Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The tribe called the bus people rides around town in a well-lighted living room

Wed, 5 Mar 2014 12:01:50

Last night, I took the Lakeshore! Henry! home from shopping briefly at Meijers. I had missed at least one Mardi Gras party, one with a polka band, and another just with the purple and yellow masques and beer and shot specials. I love to let the good time roll, and its easier when the evening doesn't have to end waiting in the dark for a bus that only comes every hour, and then only until 9:15 PM.  I did have a nice dinner at a place called Mangos, which has a thatched roof over a bar inside called the rum jungle, enjoyed at the bar a steak and a draft special that went down easily and didn't task the wallet too much.

It's my idea of a bus stop because after paying and tipping, it's an easy two minute walk to the bus marker with a ten foot high post, the lower six feet buried in a snow bank. Many of the McDonald's employees use the stop for commuting to their job. Crews haven't gotten around to digging a waiting area out of the snow bank, and so everyone stands in the McDonald's driveway as close to the snowbank as possible.

Two women from the crew boarded at the same time as I, and one of them was talking to her friend about her recently discovered maternity, her second.  Angie is not this bus driver's real name but the description of her character could identify her as well. She welcomes all new riders by name, and gives me time to sit down as I dig the combination of a quarter and a dollar out of which ever pocket I can find it. Dollar in the wallet. Quarter in the left inside breast pocket. All the other riders have passes, probably free thanks to their low income status. They don't even flip them out in most cases. I might be the only white collar worker paying in cash for the ride.

This wouldn't be the case in Chicago or Pittsburg of Los Angeles or San Francisco, and it is tempting to move to a city where people understand a lifestyle without a car. The driver knows everyones usual routes, and I once got the check up question when I boarded her bus to go north last February, the last bus run of the night. She knew it was going to take me seven miles north of my home and she didn't know I was going to see a friend who had texted me an invitation for a late night dinner.  The bus cruised along the south lakeshore of Muskegon Lake, and I noticed that all the riders had gathered in the senior seats toward the front, and all the seats turned inward, like a sectional. A person could have set a coffee table in the aisle and laden it with chips and salsa and a bowl of ice for sodas.

Angie was discussing the upcoming back surgery of one of the older men, who rode with his partner to some point east of the northern bus terminal. I didn't pull the cord for my stop. "May I get off the bus, Angie, may I"? That cracked up the entire living room. She stopped the bus at the exact corner of Seventh and Western, and I added, "May I get off at the regular bus stop, near Mike's Inn. I would like to have a whiskey drink before I go home". Angie answered, "I saw you had a grocery bag, but it's still early, so okay". The men shouted, "Have one for me!" or "Beer chaser, please!" as I got off at the bus stop twenty steps south of Mike's. 

This morning, a woman boarded in Lakeside, the first stop closest the Subway that served breakfast sandwiches and coffee for no more than three dollars, opening early. She had a warm coat with smudges of dirt, and it wasn't one a woman would buy for herself. She wore a pair of grey sweat pants and tennis shoes. She bent easily as she leaned close to the bus driver and asked which route to get to the corner of Wood and Sherman. She had beautiful, thin black hair, tied up into a bun, and I imagined a young waif from West Virginia, daughter of a miner, who couldn't wash her hair in the winter because the water was too cold. Who would take the time to properly dress this woman up so she could see herself for what she could be?  She had an appointment. Not exactly an neighborhood where one could expect a medical office.

I heard the bus driver recommend the Getty-Wood, and I worried because Sherman is one of the poorly served streets in the system. Getty-Wood runs on a section of it. Sixth runs on a section of it. A bus that starts from the south bus station has the name East Sherman, and I have no idea how anyone gets to it. So I opened up a browser of the bus system, and I showed it to her. Indeed the purple line of the Getty-Wood and the pale blue line of the East Sherman passed right by the corner of Sherman and Wood. She squinted at it, and her eyes didn't unsquint, as if she had spent the night staring into a plume of wood smoke from a campfire.

"Are you going to Mission for Area People"? "No", she answered. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to pry.

I just know that the Getty-Wood goes by MAP on the end of its run." "Which one goes there quickest?" "Take this bus up to the north station, and people will be able to give you better advice at the station than I can". I rustled through my backpack for a bus schedule, which would give an exact time each bus line hit that corner, but my backpack came up wanting. The driver hadn't restocked her supply that morning.  She might have been going to another shelter near a church where I saw waifs get off the bus early in the morning.

I knew that a number of the streetwalkers on Broadway picked up books to read in the off hours from MAP. How could a man who didn't solicit them know that fact. For some reason, a good, well-lighted bar called the Schultz-Haus didn't mind if the walkers came in for a few minutes to drink water and read at the bar. The covers had MAP stickers on the front flap. One of my friends is a painter who works double shifts behind the bar, cooking short order in the kitchen, and I have enjoyed passing a few hours with him from time to time.

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