It's late in the Spring in my first year of commuter ridership on the Minneapolis Metro Bus line, route 4F. I've rather liked my experience on the city bus thus far. I began riding last November. Commuter transportation gives you a pretty broad picture of humanity's breadth, and I enjoy the fact that I"m as likely to see a young reggae musician carrying an amplifier as a lawyer in three-piece suit with briefcase.
The 4F is a very real society.
One thing I like about living in this cold climate, though, is that the presence of killing frost from October to May keeps the pests at bay. No stinging scorpions or centipedes or malaria in these parts. Too damn cold for serious pests to really get a foothold. What pests we do have—mosquitoes, horseflies, etc.—are confined to the warm months of summer.
In the last couple of weeks I've noticed that there are certain classes of humanity, too, that seem to have come out of the sidewalk cracks to infiltrate the city bus lines during this warm weather. I'm a fellow of strong enough Buddhist leanings to want to believe that every human has value, every person has merit and something to contribute.
I hope I'll be able to hold onto this through next October, when cold drives this phylum of humanity back into hiding against the winter. Experiences on a city bus in warm weather may make it difficult.
Consider these scenarios overheard recently:
• Three young white woman in the back of the bus. Amazons, all. I"m no lightweight, but any one of these woman could beat me to a bloody pulp. Two of them have jailhouse emblems, tatooed crosses imbedded in the backs of their hands. Wearing wife-beater t-shirts, their upper arms are considerably larger than my thighs. The only seat has me facing away from the biggest of the behemoths, and this frightens me, because it seems quite likely that she is packing weaponry.
"Fuckin' aye," says the biggest, and apparently the oldest.
"Fuckin right, fuckin' aye," agrees the second.
"Whatcha talkin' about, bitches?" says the third. This causes no offense whatsoever, though. The third girl appears to possibly be the daughter or younger sister, and such address seems to be a term of endearment. All three begin to cackle, like witches in a really bad performance of Macbeth.
"She won't be fuckin' with me no mo" says the ringleader.
"Fucking A, that's for goddamn sure.
This goes on for 50 blocks, as the three shout their conversation so that everybody on the bus can hear them. I am horrified to discover that these three gorgons are getting off on my block. How can this be? Mine is a quite nice neighborhood. As I turn the corner, they continue walking, though, towards the city boundary up the road. where a couple of seedy residential hotels exist. Not the direction in which I'll be walking tonight on my evening constitutional.
• Early morning. This family is young, but not so young as the occasional trio of high school boy, girl, and infant child that you sometimes see. Teenage kids with their own children are so common in the inner city schools that high schools have day care provisions that let the young parents drop their kids off so they can go to algebra and home economics and gym class.
These parents, though, are well into their 30s. The child is perhaps two or three, and cute as a button. He pays no attention to his parents, but makes eyes at me, playing hide and seek behind his palms.
"I tol' you, just let it goddamn be," says the husband/father to the wife/mother. "Don't talk about it no more, if you know what's good for you."
It is a family dispute I'm coming in on half-way through.
"I'll damn well talk about what I want to talk about, you piece o' lazy shit," she says. "Don't you be tellin' me what to talk about or not talk about."
"Don't you never learn, woman? " he replies. "It's like you wanna get hurt."
"Hurt me? Hurt me?" she says. "If yo' fist no harder than yo dick, I' ain't very scared, pecker head."
"F@#$, I'm tired o' your bitchin' " he says. The volume of the conversation is now loud enough that all the early morning passengers can hear it. Even the busdriver.
"C'MON,' comes an amplified voice through the bus's loudspeaker. "WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE. THIS IS A BUS."
There is dead silence for a moment, then the husband and wife break into laughter, suddenly united in their opposition to the young female bus driver who has scolded them. "Did you hear her?" chuckled the husband to his wife. "We're supposed to watch our language, on a BUS!"
His wife giggles, and when they step off the bus at Lake Street, their arms around round each other and they are still laughing.
"Have a good day," says the bus driver, and she means it. This particular bus driver holds no grudges, ever.
• On one weekday evening, a mother with three sons board the southbound 4F at 5:30 at Franklin Avenue. The mother isn't very old, perhaps 30, 35. Her sundress is faded and a bit old, but it's in good enough condition, and she's made some attempt to curl her hair. She wears fingernail polish and I get a faint whiff of perfume. It's a special event she's going to, in the late afternoon. I'm touched by her effort, initially. The two older boys are perhaps 16 and 12, and are dressed like all boys their age—untied sneakers, long cargo shorts, faded T-shirts. Their shaggy heads bend over hand-held video games. They mutter to one another, but I can't hear the conversation.
The youngest boy, though, is strangely dressed in a perfect little pin-stripe suit with vest. His hair is slicked back, and his face glows from recently being scrubbed clean. He and his mother sit opposite the other two brothers. I get enough of their conversation to understand that this family is traveling to some sort of church or school function in which the youngest boy is participating. Perhaps it is a confirmation ceremony, or some kind of recognition event for a local school.
"I've got a lot to do tonight," I hear her say to the youngest son. "So afterwards, when I say it's time to go, it's time to go. Okay?"
The littlest boy nods. Thus far the scene is just another one of those mildly interesting vignettes that are so common on the bus rides.
Then I catch a glimpse of the 12 year old boy sitting opposite. He glances up at his mother fussing over the baby of the family, and rolls his eyes. The mother's demeanor instantly changes.
"You keep eyeballing me like that, boy, and I'll smack you so hard your eyeballs will fall out of your goddamn head," she says, with a viciousness that startled all who sit nearby. "And I won't be picking up those loose eyeballs for you. You'll be on your own."
The boy is resigned, matter of fact. Not angry, not hurt. "I don't care anymore," he says, in a dead tone.