I have always been leery of the bus-half of WMATA; I have always preferred metro/the subway, especially now that I live on the Red instead of the Orange line. Unfortunately, with the cast, I can't really take the metro anymore, b/c of elevator/escalator outages and people being assholes on the train ("thanks for kicking my foot! you rock!"). So, I've been taking the bus and I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was and how protective the drivers are of anyone who is visibly disabled ("YOU. Get up. Those seats are reserved for them cripples. Like her."). I don't usually take the bus in the morning, because it takes an hour or so and I always oversleep, but today, I was so proud of myself...I woke up ASS early, got to the bus stop before 8:45 am and even though I was limping too slowly to catch the first one I saw, I only had to wait two minutes before the next public chariot arrived. I was impressed. I know living bang in the middle of the city is convenient, but I didn't realize it would be THIS convenient-- it's like I live on the G-line all over again, for those of you familiar with UC Davis. :)
So I get on, smile at all the other young professionals and sit down, digging out the latest issue of TIME...I got lost in an article about hair color and feminism...and then I heard it.
"END OF THE LINE. EVERYBODY OFF."
Wait, what? It hadn't been long enough. I looked up and realized that my assumption was correct-- I was somewhere I shouldn't have been. Perplexed, I asked the driver what was going on, since I knew I had boarded the right line...it turns out that the bus is like Red-line trains-- some only go to Grosvenor, so if you live at Shady Grove, which is the end of the line, you best pay attention or you'll have to get off and wait for another train *on the same line*.
I didn't realize that my bus does similar and that I have to make sure to catch the one which goes to the END of the line. I felt dumb and hopped off painfully, since the kneeling-mechanism wasn't working and it was a ways down to the sidewalk-- and this bus didn't have steps. Awesome.
I consoled myself; at least it was early, barely 9am. Maybe I should go to Firehook for coffee? No, why do that...another one would be here any minute, right? RIGHT? Wrong. The next two were like the useless one I had just left-- they pulled up to me and switched on their "Out of Service" signs. So much for getting to work an hour early and being all organized and on top of my game and shit. Just when I was ready to give up and brave the train at Farragut whatever, I saw the correct bus heading for me...and I started to panic. I had been walking, and was equidistant between where the bus was idling and where the stop I just left was, and if the light didn't stay red, I wouldn't have enough time to hobble back from whence I came. All I could think was, "This is what I freaking get for being a responsible adult", but thanks to traffic delaying it just enough, I gratefully made this bus. Oh, how I wish I hadn't.
Unlike all the other instances when I've been on board, the motley crew of passengers on THIS bus represented every icky stereotype one might have about city-living and public transportation. I plopped down between two truly elderly woman who both had canes, each of whom looked terrified. I soon realized why.
The woman across from us, who was blocking most of the aisle with a broken suitcase was CRAZY. She yelled at everyone except for we three who were handicapped and/or wizened. Every time the bus stopped to pick up someone new, she'd scream about how people were rude, didn't excuse themselves, bumped in to her, etc. None of these people had touched her, in fact, they had taken great care to step around her things, which usually resulted in an ass to my face. No matter. She got agitated and started throwing things. The women on either side of me looked at me and I looked back helplessly. The driver pretended not to see anything, even when a random bar of soap nailed his seat.
I know, it’s not her fault. I started to curse everything which resulted in this woman not having access to the proper care or resources she needed. She clearly wasn't well and she might have been homeless. I started to wonder about those horrific videos of teenagers who attack homeless people, "for fun" and thought about how danger like that and untreated mental illness made for an extra vulnerable population on the street. My thoughts were interrupted when a 6’4” man who had to weigh a good 400 lbs started to board. You couldn’t help but notice that the entire front of his pants were wet. Beyond that disturbing fact, something wasn’t right about him and the woman I had been describing earlier decided to diagnose it, but first, she told him to get away from her because he smelled. This caused him to stand in front of her face (and half in front of me) with the source of the odor even closer to her. Not good. The screaming got louder and the bus driver seemed oblivious. “Don’t you know how you smell? You Goddamn crackhead! You stink. You stink and you ain’t polite. Crackhead. Pissing on yourself like a damn retard.” I wanted to escape at the next stop, but I realized I was still 10 blocks from work and couldn’t walk that far. The two elderly women leaned in to me; one was shaking.
