Life In Passing
I let three crowded buses pass this Wednesday morning, hoping I might catch one with some empty seats. No luck, and now I'm fifteen minutes late for work. I board one hissing to a stop in front of me. Like others I've let pass, it's full. A dozen passengers are standing, but some people I've been waiting with now squeeze in front of me. A rude attempt to get on first. I don't know why. Perhaps they have some fantasy there is an empty seat somehow unnoticed and unoccupied. It isn't there.
I climb on board and take position standing half way down the aisle. It’s not the best way to begin a morning. I assume a basic Tai Chi stance, feet in a T formation, good position for stability, but sometimes people can’t help stepping on my toes. I get my right hand on the safety bar above and feel secure.
As we lurch off a less grounded commuter comes hurtling down the aisle. He crashes into me to stop himself. The only other choice was an old lady standing next to me. He’s made the best choice possible. A woman just behind him makes a quick grab for the bar, but it's not fast enough. She misses and now adds her body into our collision. For a moment I am all that keeps the three of us from falling to the floor. Just as my hand’s about to slip the rail, our driver hits the brakes and my companions stagger back toward the front of the bus. A woman standing with two shopping bags is cursing as they stumble by.
There isn’t much to look at so far on this San Francisco, sun-bright morning ’til we hit the lower Haight. We’ve pulled up at a bus stop. Passing by us is an African-American, an older woman, passes by us limping, somehow clanking with the limp. Clonk, clonk, she goes. I notice there's a tin can on one foot. Looks like she stepped on it and it has wrapped itself around her arch like a tin grub worm that refuses to let go. I guess she likes it, doesn't care, or hasn’t noticed. How can anyone be drunk at seven in the morning? Maybe has some other kind of problem. She is dressed in a black two-piece suit, well-worn. Her hair’s done up. Looks like someone's matronly grandmother, can on one foot, clunking along.
We jolt back into traffic and five minutes later pass the Zen Center at Laguna and Page. Two monks are sweeping the sidewalk in front of the place, dressed in saffron robes . . . shaved heads. They’re out here every morning. It feels good to see them so at peace in this chaotic world. I think of joining them. Trading my desultory life for begging bowl and simple robe. Alas I seem to need too many things, material objects, I suppose the monks would call them, and I’ve never much good at sitting for long periods of time.
The bus continues on its way down Page and finally into Market Street. We narrowly miss a guy on foot who wasn't looking. Doesn't seem like it would be a hard thing to stay clear of something as big and slow as a Muni bus. It's surprising how many people seem unable to.
This dude has almost walked into our busses driver side. He’s twenty something, short black hair, a two or three day beard.
"Asshole!" he yells and slaps the bus so hard his watch flies off his wrist and lands in front of a cab that runs over it. He’s on his knees examining what’s left of the smashed timepiece as we move on. The cabbie and our driver exchange thumbs-up signals.
Two blocks later There’s a loud electric pop. The trolley boom’s jumped off the contact wire and springs into the air much like a fishing pole that’s lost its catch. We're stopped dead center in an intersection. Passengers complain, “These goddamn buses!”
Driver gets out, goes around back, gets the boom back on the wire and then we’re on our way again. Ten minutes later finds me at my destination—almost. Trying to open the back door. It won't.
"Back door!" a man behind me screams up to the driver.
"Pull it!" someone yells. I pull, then push. It opens. I make my escape, walk down the street into my workday, thirty minutes late. Not bad considering.