Heard on the bus:
“Two things I don’t run for – a bus or a man ‘cause they both gonna leave you.” This bit of wisdom was said by a woman with a lilting Jamaican accent. She was talking with her friend who was waiting, as was I, on the #66 bus at Dudley Station. That bus has one of the longest routes out of Dudley and so the waits for it are long. You can guarantee that when one comes – another two or three will be right behind. (By way of explantion, the # 66 follows a long route as it travels from Roxbury through Brookline into Brighton and Allston, ending in Harvard Square.)
I believe in public transportation. It has been my preferred mode of transportation for the past 20 years. There’s only one thing wrong with public transportation – it’s used by the public. This means you get the good, the bad, the ugly, the loud (especially in the cell phone age), the funny, the vile and the violent.
I’ve written a long essay about my T experiences but I’ll just share a quick list here:
- I saw a man jump onto the tracks at Shawmut Station on the Ashmont branch of the Red Line to retrieve a pair of sunglasses. He was promptly arrested by a policeman, who came from out of no where and lit into him out about risking his life for a pair of sunglasses!
- I once was so mesmerized by a handsome guy’s face (in my single days) that I got on the wrong Red Line train. I didn’t realize I was on the wrong train until we pulled into Wollaston Station. At that point, I just rode all the way to Quincy Center to do the turn around (and continue enjoying my eye candy). I felt like a fool but it gave me a grand chuckle that day and even now when I write about it. He was just that fine!
- I used to read a book to my children as we rode home from Downtown Crossing to Shawmut Station. One evening, I was too tired to read, and a fellow passenger expressed his disappointment, saying he found my reading a great way to de-stress from the work day. He then offered to read in my stead if I happened to have a book with me. I did and so he did.
- One of the vilest things I ever witnessed on the train was a woman get off a train in Park Street and defecate on the steps. She did this as hundreds of people were rushing to and from the Green Line at the peak of morning rush hour. We were packed tightly together. There was no mistaking the stench and no way to avoid it. It’s sad to see a human being sink so low.
While riding the T, I have learned about credit card scams and high school prom plans. I have offered a seat to pregnant women and elderly people while surrounded by grown men and children who did not even bat an eye, much less move. I have maneuvered through aisles lined with over sized baby strollers (difficult on the new buses with their narrow aisles) and seen a young girl selling candy on a regular basis to raise money for her school, ostensibly, but I am convinced it was for her family. I have seen pickpockets, lovers, workers, and wannabe rappers. I have seen a man ride the train with a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck and saw another man with a live chicken that he held upside down by its feet. I have met interesting people because of the books they or I were reading. “Is that a good book?” is a perfect opening line.
It is public transportation after all and that means it’s used by all sorts of people.
The only thing worse than being a rider has to be being a driver. God bless them. The things they put up with! Some are pleasant, some are stoic, some are annoyed and some are angry. You don’t want to be on their last run of the day, as I was one day when a driver ran a series of red lights late one winter night on the 39 bus from Back Bay to Forest Hills Station. (I took down his # and reported him, after saying a prayer of thanks that we made it safely.) I generally say thank you to drivers when I get off the bus (as do lots of other passengers), unless they’re assholes.Here are three driver remembrances.
Curse Like a Teenager:
It’s a good idea to avoid the T when the middle and high school kids descend upon the stations en masse. They are often loud and have that annoying teenage energy (yeah, I’m jealous) but more than being noisy, they are also often rude and crude. Or maybe it’s only that you notice the rude and crude ones as a sea of them swarm into the station. Curse like a teenager should replace the old saw, curse like a sailor.
I must give a shout out to a driver on a bus headed for Fields Corner Station who said to a teenager who was cursing like a teenager on her cellphone, “You can stay but the cussing’s got to leave.” He said it twice – matter-of-factly.
“Oh, my bad,” she said, and didn’t curse for the rest of the ride. A minor miracle I am happy to say I witnessed. (This is worth mentioning because many drivers don’t do such interventions.)
Once I was on the Mass. Avenue bus coming from Harvard Square heading toward Dudley. This is one of the longest and most interesting rides on the T because it covers the spectrum of society and a cross section of neighborhoods – poor to rich and everything in between.
As he pulled out of Harvard Square, our bus driver began to recite, verbatim, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” with great eloquence. We were all quite touched. You just never know when the holiday spirit will take hold of somebody. (Ever notice how some people who are dour the rest of the year perk up during the holidays?) As we pulled into Central Square, he pulled over to the stop, parked the bus, then turned around and said, “I’m sure y’all won’t mind if I go get a little taste being this is my last run and it is Christmas, right?”
It was a rhetorical question because he was off the bus and in Supreme Liquors before any of us could reply. I must say he was quick with his business. He brought his brown paper bag out of the store casually, settled it carefully somewhere on the side of his seat, started the bus and continued his run.
