Tuesday, October 16, 2007

great days for the passenger element.

(Joshua Masayoshi Huff)

I recently stepped out to catch the 754 and 204 bus to
Fairfax Ave for no particular reason. I had just got out of my accounting midterm, and my curry dinner meeting had been cancelled. I didn’t really have a place to go, but I knew that I didn’t have anything to study for—nothing pressing, anyway. I decided to hop on the bus and ride around LA for awhile--see a bit of the city that I'll be calling home for the next two years

After depositing my ten dimes and five nickels, and asking if I would know when I arrived at Vermont and Beverly (and being told that if I didn’t notice the road signs, I could tell by all the people getting off), I was free to take my seat. I wanted to find a seat as close to the front of the bus as possible. Why? My mother’s voice was echoing in my ears (the way it usually does), telling me not to sit at the back of the bus, because that’s where weirdos and trouble ride.

I sighed and got impatient with every filled seat I passed (one was occupied by a man who resembled Gilberto Silva and another who looked strikingly similar to Clinton Portis). Finally, I spotted a seat—unfortunately, its position would not have made my mother proud. I sat down in one of the shorter legs of the back of the bus “C” seating shape and buried my nose in Franny and Zooey, as recommended by Ira Glass himself a few weeks back.

I flicked on my iPod to some ambient and pretended to be more busy than I really was. The ride was non-eventful, and I did less reading than I would have liked (I kept looking at every stop, wondering if I was about to miss my stop and throw off the entire trip).

Eventually, I got to Vermont and Beverly and got off—along with a horde of other people. I walked into a nearby gas station to break a twenty so that I could have a full fare without having to use combinations of small coins—thinking about how many dimes and nickels made $1.25 felt all too elementary school to me. I bought a beef jerky stick and a cherry coke. The jerky was too salty and the coke was flat—what can you do?

I waited for my connecting bus, and a man asked me if I wanted to buy a bus token.

“Only $1.00,” he said.

“But it costs $1.25 to ride the bus,” I replied.

“Yeah, I’m selling it to you for a discount,” he said.

I almost took the bait, but I decided not to. He was a bit upset, but a few minutes later, he got on the bus—paying with a dollar bill and coins, not his “discount tokens”. They're for a rainy day, perhaps.

A few minutes later, my own bus arrived, and I happened to get on before everyone else—not because I was standing in a line…there was none…but because the bus happened to stop right in front of me and people started lining up behind me. I sat in the middle of the bus, looking earnestly for my stop.

I wasn’t aware that this was not an express bus, and this ride took a lot longer. At first, I panicked—because the automated voiced was calling out stops that I did not see on the route map in the direction that I had decided to travel to. Finally, though, La Brea was called out, and I knew I was on the right bus.

Finally, I got off at my stop. After walking in and out of a few shops, I walked into a kosher diner that I heard people raving about a few days earlier, called Canter’s. I ordered a reuben to go and walked back to the bus stop.

I looked at the bus schedule I had printed out and muttered aloud “it should be here”, to which I was told by a man that “it should be, but it isn’t”. We waited a few more minutes, and he alerted me that it was coming. A girl asked me if I was riding the bus—I said that I was, and she said that I could use her other bus pass. I thanked her, and we both got on.

All of the seats at the front of the bus looked painfully crowded, but I didn’t really mind. I walked toward the back, and sat across from a young couple and near a group of men. Two men nearby seemed particularly bothered, though I couldn’t figure out why. Finally, the man between the two of them got up and staggered off the bus, taking his tequila soaked breath with him.

“Damn, that dude was rolling all over the place,” said one man, dressed in all black.

“Yeah, I know. He was falling onto me. If you are small like he was, you should know your limits,” said the other man.

“If he fell on me one more time, I would have decked him. I usually don’t care because I used to be a bouncer, but I can only take so much, you know?” he asked, looking towards me.

“For sure. Dude wreaked bad,” I replied. We all laughed…and got quiet when, at the very next stop, the same man got on and sat between the other two men once again. We all shot each other quiet looks of amusement before looking forward.

The man next to me started talking to me. He turned off his iPod, which had been playing Bruce Springsteen and put it into his pants, which were worn not by purchase but by profession.

“I like your Nikes. Where did you get them?” he asked me.

“Thanks. I got them in Japan. I liked the Springsteen you were listening to,” I answered.

“Me too. Hey, is it alright if I practice my English with you? Can we ask each other questions?” he asked.

“Sure. That’d be fun. How long do you have to go before you get home?” I asked.

“My stop is coming up after the next three,” he replied.

“Oh, so you’ll be home soon?” I inquired.

“No. I will be traveling for two more hours. I just have to switch buses there. Where are you going?” he asked.

“Back to USC—I go to school there,” I said.

“I see. Where are you from? Do you like it? Why were you in Japan?” he asked in rapid succession.

“I’m from Hawaii, but my family has roots in Japan, so we go every now and then. I like school a lot—it’s hard, but I enjoy it.” I said.

“That’s great. I wish I could go to school—I work hard so one day, hopefully my kids can go to school. If we’re lucky, they can go to a Cal school, because USC is private and expensive, even if that’s the school we follow,” he added, slowly and thoughtfully.

“I see. I am lucky that I do get to go to school there,” I said.

“Yes, very lucky. My stop is right here. I shall see you again, my friend. God bless you,” said my seat mate. He put is iPod back on and dialed up Springsteen’s “Dancin’ in the Dark” and strummed an invisible Stratocaster for a couple of seconds before putting on his backpack, waving to me and stepping off of the bus into the balmy Los Angeles night.

The former bouncer, dressed all in black, turned towards me and talked a bit about USC. I asked where he was a bouncer at, and he gave me a longer answer than I expected, spread out between his sips from a Starbucks straw in a container obscured by a black plastic bag.

“I’m not a bouncer anymore. I used to be one. I was a bouncer at the Troubadour from ‘94 until ‘98. I was hired as the head of security at the Roxy in ’98. Sunset burned me out though, man. I just picked up the guitar again, got the heavy metal thing going,” he said, contemplatively. Before I could respond, he started up again.

“Yeah man, this time, I’m gonna be a rock star. Really.” He stood up, threw me the horns, and yelled out “this is my stop, dude. You’ll see me around, I promise.”

The short man who had too much tequila had rolled over onto my shoulder. I asked if he was alright, and he said he was.

“My stop is coming up,” I told him, trying to get his head off of my shoulder.

“Ok. Nice talking to you,” he said to me, eyes a bit glazed over.

“Yeah, you too. Take care, man. Get some rest…and some water,” I said, before making my leave.