The thing about busses

17 Apr

BUSSES, by the way, as the plural of “bus” and not “buses,” which is what Google chrome’s spell-check seems to think I should use. Not to go off on a tangent here, but this is the second time in the past few days I’ve had this fight with spell-check. The last time was when I typed the word “snuck” as the past-tense of “sneak” and spell check informed me that I clearly meant “sneaked.”

And yes, buses and sneaked are both acceptable modifications, but they aren’t nearly the words I’m looking for. I don’t care about pleasing a spell check, I care about the look and sound of my words. When I say snuck, I want SNUCK. Not sneaked. Anyway, to me, sneaked sounds faintly like a not-real world. And “buses” sounds like it should be pronounced “bee-yoo-sses”.

I wonder how you kill spell check in Google Chrome. Clearly, it doesn’t know anything more valid than the Random House dictionary that’s on the bookshelf behind me somewhere, gathering dust.

This was really not what I planned to talk about.

The thing I miss most about busses are the people and their conversations. every two or three weeks, for a year or more in my late teens, I would hope a Greyhound bus and ride it from northern Minnesota to northern Nevada. Something like a thirty-eight hour bus-trip, each way. All done in the name of 1) love 2) impatience 3) bloody-minded stubbornness. (My girlfriend and I were suddenly put into a long-distance relationship. Bus tickets aren’t that expensive. I thought “I can definitely improve this situation” and did so).

Anyway, they’re magnificently exhausting things, bus trips. That’s a lot of hours, and not a lot of sleep, and what sleep you do get is pressed up against a chill window, your jacket bunched up in a ball somewhere around your neck.

One of the interesting things that happens in the course of those long trips is, quite a lot of tired passengers begin chatting to one another. There’s nothing else to do. Some of them have iPods, or laptops. Technology wasn’t quite so small and portable as it is now — and I do wonder, would I step onto the bus to find any conversation happening now? — and so mostly, people drank caffeinated things and ate chips and talked.

I loved the conversations. The late night half-asleep conversation with a girl who had two lip-rings, fish-net stockings,  and very short hair, telling me about the first time she took acid. The older gentleman with round, thick glasses who told me in precise and studious sentences exactly how one achieves a meditative state of elation and utter clarity, and what small exercises he knew to calm, focus, awaken, sharpen one’s mind throughout the day.

(He sounded nuts, but was quite wise. It was all valid meditative stuff. I still use some of it.)

I remember a large, soft man who sat next to me and talked in huge, yawning sentences about literature and the theatrical stage. I wasn’t that old, and not particularly adept in literature. What he mostly did was sneer at stuff. He had written a medieval farce starring two political figures of the day. He was very full of his own self-importance. It was the first time I’d encountered a literary Ahhhh-tist sort, and the first time I’d wanted to throw one underneath the wheels of a bus.

The interesting thing about him was, he asked what I was working on. And, me being young, what I was working on was a novel (so long dead, I don’t mind telling you about it) called “The Confidential Man” about a grown supersoldier who got free, fled to Boston, where he settled down and tried to build a family and life for himself. Until one day, the military comes looking for him. It was somewhere crappily between “A History of Violence” and the Jason Bourne books. I didn’t know that, I’d never heard of either one yet.

I said the opening sentence, about a grown supe super soldier rsoldier, and he laughed, loud and condescendingly. It stung. It also, in typical me-fashion, changed how I talk about my own writing, how I deal with explaining and defending my own stories, and who I talk to about it all. Also made me realize the importance of HOW you describe your story (starting off with “a novel about a super-soldier who –” is not the best way).

And so on and so forth. The weird long night where, for some reason, the six people at the front of the bus huddled together and discussed, in low tones, the validity-or-not of Jesus.  Or the unshaven, filthy, ragged (drunk?) man who woke me up and sat down next to me roughly, thrust a tattered piece of a phone book page to me and said “What does that name say please man who is that is there a number there still?” and I blearily read both name and number, and he thanked me and rushed off the bus.

I like people. I like listening to them and talking to them and watching them and being one of ’em. It’s one thing I miss about traveling a fair bit. The experiences were similar, sometimes, when I used to fly a bit more. I miss that too, although the state of airport security these days means I probably won’t get to do that for some time longer.

And if this all seems random, well, it is. It’s just me ruminating. A thousand words about people. There are worse things to type over morning tea.

All of those people on BUSSES, remember. Not buses. Damn it.

Have a lovely afternoon.


