Despite all its inconveniences and quirks, the bus is my favorite place to read. At home there’s always some other medium blaring but each and every day I have two solid hours to lose myself in a story. I’ve made - and continue to make - lots of mistakes when it comes to choosing what to read, though, so here are a few examples of what makes for bad bus reading:
Books that require translation. At the moment I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and it is goood. The problem is that every third sentence contains either a Spanish word I don’t know or, more embarrassingly, an English word I don’t know. Reading this at home with one eye on dictionary.com is ideal. Reading a paragraph 17 times, partially out loud to oneself on the bus, trying to put words in context or guess at their Latin roots is…less than ideal.
Books that induce vertigo. I know I recently mentioned House of Leaves in another post but it especially applies here. Any book you have to flip through, rotate or hold up to a mirror is a no-no. Plus HoL is big and unwieldy. That’s bad too.
Overly humorous or tragic stories. This is one rule I still can’t bring myself to follow, which means I’m often either laughing hysterically (and looking crazy) or sobbing like a baby (and looking crazy.) Emotional reactions may be personally satisfying but they really don’t endear one to fellow bus riders, who tend to be skeptical, being borderline insane themselves.
Growing up, whenever I was bored in class (often) I’d indulge in a bizarre, recurring fantasy. (Just to be clear, I know that this is absolutely ridiculous and not especially funny, but its description is important back story.) I’d imagine myself standing up and running full speed to the front of the classroom, where I would smack into the chalkboard and fall down, pretending to knocked out. When the teacher and my classmates rushed to help I would wait until they were all standing over me and then whip open my eyes, scream like a banshee, jump up and run out of the classroom. I imagined people would be stunned, then amused, then arrange a psych consult for me. In retrospect I wish I had gone through with it and gotten that obviously necessary counseling, because the fantasy is back and it’s starting to affect my bus experience. If, god forbid, I forget my book I will spend the entire ride picturing similarly unhinged moments. Not just screaming and running, but also more mischievous stuff like ringing the bell for every stop and then acting innocent or walking up and down the aisles tapping everyone on the head. I’m not going to do any of this, of course. So does that mean I’m insane for coming up with this nonsense in the first place or sane for suppressing the urge to use the metal bars lining the bus as a jungle gym? I just don’t know. Sharing things like this is probably important therapy, just to let off a little of the crazy. It helps to a point, but still…if you see me on the bus and I have a devilish smile on my face, watch out. Your head may be first.
My lunch box experiment definitely got off to a bumpy start. There were several unforeseen circumstances, like the fact that I went a little nuts trying to find the perfect, stylish insulated bag. That took a good ten days but I finally found it on etsy.com which is my go-to source for unique, personalized gifts. (As an aside, if you haven’t checked out etsy, do it. You will find some amazing stuff. A good place to start is the store of local artist Jess Lyons.) So with my new lunch box in hand, I went to the market to stock up for last week’s meals. I bought a large container of cottage cheese, a box of Boca chick’n patties, a loaf of bread, a sack of apples, two containers of V8 soup, a bag of carrots, a 6-count package of peanut butter crackers and five containers of Greek yogurt. All of this totaled out at $25.10, which is less than half of what I’d normally spend buying lunch five days a week. Even after factoring in the cost of the bag ($20.00) I was still under the wire. But nothing can ever be easy, of course, and last Monday morning a coworker scooted over in her chair and said, “I’m in the mood for Ichiban. My treat.” I couldn’t resist a seaweed salad so that day was shot, as was Tuesday since we operate under a system of, “you buy today, I’ll buy tomorrow.” Wednesday I did manage to stick with what I’d brought in, but then wound up working from home on Thursday and Friday. Sigh. Today starts another week and I’ve already turned down Chinese food (easy) and Panera (slightly more difficult) in favor of a soup and Boca combo. It will be a miracle if I make it a full five days, but I’m going to try.
