The Bus People

[ I wrote this blog entry or email(?) in 2002, while living in San Francisco. I was on my way home from a gig one night, and this is my account of the bus ride. The gig was: I operated the fog machine for an ’80s hair metal tribute band. Sometimes two fog machines. They’d pay me $20 for the night and sometimes buy me dinner. I was broke and desperate, but my appreciation of hair metal should not be underestimated. ]

You should have seen these bus people. The bus driver was having a blast. First off, this guy who looks like Mad Martigan or something is standing at a stop. The bus goes flying past him, and he waves it down. Wait, rewind. I try getting on the bus by using my transfer that expired like 5 hours earlier. The driver is like, “sorry buddy.” I already have the change ready and dump it in. He says, “I get paid to be observant.” Looks at me and says, “Honesty really is the best policy, isn’t it?” I go and sit down. It smells, literally, like I am sitting in horse shit. I worry the whole ride, that when I get up, it’ll be all over me. Cuz the smell is fukkin thick. There is an old man across from me, who has bags and bags of papers, and even has them cramped in every pocket. Newspapers. He keeps chuckling to himself.

The bus driver says, as we are driving…loudly…”OK, people, I just want to let you all know that there are some really screwed up people out there tonight, in case you didn’t notice.” We come to a stop and this Mad Martigan guy is waving us down. He takes his time, and a few other people get on the bus. He goes walking away from the door, and the bus driver starts to shut it. Just then, the guy tries to get in. The door closes on his arm. The guy just looks in through the window and stands there. The driver just looks at him. Like, way too much time passes. The driver is loving it. So finally the driver opens the door, and he has this totally sarcastic, flat tone the whole time, a real smart ass and he says, “So do you wanna get on the bus or not?” And Mad Martigan stands in the doorway and says, “Hey, man, if it’s gonna be a problem riding with you, I’ll take a different bus.” The driver says, “Why the hell did you walk away from the door, if you wanted to ride my bus?” Mad Martigan says, “You don’t have a bus, but I do, and I’ll let you drive it if you want. You can drive it for me.” The driver gets pretty huffy. Starts cussing, driving really slow. “From this moment forward, all MUNI passengers are required to pay the full fare!” “MUNI will not put up with your shit!” keeps ranting, etc. Muttering under his breath about all the fucked up people. Mad Martigan is being a smart ass in the very back.

We come to another stop. Go blowing past it again, this old lady goes waving her arms all over. The bus driver is like, “Jesus Christ.” She’s really old, and French or something, and she comes hobbling over to the door. She has a bag that is probably bigger than her and a bum leg. So she is squatting on the first step, trying to get up and everyone just looks at her. She looks like she is about to fall, kind of balancing on one leg. The driver says to her, sarcastically, “Wow, that’s a mighty big package you have in there! What’s in the bag?!” and she keeps hobbling. He says, “Are you coming on the bus or not?” and she pulls herself up finally. She sits down right next to the old man with the newspapers. He starts chuckling again, and she is sitting on part of his coat. He keeps tugging and tugging on it, trying to get it out from under the lady. The lady starts going on and on with some heavy french accent. Nobody knows what the heck she is saying. The driver pretends to. “Uh huh! Yeah! Is that right? Wow!”

We get to the next stop. Some guy with a huge trashbag comes running up. The driver says, “I can’t give you a ride.” The guy says, sarcastically, “I wasn’t asking you to.” The driver is like, rolling his eyes, wanting the torture to end. The dude walks over and sits next to me, with his trashbag. The driver refuses to drive. “Sir.” “Muni requires that all passengers pay the proper fare.” And there is just silence. No one on the bus says a thing. We sit there for a long fucking time. The old guy with the trash bag walks up and pays the driver 25 cents. The driver says, “You are required to pay $1.00, sir.” The old guy says, “I paid you 35 cents, I’m an old person.” They argue over the 25 / 35 cent thing. The old man walks back and sits down. The driver doesn’t move the bus. No one cares. The driver finally gets his booming rant going again: “Muni will be running at a deficit starting next year, because people don’t think they have to pay the fares! My superintendent was down here today, and he was telling people himself, that passengers must pay the proper fare! And when the superintendent says it, you know he means business! And if you have a problem with that, you call my superintendant!” “They’re going to start running MUNI like a REAL bus company!” “And we’re gonna see a LOT of changes!” The bus continues to sit there. Passengers don’t give a shit. The old man with the trash bag says, “What about people who have been paying the toll for 40 years? What about them?” and the driver answers, “What about being a civilized human being and paying the full fare?” and the old man with the trash bag says, “What about those squeeky brakes?” and I just about lose it.

