Monday, April 28, 2003

The New Yorker hitches a ride

Of all the obnoxious, improbable things, a New Yorker writer has decided to (gasp!) take public transportation! As you can imagine, he writes as if sending dispatches from the veldt. These strange creatures we call "bus drivers," these denizens, these riders of the "bus." How much we can learn from their strange and simple ways! Here are some of his keen observations:

The bus also has order, order as we know it from the fading patriarchal family, visible order kept by an irritable chief. The driver has not only control over his world but the delight of the exercise of arbitrary authority, like that of a French bureaucrat. Bus riders learn that, if your MetroCard turns out to be short fifty cents, the driver will look at you with distaste, tell you to find change from fellow-passengers (surprisingly, to a subway rider, people dig into their purses cheerfully), and, if this doesn’t work, will wearily wave you on back. You are included, fool though you are, and this often at the moment when the driver is ignoring the pounded fists and half-audible pleas for admission of the last few people who, running for the bus, arrived a second too late.
When I first started riding the bus, I mentioned it to people sheepishly, almost apologetically, as one might mention having had a new dental plate put in, or the advantages of low-fat yogurt—as one might mention something that, though not downright shameful, might still seem mildly embarrassing.
...[long tirade about how bus=salvation from fears of terror]
The bus, a permanently running dinner party among friends, a fiction of family for a dollar-fifty, a Starbucks on wheels, is the rolling image of the thing we dream of now as much as we wanted the Broadband Pipe to wash away our sins three years ago, and that is the Safe Room. For the first time, the bus has something to symbolize.

Allow me to offer, in response, a few notes for the non-initiates among you, lest the New Yorker misguide you into this undiscovered urban delight that is the city bus:
--The bus is not a dinner party among friends. No food is allowed (including coffee, so that nixes the Starbucks on wheels, too) lest you face the wrath of your "irritable chief," who, I suspect, would kick your New-Yorker-writing ass to the curb if you ever referred to him or her that way.
--He cites the delightful, quixotic conversations one overhears on the bus as a rewarding treat unique to the bus-rider. True, I've overheard some funny bits, but far more often, I overhear the raving loony who's howling in my ear about a)being an oppressed black man b)killing somebody c)the government d)everybody else's sexual preferences.
--He forgets to mention the bald lady with open scabs on her head that sits in front of you several mornings out of the week.


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