Posted by on April 17, 2010 in Uncategorized


6 responses to “The thing about busses

  1. Peter Damien

    April 17, 2010 at 9:08 am

    For all my blithering about busses/buses, I then went on and read stuff pointing out sensibly that BUSSES is the plural of BUSS as in data buss. A point I concede. So I think in the future, to avoid confusion, I will just never talk about a bus or multiples thereof again.

  2. Shadow Ferret

    April 17, 2010 at 9:37 am

    That’s what I was going to say. Busses is plural for an electronic term. 🙂

    And as a child, I loved riding the bus. It meant independence. I could go downtown, alone. Go to either the YMCA or down to all the fun stores, like the Moon Fun Shop, where I could get all sorts of cool stuff, magic toys, like the finger guillotine, or fake dog doo or vomit. And it was a head shop, too, with cool black light posters.

    Not to mention the magazine stand run by the midget (little person) where I could pick up comics and sci-fi magazines.

    But then, as I got older, the bus started to get ugly. Stranger and stranger people took the bus. A guy going seat to seat trying to trick people with a game of 3 card monty. That guy with the watery eye, who seemed to just stare at you from that one sideways seat buses always have.

    So, now, when I think of buses, I don’t think of them as fun times or times of independence, I think of them as places where the dregs of humanity coagulate.

  3. Peter Damien

    April 17, 2010 at 9:52 am

    I think that’s an awfully rough way of looking at them. They aren’t dregs, and they aren’t coagulating. They might be shabby looking, or rough, or a bit mean, or just a bit crazy…but mostly, they’re just people. They’re jes’ folks, like you and me, and everyone else. Mostly, life’s dealt them a bad hand, or else life has dealt them a pretty good hand and they wasted it (and probably regret it).

    They’re still people. And most of them are pretty interesting, if you stop and watch, and listen, and allow yourself to consider the world from their point of view.

  4. Shadow Ferret

    April 17, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Depends on the bus route. Yes, many of them are people who, for whatever reason, just take the bus. Business men and women. Environmentalists. College kids. Elderly.

    And yes, there are interesting people on there. I rode home with many an interesting character after bars closed.

    But I found that there were a few routes that just seemed to attract the lesser common denominator. One bad apple does spoil the whole bunch unfortunately, and at first blush those are the ones I remember more prominently.

    Should it be that way? No. As I said, I had many good times on the bus, but for whatever reason, being robbed of my watch seems to come to the forefront.

  5. Kristine

    April 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    But it’s the lesser common denominator that make experiences like that SO interesting and worth while. Those bus rides remind me of when I was younger – and now even – riding the ferry from home to Seattle. It was only an hour long ride, but you’d often take it alone, at night – sometimes very late at night – and you could run in to the oddest assortment of non conformists perfectly willing and able to converse and share. Especially in the terminal on the Seattle side. That was SO fantastic. Back then, it was more a shelter for the lost and confused, who weren’t even getting on the ferry. If you were lucky enough to miss a sailing late at night, you’d have a two hour wait for the next ride. Those homeless, lost, “different” people would be your only company in a dark, lonely terminal. And as people are want to do, they don’t spread out in this massive, open space – they sit beside you, and offer to share the spaghetti they’re eating from a wrapped bundle of tin foil, or they’ll offer to take their now empty wine bottle to the water fountain and fill it for you.

    They just wanted company, human companionship, conversation. No one had mp3 players or PC’s or smart phones back then of course. So you talked, to strangers, to ticket takers with nothing to do, to the homeless man sharing his spaghetti with you.

    Those conversations were the most real you could have. The most interesting. They were characters, full of real life and fun and different, more intelligent than most. They had perspectives you don’t get anywhere else.

    Not as fun as Pete’s bus trips, because they were too short and few between – but I wouldn’t trade those times for anything. I love when I can find myself somewhere, having a conversation with someone that everyone else seems too afraid to chat with.

    Salt of the earth, that’s what they are.

  6. Shadow Ferret

    April 18, 2010 at 8:43 am

    I love the salt of the earth. I loved hanging out in corner bars and striking up conversations with the regulars–people who’d given up on life, or simply had no where else to go, no other friends. Construction workers. Blue-collar types. The out of work. The retired. Those who weren’t all quite there. I even met a guy newly released from jail who was talking about going off to kill the guy who sent him up. Spent the evening trying to talk him out of it. Not sure how that went.

    I just thought “dregs of humanity coagulating” was a neat line. Didn’t think I’d have to defend poetry. 😀


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