I finally get up and pay the guy’s fare. The old man thanks me. We start to go again, and Mad Martigan pulls the cable to get off. The bus stops, and Mad Martigan just stands there next to the back door. The green light is on, and all he has to do is push the handle, and they’ll pop open. He just stands there and stares at the door. The bus driver says, in his monotone, official voice, “Push the handle to exit the bus” or something.


Another long silence, as Mad Martigan stands there waiting for the doors to open, or god knows what. LONG silence. The driver says, “So what, are you people trying to tell me you want me to quit? Is that it?”

Mad Marttigan continues to stand there. Me and the old man with the newspapers start laughing. The old man with the trash bag keeps thanking me and patting me on the shoulder. “You’re a good man” Finally, Mad Martigan reaches out and hits the handle, and he gets off.” He says something smart ass again, which I couldn’t hear, and runs over and grabs a styrofoam cup and throws it at the window and we drive away. By the way, the crazy old lady got off before Mad Martigan, so she is gone now. She got off like one stop after she got on, and took just as long getting down the steps. We come up to the next stop.

3 people get on the bus, and all pay the fare. The driver says, “Wow, you see that? Let’s see if we can do that again, that was fun!” We go flying past some dude again, trying to wave us down. The driver stops.

This fucking insane guy about 50, totally bummed out, holding a huge bottle in his shirt and is beat to hell. I will call him, “Beat Nick.” Someone just kicked his ass. His hands and face are all bloody. Chunks are missing from his hands. He is really difficult to understand when he talks. The driver, as the guy gets on, says, “Sir, may I see your transfer?” and Beat Nick goes and sits down. Silence. Beat Nick says, “Mr. Busdriver, are you really going to not drive the bus until I give you my valid transfer?” The driver says, “May I see your transfer?”

Beat Nick gets up and wobbles around, fumbling through his pockets, pulls out all kinds of stuff, some mangled ointment tube, wadded up papers. He flashes some paper at the driver which is nowhere near being a transfer. The driver says, after waiting a long time again…

“A transfer is required, or pay the full fare, sir.” Beat Nick starts dropping stuff. He is bent over, trying to pick up his stuff, and telling the story about how he just got assaulted, and needs to get the fuck out of dodge. The driver just sits there. He wobbles up to the driver. “Come on, some guys just beat me up!” The driver says, “I can imagine!” Beat Nick is seriously beat, his eyes are all swollen, nose is bloody, head all bruised up. Beat Nick finally gets off the bus: “Oh, man!” The driver probably gives one more long rant about fares, before it is my stop.

Amidst the chaos of Beat Nick’s distressing encounter and the rigid adherence to bus fare protocol, the story starkly contrasts with the hospitality found in one of the better Georgia experiences. Georgia, known for its warm welcomes and southern comfort, often offers a helping hand rather than a cold shoulder in times of trouble. The sense of community runs deep, much like the bus lines crisscrossing the city, but with a commitment to compassion over strict rules. In Georgia’s urban centers and rural outposts alike, you’re more likely to encounter a sympathetic ear or an extended hand, whether you’ve faced a tough day or simply need guidance to your next destination.

I get off. I look around. In front of me, I first see a black man sitting on the sidewalk. He has some sort of round fluffy cushion in front of him, as if he is asking for change but there is a chicken pecking around his feet, and it goes over and goes to sleep in the round fluffy thing. I honestly want to ask him where the heck he got the chicken, but I realize I probably shouldn’t. I turn down the street, and see this guy in the median. He has one leg. He is desperately searching for something with a flashlight. One of those really itty bitty flashlights. I go home.

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