Taking the Bus in Los Angeles, circa 2000

I’m staying at my brother’s in West LA and had an interview yesterday in Long Beach, and I took public transportation there.  When I finally got back home that evening, my brother greeted me, "Welcome back, Ulysses."  And I did feel I had been to the land of Lotus eaters and back.  For a forty minute interview, I commuted a total of eight hours.

I left home about 9:30 AM.  On Santa Monica Blvd, I waved my bus goodbye (at least that’s how the driver must’ve interpreted my frantic gesticulations).  So, I waited in the rain until the next bus came by.  I asked the driver how much it was for a transfer, and he said, “It’s $1.60, but it don’t matter to me.  You put in whatever you want.” 

I dug around for the correct amount of change and poured it in, which amused the driver, as he had already declared payment optional.   A Kinko’s Copier van pulled up alongside our bus and gave our driver the finger.  A chatty woman sitting near the driver commiserated with him, saying she used to escort children on bus field trips and knew what it was like.  The driver admitted he had perhaps made a maneuver offensive to the Kinkos guy, but said, “It don’t matter to me if I get into an accident.  It just means I have to fill out some papers.  I don’t take it personal or nothing.”

Then the bus driver announced he wanted to take a detour, and asked the passengers, “Scuze me, is anyone getting off between – and -- ?”  Two passengers said yes, but the driver, still chatting with the old lady, pretended not to hear them and took the detour.  One came up to the driver and told him he wanted to go to such and such place.  The driver said, “Well, good for you.”   The passenger then insisted that he be dropped off at that place.  The driver ignored him at first and continued chatting with the old lady, then answered him with a cryptic question: “How you planning to get there?”  

The old lady got off, and a man took her place.  He said he was going to the gym, and the driver asked him if he knew Flora, who used to work there. “Yes, but she went on stress leave, I heard.”  

“Stress leave?  Bullshit!  She was fired for dropping her pants.”  I then learned Flora was one of his women and also worked as a stripper.  But now she works at Sax Fifth Avenue and gives 90% discounts to her friends.  (I might visit the store tomorrow, though I didn’t catch what department she’s in.)  

The bus driver also talked about his African accountant, who somehow got him a $6,000 rebate even though he never filed any taxes when he was in Africa, then said, “What you bet my windshield wiper stops working.”  And at that very second, it stopped working.  He pulled over and got out, followed by the angry passenger, who said, “How come you won’t give me a straight answer?” 

The bus driver yanked off the windshield wiper, and came back on the bus. “Scuze me, scuze me.  Everybody gotta get off the bus.  This bus ain’t going nowhere now.”  So we got off the bus – we weren’t at a stop, let alone on the regular bus route.

We waited and waited in the rain.  One by one, passengers drifted off. I called a cab, but after I got done giving him all my info, he asked me, “Are you in Beverly Hills?  I’m afraid we’re not allowed to pick anyone up in Beverly Hills.” I didn’t know, so I asked the toothless man next to me, who nodded, so I supposed that I was in Beverly Hills, and thus the cab company said he couldn’t help me.  (My brother said later that in fact I was not in Beverly Hills.)  

I called another cab company, and meanwhile the toothless old man and I (we had bonded by that point) headed towards a real bus stop.  While I was on hold, a bus picked us up.  The back door on that bus broke, and the driver pulled over to try to fix it.  I was afraid we were going to get kicked off again, but she just stopped people from exiting via it. 

Anyway, a nice foreign lady advised me to scrap the travel guide provided by the MTA web site.  She tried to take from me my travel guide, uttering just one word over and over, and I kind of humored/ignored her until I realized it was the name of my stop and had no religious connotations.  So I got to the train station, where I transferred a couple times and got to see Watts and Compton, and two sherrifs plus another guy taking tickets, though he never asked for mine, and it seemed a rather selective process.  (On all my time on the train, no one ever asked for a ticket.) 

Ah well, I can't face recounting every adventure.  But on the bus home, there was an enourmously fat young lady sitting in the front seat (I've noticed that spot is always taken up by lonely women) dressed in a Winnie the Pooh ensemble.  There was an old woman who looked and sounded like Judy Holliday (as she would today) screaming in the back, and the girl said, "That lady is crazy.”  

The bus driver challenged her: “How do you know?” 

“Because I'm studying psychology." 

Then an announcement came over the PA about a missing person, but I couldn’t make it out because the psych student kept blathering on about hyptnotism regulations.  

Immediately after the announcement, a little Japanese lady with a camouflage hat pulled down over her brows scurried off.  Then, a minute or two later, the announcement came again: a woman, about five feet tall, wearing a blue rain jacket (at that point, I kind of panicked – oh my god, that’s me!  And I looked around to see if anyone else was thinking the same thing), mentally handicapped (would Cameron really tell them that?), about 41 years old (ok, it wasn’t me), Japanese, escaped from an institution, was seen going west bound on a bus!  Was that her?  She was also seen wearing a camouflage hat.  And anyone who saw her should report immediately.  

Now, what should I do?  The psych student kept on about how she was opposed to hypnotising people without their written consent, the bus driver giving her little sounds of agreement.  Then, the guy who had been sitting across from the Japanese lady looked at me, kind of quizzically.  We both looked at each other for a moment, then turned to our respective windows and that was that.