Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Commuting Tales

I began riding the bus one year ago this month. In a few weeks, I will again be a car commuter. I’m looking forward to it in many ways, because it’ll be warm since I won’t have to be out waiting for a bus or walking blocks and blocks with a child in tow; I’ll enjoy being able to listen to NPR again. The bus wasn’t a bad way to commute. I could relax and not deal with traffic, it was less expensive, and sometimes I read a book or read Highlights magazine to OC when we remembered to bring it. There are a few things I will miss, however.

Fellow takers of public transportation are an interesting bunch. Most are friendly people who mainly keep to themselves and smell just fine. Others are mad talkers, some with a particularly odoriferous funk about them that can be hard to escape while in the confines of a bus or light rail car. I will not miss the funk.

Then there is this one man I have seen nearly every day who has the most unusual shoes. They are grey and for the most part look like regular shoes until you see the back – or hear him walking – and see that they have large metal springs for the heels. They look a little silly but he wears them every single day. They must be orthotics? I have no idea. He had a new pair today that were white tennis shoes with springs.

In previous, more difficult and emotional months, I have heard from more than one homeless person in my proximity at a bus stop who, after looking at me directly, told me, “It’s not that bad.” Um, it can’t be all too good when the look on my face prompts a person who has no home, smells ultra funkadelic, is carrying all their earthly possessions in multiple paper sacks, tells me it’s not that bad. What in the hell is my face doing that I don’t know about? What kind of face am I making? I have no idea. The idea that a person in such straits would tell me it’s not that bad makes me feel like I was rather pathetic.

A pleasant stranger-to-stranger exchange happened way back when I was 5 or 6 months pregnant. I was reading a book that had a graphic description of something bloody and gross, and it made me feel sick to the point of feeling faint. I kept feeling worse, until it became clear to me that it really was going to happen. I was considering getting off the train, but then I was worried about falling onto the cement sidewalk. I was worried about what people would think (back in the day when I did that sort of thing).

I finally said to the four people next to me, “I’m going to faint now” in order to warn them what was going on, and to alert them so they wouldn’t freak out and maybe not step on my limp body because I was pregnant after all. What happened next was really endearing. Immediately, I was told to put my head between my knees. Duh, why didn’t I think of that? They all made room for me, and asked me how far along I was. They talked to me during the whole thing, asking how I felt. One girl rubbed my back. After several minutes I began to feel better and didn’t actually pass out. Then I felt embarrassed, but also well cared for in those moments of helplessness. Those people were not going to let me fall on the floor, they were there for me, with instructions, kind words, and back patting. I had been taking the MAX for months, but didn’t know these people nor had I seen them before. Every one of them was a complete stranger.

After it was over and it was my stop, a man asked me where I worked. He said he worked nearby and insisted he walk me to my front door to make sure I made it safely. He said it was no problem, that if it were his wife, he would want someone to do the same. It’s so reassuring that there are those kinds of people out there, who concern themselves with the welfare of a strange woman who suddenly announces she is going to lose consciousness in their midst. What a great city this is!

Soon I will be ensconced in the disconnected realm of my car, cut off from the opportunity of these random meetings, and paying too damn much for gasoline. That's the flip side.

The new home I will drive to will contain my new husband and my daughter, where we will watch Jeopardy together, eat dinner together, and parent our child together. How truly wonderful and lucky I am to have this! I have no complaints.

The best is yet to come.

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