At the next stop, the lady who had been trembling rushed up, dropping her cane in the process. She retrieved it, crept to the back and slapped the doors, exiting while shaking her head. I was so envious of her, because these two were only growing more agitated and it sounded like the man was relieving himself again. I thought I was going to puke. I know, I love cities, but I don’t love the smell of pee. Sue me. At the next stop, the woman whose face he was giving pelvic thrusts to shoved him and tried to stand up, knocking him back and almost on to us. Mercifully he moved over and ignored her as she re-boarded twice, to get her boxes and her sleeping bag.
Unbelievably, once she was gone, this unremarkable, slightly scruffy man in a Redskins tee-shirt, whom I hadn’t noticed previously, who turned out to have almost no teeth bumped the huge guy with his elbow and gummed something like, “She yelled at me too. She crazy. Don’t feel bad.” That guy must have lost the ability to smell, because he was the only one who didn’t have a handkerchief, "Express" or in my case, an over-scented hand (TGF sickeningly strong Coconut Lime Verbena anti-bac foam from Bath+ChemicalWorks) pressed nose-wards. The huge "wet guy" ignored this attempt at friendliness. He alighted at the next stop. Two more blocks and it was the end of the line.
Walking away, all I wanted to do was take a shower. I wished I had an extra set of clothes at the office, because I felt gross. The smell of Coconut-Lime-Urine continued to make me want to vomit and I glared at everyone who was merrily skipping off the escalator across the street, all of them fresh from the Metro, where the worst-thing which can happen is getting your iPod ganked. I miss the subway. Hell, I miss being able to walk to work from my apartment.
Throughout it all, I couldn’t escape the twin feelings of guilt and shame which were consuming me. Guilt that I felt such revulsion at what I saw and smelled, and shame that I suddenly craved a simple kind of life in the suburbs. I was someone who was a chauvinist when it came to living in the city. I wasn’t stupid or unreasonable; hassles and “adventures” were the price one pays for being in the center of it all, 24/7. For the first time in years, I wondered if I was tired of spending that kind of emotional capital, if it was time to give in to the pressures of age, culture and time and get married, move somewhere bland and drive to strip malls for everything. I usually sneered in the general direction of my friends who chose to live in Germantown or Reston, but I was starting to see their silent, but obvious point, and that depressed me thoroughly. How did everything change so dramatically?
Lost in my pity party, I didn’t pay attention to the grate I was stepping on, which was uneven. I lost my balance, flailing and grabbing a bus shelter before I bit it. I looked down at my leg and saw exactly why everything had changed utterly and for the worse. “I hope MRI stands for Miraculous Recovery, Indeed”, I thought. I just want everything to be like it was, when walking down Connecticut Avenue to the subway every morning meant greeting neighbors, shopkeepers and others, while humming the “These are the people in my neighborhood…”-song from Sesame Street. Going home every evening meant waving at the White House, smiling at all the people on first dates in Dupont and exulting in how grateful I was to live in fantastic DC. Most of all, “like it was” meant freedom from having to plan everything around an oppressive black cast and a more oppressive injury, as well as the freedom to not feel trapped on a Metrobus while smelling pee.
When I pressed the large blue “handicapped” button to enter my building, I saw one wicked scowl on my face, via the newly-windexed door’s reflective glass surface. I should have overslept, and come in when I usually do. It’s like my own private butterfly effect; altering one small aspect of my daily routine derailed everything, but what pissed me off so much was that for once, my slacker-ass had altered something for the better, and if anything, I only made things worse for myself. Awesome. Why do I even try.