on a hot crowded bus was enough to make a the strongest of stomachs do a samba. The overly long ride had the added benefit of making me miss my train and thus delaying my return home. Sometimes you can have it all.
On Tuesday I was sitting on a crowded subway car. I noticed a tall beautiful Asian woman enter, she stood next to my seat. Before I could turn my attention back to my book I observed that a drop of liquid was making its way down the back of her leg. Odd. Could it have been urine? Was it sweat? Neither seemed plausible. But what else? If it was urine shouldn’t it have been stopped by underwear? Maybe she wasn’t wearing any. Then why the back of the leg? Sweat seemed unlikely too. One does not normally sweat there unless perspiration has already started in other places as well. Plus just one drop? And it was neither a hot day nor a hot train and there were no signs that she’d been running. This perplexed me. More than it should have. Maybe because she had such lovely legs. Finally I returned to my book. But I had difficulty focusing what with the question of the drip that had meandered down this woman’s leg nagging. I looked again but there not only were no more drips, but that the one I saw had evaporated. Forever a mystery.
Wednesday I got off the train and took the escalator to the next level. As usual there was a busker with a receptacle for donations. This gent was playing the guitar and singing. At least that seemed his intention. It was more like caterwauling. Normally I don’t hear subway musicians when exiting because I have my ear buds playing music of my own selection. But I happened to near him when a song ended on my iPod and there was the silent pause before the next tune. Thus I got a good dose of this “musician.” His singing was akin to a cat being choked and his guitar playing called to mind someone sawing metal cans. When I got a full blast I looked his direction and winced. As I did we happened to make eye contact. I’m reasonably certain that he realized my pained expression was a consequence of his “music” and not an old war wound of mine acting up. Whattaya gonna do? It was an awkward moment but I couldn't very well take back the wince and I'll bet dollars to donuts it wasn't the only one he elicited.
I take a bus into SF then the trolley to work. The trolleys are an attraction in themselves plus they go to Fisherman's Wharf and pass such places as the stop for the Alcatraz ferry. In other words the line gets a lot of tourists even during the morning commute. On Thursday a tourist from a foreign land got on and showed the driver a map on his iPhone asking if he went "there." The driver said he couldn't read the map and didn't have the time anyway and would he please just tell him where he wanted to go. The tourist's English was not so good and he again pointed to the map on his phone. The driver was adamant that he couldn't and wouldn't look at the map and he should say where he wanted to go. I was in sympathy with the driver in part because I was in a hurry -- as is usually the case in the morning. I also felt for the tourist. After all my job is to work with people from all over the world to improve their English. I could have helped. But the tourist grew frustrated with the driver and got off the bus. Maybe he'd get help from the next driver or someone waiting for the next bus. Well that seems the end of the story but not quite. The driver started going on and on about the incident to an acquaintance who was sitting in the front near him. "I can't read those things and I don't have time, just tell me, where you wanna go, that's all. I can't try to read maps. Just say where you wanna go." He made the same point over and over again, then some more for emphasis. Time for me to put the ear buds in. About eight minutes later I stopped the music as I neared my stop. Just as I did the driver started up again singing the exact same song about the tourist. Just as adamantly too. I submit this is a textbook case of someone needing to "get over it" and "move on." Sheesh.
Yesterday as I was making my way off the train I noted an adult woman who had a blank expression on her face. Nothing in that, of course. But then tears started flowing. There were no sobbing sounds nor any of the noises one associates with even a wee cry, but her countenance had become noticeably sadder. Just as I was passing her she began to talk, evidently to herself. Well, why not? I didn't hear exactly what she was saying -- nor was it any of my business - but she sounded perfectly normal and she spoke in a soft voice sans any histrionics. No one seemed to pay her any mind. There are enough frighteningly crazy (I'm sorry, should I have said, 'disturbed' or perhaps 'emotionally overwrought' or maybe 'troubled'?) people in urban areas without taking pause at a perfectly harmless kook soundlessly crying and having a chat with no one.
Someday I'll look back at commuting and laugh. Can't wait.