Thursday, July 13, 2017

That One Time I Tried to Put Words to a Series of Moments on my Daily Commute

These days I am largely stuck driving to work, since I am juggling my husbands schedule, dropping off and picking up kids from friend's houses, unpredictable summer activities and all those other errands that have to happen.  When I have to the opportunity, I usually choose to walk the 1.2 miles from my house to work.

During the winter months, in the dark and snow, I ride the bus. The commute gives me an opportunity to interact, talk with, listen to, and observe folks I might never bump into otherwise.

This is a series of non-fiction snap shots that crowded around in my head into I finally put them on paper.  I entered it in the Missoula Public Library - 2017 Writing Contest, in a moment of boldness, that made my skin tingle, my heart pound and caused me anxiety for days...

I didn't win.

And even though the skin on my arms is already prickling and the heart pounding and anxiety is sure to follow, I am sharing my writing here:

En Route

The man across from me is holding onto the poll. I think he says something to me and I don’t quite catch it. I lean forward to respond. He is practically dancing as the bus is moving.
He holds his walkman toward me and yells: “Sorry, can’t talk right now. Listening to Led Zepplin.”
 I lean back against the seat.  He bangs his head and kicks the air. Jean jacket. Black backpack. Mullet. Walkman and earphones.

The windows of the bus are splattered with tiny drops, caked across the surface of the glass in layers to render the outside almost invisible. I am wearing both layers of my coat, hat, gloves, boots and my thermal long underwear. I slide the hood of my coat behind my neck. It is warm in here. A woman gets on and hoists herself up on the seat across from me.
Sneakers in the snow.
Sweat pants in the driving wind.
Wrapped around her shoulders is a blanket, not the kind the kind that is woven and fringed and you might see on a hipster paired with cowboy boots and a smart hat, but the kind that depicts a sports team and might be thrown in the corner of a dorm room. She pulls the edges closed across her shoulders and around the front. I wonder if she has been crying. She tucks her hair behind her ears. Does she need help? She actively avoids eye contact. I start to say, are you okay, but then does one ask that across the aisle of a crowded bus? We all filter out of the folding doors and disperse to other buses, down sidewalks, and into buildings on our way to our respective places.

The man next to me smells.
There is nowhere else to sit.
People get off and there is room, but I don’t move.

Big brown eyes keep looking at me from a white fur lined hood. “My daughter likes you,” says a woman with a Hispanic accent. “She usually likes one thing, a purse, a dress, but she says she likes everything about you.”
 “Hi,” I say. “Do you go to Headstart? My kids went to headstart too. The Brown Bear class and the Rainbow Trout class. In which class are you?”
She just looks at me.
“They added full day classes”, her mom chimes in.
“I am so glad to hear that”, and I genuinely am. I feel relief for her as the bus drives away. I watch her hold her daughter’s hand as they walk along the sidewalk .

“Does this bus go close to the Cracker Barrel?”, she asks.
Dark hair pulled back. Thick eyeliner. The kind I could never pull off. Her hands are fidgeting with a paper, it is a job application, and a big bunch of keys.
“I am new in town. I lost my keys. I had to pick them up at the police office this morning. Just now. It’s my Audi. It has been at the hotel all weekend. I am new in town.”
Her eyes are brimming with tears.
“That sounds terrible,” I say. “This bus goes to Reserve, but not as far north as the Cracker Barrel.”
 “That’s okay, “ she replies, “I would walk miles to get there.”

“I love the buses here”.
A young man sits two seats down from me. He might have been cute once. He is slightly unshaven, still has a bit of acne which leads me to think he is younger than he looks, and he has no teeth that I can see.
“Yesterday, I was at the food stamp office with my babies’s mama, and the bus was running late. Two buses were driving one in front of the other. It was so funny. The one we got on was totally empty. They should have cancelled one. I love how bike friendly this town is.” He nods at his bike mounted to the front of the bus.
“My bike doesn’t do well in the wet and snow,” I respond, “the breaks just don’t work right.”
“He looks at me incredulously: “You haven’t tried to fix it?”
“I have.”
I am dying to know what happened to all his teeth, but I don’t ask, because there is this unspoken rule that adults don’t ask each other these things.
“I have four kids”, he goes on. “They are four and two and I have twins, but they don’t live with me right now and I am working to get them back. Twins are hard, you can’t change two diapers at once or feed them at the same time. I have another set of twins in Washington state. They live with their mom… We didn’t even know if the babies were mine and a friend of mine said twins run in the family and said to look into it. Turns out my grandma’s sisters were twins and since twins run with the guy..”
“Twins run with the mother,” the man across from us interjects. “I have three sets of twins. I have nine kids.”
 I look at him in relief.
“Excuse me”, chimes in the girl next to me.
She is obviously an exchange student. She might be from Japan.
“My mom had me and my brother but we are not twins. So, I don’t have a chance of having twins?” She giggles: “I mean twins are a good deal. You have one pregnancy and get two babies, but…”
She trails off and giggles again.
It is infectious.
“Look a free couch,” the no-teeth man says gesturing out the window.
“There are a few of them,” I joke, “I can’t fit them on the bus.”
 “Of course there are. In this neighborhood.”
I pull the cord and get off.
I don’t wonder what he means.

A man gets on. He is tall and lanky and clean. He always has on the same sweatshirt. It is black and has a white printed medallion that says something about a dance group. You would almost think he wears it ironically. I think he is homeless.

I own a car.

It is still dark outside and I sink into my seat and flip open my book. I look around and count the people on the bus: one, two and me. This is the first round of the day. They both have their noses bent into books and I turn back to mine.


  1. You make ordinary events interesting.

  2. You convey the experience of people-watching and occasional engagement that intrigue me. Thanks for writing this!