April 23, 2001

I think it's interesting how riding the bus becomes such a part of your life when you live in the city. At least it does if you have no car, like me. I take the bus every morning and every evening and it becomes so familiar, it's almost like walking into a restaurant or bar or coffee shop where you're a regular. Everyone's familiar to you and you are familiar to them. Except no one talks to anyone. At least on the bus I ride.

I had been riding the bus for about four or five months before it occurred to me that I was in the interesting position of being vastly in the minority. The bus I ride is at least 95% people of color. Often I'm the only white girl on the bus.

Sometimes I'm the only white person on the bus. I love this as it reminds me of the diversity in the city, and love that it took me so long to notice. I come from the Midwest where there was one black family in my entire school. I always thought I was open-minded and non-racist/sexist/biased in any way. But it's easy to think that when you never see anyone who's different in those ways. In fact I was quite biased, but it was toward the white middle-class Republicans I went to school with, hippie girl that I was.
I ride the bus with tons of teenagers. There is a school on the bus route, about half-way along, which apparently starts around the same time I get to work. So the bus is packed every morning. If I get to the bus when I plan to in the morning then it's not too crazy and sometimes I can even sit. But I never get to the bus when I plan to, I'm always running late, so I get to squeeze on. And I'm not exaggerating. The bus is already packed and there are a lot of people waiting with me to get on. I try to stand in the most advantageous spot in front of the bus stop and I get lucky a lot of the time--the bus stops in front of me so I'm near the front of the line to get on. It can get a little vicious; people pushing in to get on while the people already on the bus are trying to get off, people pushing in front of each other to get on first. It's tiring. Then once I do get on, the bus driver is yelling for everyone to move to the back, people are packing on through the back door already, and no one wants to relinquish their spot once they get one so no one wants to move back. After all, you have to have one of the all-important bars to hold onto if you're going to stand otherwise you wobble and stumble into everyone once the bus starts moving.

So in an aisle that can't be more than 3 feet wide, people sometimes pack in 3 thick, some with big backpacks,

me with my messenger bag full of books and shoes and whatnot, umbrellas on rainy days, lots of teenagers with those big poofy coats that seem to be popular these days...
It thins out a little when we get to the BART station. A lot of people get off and some people get on but usually I can start to breathe again at this point in the ride. Sometimes I can even sit down if I'm lucky and late enough. I used to read on the bus, when I got a seat, and I still do sometimes. But mostly I find myself watching people and taking guerrilla photographs with my little digital camera. I love taking pictures without looking through the viewfinder. Just point and shoot and hope that I manage to get something interesting. And anyway, I feel too awkward trying to take pictures the old-fashioned way on the bus. I always think someone's going to beat me up, as if I was papparazzi and they were movie stars. I get a kick out of looking at the photos on the computer when I get home.

The teenagers get off at their school about 7 minutes after the BART station, taking their radios,

impressive array of swear words, baggy pants,

and architectural hair with them. I look out the window to see kids smoking in the bus stop or walking to Starbucks for coffee. It's a very different world from the Midwest of my youth.
Sometimes I get off at the next stop and walk from there, if I'm not running late. There's an Asian guy who gets on at this stop some days, usually with coffee, always very well-dressed.

He always looks preoccupied, otherwise one of these days I might talk to him. Again, like a regular at the coffee shop I used to work at, I feel like I know him, seeing him and noticing him every time he gets on the bus. At the coffee shop I had an opening line, though. "Can I help you?" doesn't really work on the bus. Not if you're a passenger anyway.
Usually I wait a few stops and get off at Forest Hill

and walk from there. Or more precisely, I get off at the intersection of Woodside and Dewey, just up a bit from Forest Hill. I call it the Prevot stop, as there's a restaurant across the street from the stop that I always looked at and wondered about. I think it was the sign saying they have live gypsy music on Wednesday and Thursday nights that intrigued me. I finally ate there with my family one night. The food was ok and the gypsy music annoyed my dad.
If I'm running really late, I'll take the bus all the way down to 7th and Lawton and get off there. I only have to walk about 3 long blocks, which takes about 10 minutes. I regret the loss of exercise those days and try to walk on my lunch instead. Sometimes I try to help make up for the exercise I'm missing by doing what I call "bus exercises." The bus I take goes around a lot of curves and corners. So, as I'm usually standing, I hold onto the bar above my head

and pull or push myself contrary to the movement force of the bus going around corners, using only my arms. I actually feel the muscles in my arms working so it's not as silly as it sounds. Sometimes if I'm feeling particularly motivated, I try to stretch my calf muscles by going up and down on my toes. I envision someday doing an exercise book called "Bus Exercises For Busy Commuters" or some such thing, expanding my exercise regimen. I imagine people doing pull-ups on the overhead bars.

Using seatbacks as ballet barres.

Using the back stairs as a Stairmaster (though very short and dangerous when the green light comes on).

I even envision some sort of gymnastic movement being doable using the black straps that hang down.

Perhaps all the seats could be taken out of certain buses and replaced by aerobics/yoga mats. It certainly would be more energizing and healthy than talking on your cell phone while driving your BMW through rush hour traffic. We could even expand it to the BART trains, which would be easier to keep balance on. With all that space, you could turn the whole thing into a gym. A few treadmills, some Stairmasters. You could have just a few cars be gym cars and leave the rest for seats. I'm convinced this is a good idea. If it was my city...

On Sunday I saw "Josie and the Pussycats" which I'm surprisingly willing to admit to. Well, that's not really accurate. To anyone who knows me, the fact that I went to this movie and admit it is not a surprise. People call me up to see a movie when no one else will go to see it with them.

Anyway, it was a very fun film. The music is great (I plan to buy the soundtrack) and it's never a movie that takes itself seriously. Everybody's cute as a button, it's got the feel of those old cartoons like Josie or Scooby-doo with the big evil and the simple sweet kids trying to make things right. I enjoyed it very much. I highly recommend going to see it. Just don't expect high art...

I also discovered that my little digital camera will take pictures of a movie screen. Unfortunately I was doing the guerrilla thing and didn't aim using the viewfinder...

Incidentally, my co-worker Lynn is pregnant. She's about 4 months along now and getting a good little belly showing. She's a very small person and has only gained about 5 lbs but is showing every bit of it. Here's a shot of her:

Pregnancy Watch 2001


Posted by Alyssa at April 23, 2001 06:30 PM
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