Crossgates Mall is a major hub for CDTA and is where I change buses twice daily from the line to the shuttle in the morning and back again in the evening. This means that I spend a lot of time at Crossgates. Well, not so much at it as outside it, but that time has not helped me to understand its layout any better. The mall, to me, has always been confusingly oriented with the outside not having any relation to the floor plan inside. It’s like a freaking House of Leaves over there. How can Best Buy be at one end of the mall (as it appears from the outside) and at its center at the same time? Why is the 18-plex so massive when you’re in it, but accessible only through a teeny tiny entrance that you’d miss if you blinked? Is the mall shaped like a Z or a V or an L or none of the above? I don’t know the answers so instead of looking at an aerial map or speaking to someone with knowledge on the subject I’m just going to go ahead and assume that Crossgates is a portal to another dimension. Think about it: stores come and go without warning and there are hallways to nowhere from which ghostly figures emerge and disappear. “Um, stores change at all malls, and those people are probably just tired employees,” you say? Suuuure. All I know is that they card you at the mall, which means there must be something sinister going on there (other than intolerable restaurants.) Not being eager to find out, I’m going to stay out here in the parking lot where spatial relations obey the laws of physics and no hobgoblins are chasing me with Dead Sea salt scrubs. Oooh, I’m getting chills just thinking about it.
“Be careful out here, baby.” The older gentleman was sitting in a folding chair on his porch on Myrtle Ave, elbows on his knees and hands clasped together in front of him. I was walking from my bank on New Scotland to the Delaware Ave Price Chopper when he issued this startling bit of advice. Now, I have two different modes when walking alone. The first is, “home mode,” where I put my head down and walk across Lark Street as fast as possible, hoping to avoid everyone. The other is, “away mode,” when I’m walking in any neighborhood other than my own. The point of away mode is to be hyper aware, traveling at a slower pace, making eye contact with people you pass and saying hello. It just seems safer (whether you’re in West Hill or on the upper West Side) to keep your eyes open for potential threats and I seem to remember reading somewhere that you’ll be less likely to fall victim to a crime if you greet people. I will run the risk of appearing like some goofball from 1950s Pleasantville to avoid getting bonked on the head and having my bag snatched. It’s worked thus far, thank goodness, so when I passed this man on his front porch, said, “Hi, sir, how are you?” and was met with his warning it really, really shocked me. Be careful out here? It’s high noon on a sunny day and there are kids playing on the street but I should be careful? Why, because I’m a woman? Because I’m white? Because there’s a mugger on the lam who has been known to go after you if you have recycled shopping bags tucked under your arm? Whatever the reason it was a serious dose of reality and a reminder to be careful no matter where I am, even if I’m just walking to the grocery store. So thanks, Marginally Creepy Old Guy, for your concern, even if it was out of the blue and kind of unsettling. I promise I’ll be careful.
Sooo…I have a personal issue that needs to be dealt with. Lunch. My addiction centers around The Plaza Deli, a great, straight-forward little place tucked into an office building near mine. For standard deli fare it’s consistently well done, probably thanks to the attention to detail of the owner, Tony, who can be a bit of a sandwich nazi. Anyway, this place gets a call or a visit from me just about every day. They even have my credit card on file. A normal order is a kind of breakfast/lunch combo, usually toast or an English muffin with peanut butter and jelly, a cup of cottage cheese, a fruit or green salad and possibly their soup of the day if it strikes me. And, oh, of course I have to get a drink, either a fresh iced tea or a sparkling water. All of this gets expensive with bills ranging from $8 to $15 every day. A quick check of my online bank statement from last week tells me that I spent $54.53 just on lunch. That’s crazy. So I’m going to do my best to save some money (and probably some calories) by planning a week’s worth of lunches today and portioning them out in containers and baggies. It’s not a revolutionary idea or anything, but I want to see if it will work for me. I’ll report back next week with how much I spent on groceries, if I slipped up and all the accessories I felt obligated to buy.
For example, who knew there were such tolerable lunch totes out there?
So you’re standing at the bus stop, waiting patiently, when a lovely, sane-looking young man/woman approaches and stands next to you. You’re impressed by his sense of style or the way she carries herself and you want to strike up a conversation. But how? People waiting at bus stops are usually on guard against the mixed bag of nuts they cross paths with daily. Thinking back on my years of bus patronage, there have been so many times someone has attempted to kick-start a conversation in entirely the wrong way. What NOT to say:
“You have very nice toes.” There is no way to respond to this, “compliment,” politely without having a screwed-up, disgusted look on your face. Even though you’re saying thank you, you’re thinking, “You filthy perv! If you make ONE licking motion in my direction I will have to vom all over my pedicure.”