Jingle bells all the way.
Circles & Lines:
”Did you forget something?” the female bus driver asked.
“Oh, yeah, my bad, sister, can you help a brother out? I’m a little short.”
“I ain’t your sister. Next time ask me before you just walk pass me like that! Show some respect”
“You ain’t pretty enough to be my sister, bitch,” he said to her. Then he turned and addressed the rest of us, “Act like she own the damn M.B.T.A. or something.”
“Look, step on back in the bus and be quiet,” she said, then added a little more softly, but not much, “Friggin’ freeloader.”
He moved a few steps and was silent for about two minutes, having a conversation with himself judging by his facial contortions.
“Called me a free-loader. Like she know me or something,” he muttered.
“I done lost more than she’ll ever have,” he then announced loudly to the entire bus.
“Just quiet down,” she said. And again, somewhat under her breath, “ I’m so sick of these freeloading mo fros…ain’t got a job, don’t want a job, always tryin’ to get over.”
She pulled the bus off and down toward the bridge across Mass. Avenue. Everything was quiet again for a few minutes, then the college kids who’d gotten on at the stop by Tower Records (then located on the corner of Newbury Street and Mass. Ave.) started chattering about exams, parties, college stuff.
“I done lost more than this dri-ver” (he spat this word) will have, ever!”
Never had I heard an ordinary word – driver – said so derisively.
“Circles and lines, circles and lines, that’s all she do all day…turn in circles, drive back and forth up one line. Told where to go, when to go, how to go and thinks she’s better than me. I’m a free man, I can do circles, lines, triangles, rectangles, anything I want, when I want….bitch better recognize.”
That shut the driver’s mouth and my mouth, too. Freeloader – 1 point. Bus driver – zip.
Riding public transportation has been a Godsend for me and grand entertainment. It has given me lots of dialogue for stories, has served as a meditation space, and once sent me a guardian angel in the form of a T driver who saw the despair on my face, offered me a tissue as we pulled into Back Bay Station and gave me a few words of encouragement: “Whatever you’re facing, will work out.” I still say a prayer for him every now and again for his kind words.
Although I toy from time-to-time with the idea of getting my own car or a Vespa, and I walk many places to do most of my errands, I still appreciate the T. The only thing worse than riding the T to me, is driving the streets of Boston – not for the faint-of-heart or for those of us who grew up in cities where people know how to drive (St. Louis).
copyright 2009 by Candelaria Silva
Note: A reader, Markus Taylor, informed me that he started a new blog “Conversations on a Bus” and asked if he could share this blog post on it.
I said yes. Wish I had thought of the idea. l0l
I LOVE this post. It made me nostalgic for Boston and public transportation. It made me remember the time, while living in Providence but still working in Boston, I had to take the Red Line somewhere. A woman on the platform asked me how to get someplace, and since it was a stop along my way, I told her to follow me. A few stops later, I realized that something wasn’t right. With great embarrassment, I grabbed the lady and told her that we had to get off right away, we were going the wrong way! I was very apologetic, but she wasn’t bothered, she was appreciative that I didn’t just leave her stranded. It never occurred to me that anyone would do that.
Best piece of yours I’ve ever read. Get ready for hits. Baby this is good…circles and lines, I’m going to learn that story. By the way, I’m happy most of the year, get grumpy at the holidays. I can do triangles!
Thanks for the compliment. It’s from a much longer essay but I kind of like this condensed version.
Don’t let the holidays get you down. All cultures have them. They are what you make them.
Nice report. Public transportation isn’t perfect, like many things in life, but it’s rich even if everyone sharing the experience isn’t. Money isn’t the only measure. That’s city living and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I am so happy you appreciate the T. The best thing the T did for me was to help me catch up on my reading. For this I am grateful. I must admit though – I appreciate my car a whole lot more! :)
The car is more convenient – no doubt. (More expensive, too.) Being too poor to pay attention right about now, I don’t have that many places to go so the T works. Thanks for the comment.
Yes, it’s part of city living and I enjoy it mostly. Thanks for your comment.
Great writing. Thank you for sharing your stories. I love the T and the little adventures I encounter each day. Especially now that I ride with my son to work/day care each day. I’ve met a lot of kind people who’ve helped us out, kept him entertained and just like you I had a woman read “Brown Bear” to my son on the Red Line one day. Thanks for giving props to the drivers too, they get far too much abuse. I also had a driver tell some teenagers to stop cursing because there’s a baby on the bus. Thanks again for your stories.
Thank you for sharing your comments. The T is an adventure and most of the time, it’s gotten me where I need to be on time and intact! A few times, I’ve even felt like I had a chauffeur when I was the only passenger for a ride.
I love bus stories! LOVE ‘EM!