In the Bus Bag
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Category Archives: overheard
A sixtyish man is sitting in front of me, looking out the window as we creep up James. We pass a handful of people standing on the sidewalk near the jail. Among them is a black priest.
The man snorts in disbelief. “Why would a black person take a vow a poverty? We’re born poor!”
A fiftysomething woman with crutches is sitting in the sideways-facing seat behind the driver, holding her nose while surveying the chaos surrounding her. She catches the eye of the woman across from her, chuckles, shakes her head, and announces to everyone within earshot, “I’ve got a get a car.”
Two young(ish) men pass the nearly deserted stop mid-conversation.
Young man 1: “She’s too tall for me, though. If I was taller, I would get at her.” He pauses while his friend chuckles, then continues. “I swear to God, if I was taller, I’d be in her ear, like, ‘woo, woo, woo!’”
A bus-wide discussion about how hot everyone is (par for the course on any [non-air-conditioned] Seattle bus on any day above 80 degrees) is in full swing before we even reach Harborview. Folks express all the usual (uninteresting) weather-related sentiments, until a middle-aged man sitting directly behind the driver adds his two cents.
“I’m about to go home and get naked. Yep, I’m going to get naked with a little, tiny fan.”
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and Chicklet, Busling, and I are wandering the aisles of the Douglass-Truth children’s section, looking to replenish our summer reading selection.
At a nearby table, a grandmother is reading a picture book, which happens to be one of those reinterpretations of The Wheels on the Bus, to her two-ish grandson. When she gets to, “The driver on the bus says, ‘Move on back!’” Chicklet immediately stops what she is doing.
“That’s not very nice, is it?” she asks, eyeing the grandmother suspiciously. (Don’t sleep on the Chicklet Side Eye.)
I assume that she …
The bus is packed, per usual, so I make my way to the very back and squeeze into one of the sideways seats. After a few minutes of settling in, I break out my current ride read, Hotel Angeline.
The young man in the seat diagonal from mine, who has been holding court since before I boarded, asks, “Is that a good book?”
“It’s interesting,” I reply, and then explain that it was written by 36 different authors, on stage.
“So, what,” he counters, “It’s like the Bible of Broadway or something?”
OK, so …
Two middle-aged black men are sitting near the front, discussing job prospects. Somewhere near Harborview, one mentions a position he is particularly interested in, which offers, among other perks, union wages and benefits. The other scoffs.
“Let me tell you something: Seattle has black jobs and white jobs. If President Obama went down there and applied, he couldn’t get one of those jobs.”
The three of us (Chick, Chicklet, and Busling) are putting on shoes, jackets, and et cetera, preparing to head out and catch the 8. Chicklet, who has no rival in the dawdling department, is (per usual) taking forever. She resists instructions to take a preventative trip to the restroom, puts her shoes on the wrong feet, pauses to play with dinosaur figurines recently strewn around the entry, and manages to misplace one of her mittens.
While I’m zipping Busling’s jacket, she disappears into the bedroom. I call for her to come back and put on her hat.
At the stop near 8th, the driver gets on the mic and says, “Oops. You went too far.” When no one responds, he looks in his rearview mirror and tries again. “Wasn’t one of you looking for Union Gospel Mission?”
After another silence, several of us begin turning in our seats to see who he is talking to. In the process, our eyes scan the man sitting to my right, who has spent most of the short ride talking loudly on his cell about all the money he’s earned this year, and, in particular, this week.
“Don’t look at me,” …