“Is it really cold enough to be wearing a sweatshirt?” Short answer: Yes. Medium-sized answer: Yeah, motherf*@&er, it is. Why else would I be wearing one? Long answer: Well look at you, out on the town. I was unaware that field trips were organized by the School for Persons with Own Business-Minding Disabilities. Perhaps you should encourage them to offer more occupational therapy opportunities.
“Do you have a light? Will you hold it for me?” As soon as you’re asked to hold something for a stranger you should run because their next move is to grab your hand to steady the lighter and their hands are invariably encrusted with filth. While it’s not very nice to say, “EW!” and drop the lighter it is perfectly acceptable to say, “Here, you keep it,” then scurry away to apply antibacterial gels and curse humanity.
Since my last bus post was so whiny I thought I’d talk about a few little things that make me smile:
Willingness to go the distance. I loved this. A young couple prepared to get off a few blocks away but when another rider rang the bell for a closer stop they decided to debus with her and walk the extra few feet. It was so reasonable I wanted to chase them down and hug them.
Unexpected teenaged politeness. Somehow, riding the bus turns even the most unsmiling punk of a kid into a finishing school grad, saying crazy things like, “good morning,” and, “thank you, sir.” Sure, they get off and immediately throw their candy wrappers on the ground, but…
Superheroes among us. 1) Recently, I noticed a very normal looking girl humming something familiar in a very determined way. She pulled the cord and as her stop approached the humming got louder and I recognized the (original John Williams) Superman theme. She stood and went to the door, singing in crescendo all the way, and when it opened, she leapt out, fist in the air, and ran. 2) From time to time as the bus is passing the downtown SUNY campus I will spot a gentleman I can only describe as a character. He has a CHiPs-style helmet of shoe polished hair and wears fashionable matching tracksuits for his morning jogs. Thing is, he’s always jogging backwards. Sometimes even with a toothpick dangling from his lips. I can only assume that he is attempting to jog back to the ‘70s.
I’m in a, “Michael Moore mood” (what I call that state of mind where you feel like pointing out the world’s problems without presenting solutions for them.) The bus is, overall, a pretty pleasant experience but certain things just grind my gears. So here are my top
five six bus pet peeves:
Having a dog is hands down the easiest way to meet your neighbors. I’ve been living here at Lark and Hamilton for three years and until recently hadn’t really interacted with anyone on the block. It’s shameful, I know, but now I’m making the loop multiple times every day taking Eliza on her walks and suddenly feel like a member of a new community. Folks sitting out on their stoops with glasses of wine praise Eliza’s friendliness and share their own stories of pets past and present. I hear who’s building a new porch or hosting a dinner party. It’s nice. Hamilton is interesting; so many of the houses are luxurious and officially historical. Seriously, like, with chandeliers and oil paintings that I peep at through first floor windows. Then on the other end of the spectrum there are a bunch of rehabs under construction, soon to be great spaces. It’s a combination of classic and modern and the homeowners here run the gamut as well. I can’t help but be awkward, though, and am always failing at holding it together, socially, no matter how hard I try. The other day I was heading down the street and came upon a gentleman who lives a few doors down. The tree on his portion of the sidewalk has a bird feeder hanging from it and is surrounded by pansies. He was looking right at me with a thoughtful face as I walked toward him and he said something that I didn’t quite catch. It sounded like, “Have you eaten yet?” “Have I eaten yet?” I echoed and his look went from thoughtful to, well, a little bit offended. “No! No! I said, ‘Are you Evita?’” (meaning he thought that’s what Eliza’s name was.) I could have died right there on the sidewalk. I’d interpreted it as this guy asking me to some backyard barbeque or last minute dinner. But no, no, of course that would have been a ridiculous question for a near stranger to ask. The conversation ended quickly, thank god, and I hope I never, ever see him again. Until the next walk, at least.