brooklyn-signThis really happened: I was on the B61 bus, on the last leg of my commute home. Halfway down Bedford Avenue, a mocha skinned girl got on. She was fifteen, maybe sixteen, and her crowd of friends made varying cries of protest from the bus stop for her not to go. I looked up at the commotion to see her climbing up the stairs, giggling, with two plastic tiaras stacked one atop another in her hair. She was a pretty girl, not in the dead behind the eyes fashion model sort of way, but with an honest beauty. Her whimsical grin that she shyly covered with her hand added to the effect.

Following the hissing release of the bus’s air breaks and the high-toned hum of its engine, there was a drumbeat of a single pair of sneakers against the sidewalk. I glanced up from my book to see a teenage boy’s face just outside and bobbing slightly above the window’s bottom frame. He was running hard alongside the bus, his backpack twisting and jiggling. “I love you Michelle!” He yelled as he ran. The girl (who I assumed to be Michelle) laughingly tried to bury her face in her hands. The other passengers chuckled and smiled at one another. The boy continued to proclaim his love (“I love you! Hey, Michelle! I love you!”) until the bus out ran him.

A few blocks later, after the kinetic excitement at witnessing such a brazen act began to wear away, the B61 abruptly stopped to let people off—it is after all the nature of buses. And as the doors were closing, I could make out the slapping of rubber sneaker soles. The boy had caught up with us. “Hey Michelle! Michelle! I still love you!” He yelled, keeping with the bus for only a second before it sped off. Eyes rolled and people stared. I think Michelle even muttered an “Oh, my God.”

We cruised along for a while before a red light at the corner of Bedford and Broadway held us up. Sure enough, the kid appeared just outside the windows. He looked out-of-breath, exhausted even, but somehow was able to jump up and down, waving his arms.
“Michelle!” He screamed. “I just wanted to tell you one more time that I love you!” And then the boy ran off in a sprint. I don’t know what impressed me more: the young man’s persistence or his overall physical stamina.

For some reason, I don’t think the love he shouted was the same sort of “I love you” that so many teenage boys whisper into teenage girls ears. It struck me that maybe it was real. And as we turned on Broadway, passing Peter Luger’s, with the Williamsburg bridge stretching out over the East River in front of us, I remembered that just under the cement, with sewer pipes running through it, lies the ground that the used to be the fields and meadows of Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn.

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bus1I live pretty far out of the way in Brooklyn (my girlfriend refers to it as ‘Siberia.’). It’s the sort of area where I find myself looking for a dead body every time I go out for a run. Not that my neighborhood is particularly dangerous, it’s s just desolate. There are warehouses everywhere and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway cuts right through it. I imagine that anyone driving around with a body in their car (I mean, come on, who hasn’t been in that situation?) would find my neighborhood the perfect place to dump a corpse. Living in this isolated and possible body dumping ground has given me a unique situation to enjoy the city’s mass transit system, I have to take a bus and two trains to get into work (it’s not as bad as it sounds), and I’ve noticed something.

It seems that people prefer to ride the subway trains over riding the buses. A friend recently went on a rant about how he hates riding the bus claiming that it’s always “crowded” and “stopping all the time,” but this guy takes the L train everyday, and I was riding it this morning—smushed up so close to another man that in any other situation it would of looked like we were going to kiss (for moment, I thought we might) and stopping a few times under the East River because of “train traffic ahead.”

I think people hate riding the bus because there’s a schedule. When you’re waiting for a bus, the sign at a bus stop tells you how much longer you have to wait, along with pointing out just how close you missed the last one. But if you’re waiting for a train, which has no posted schedule, there’s the constant possibility that the next one can come at any minute. Then when the bus is late, everything is out of order, and it feels like it could be hours until the next one (oddly, the next bus can never be about to show up at any minute). In Washington D.C., the Metro has electronic signs that display an exact countdown to when the next train arrives and it feels something like a cross between the two experiences. They’ve tried it on a few subway lines in New York, but if you’ve ever been in the Bedford Avenue Station in Brooklyn, you know they’re always off.

Last week, I watched a guy at the bus stop just about lose his mind because the bus was late. He was pacing and walking out into the road to look for any sign that it was coming, cursing under his breath. I just didn’t get it. What was the logic of trusting the accuracy of a schedule produced by the New York City Metro Transit Authority, an organization that you then can’t expect to keep to the schedule? And getting angry didn’t make any sense either. Rage won’t make the bus get there any sooner; it’ll just put you in a bad mood. I’ve started to ride the bus like the subway, with no expectations of when “the next one” will get there. I just don’t look at the schedule when I get to the stop.

It makes my whole commute feel like I’m hitching a ride on an untamable force, like the current of a river or the flow of wind in the sails. It’ll get you there when it get’s you there. You just have to enjoy the ride.