I’m going to see Sarah. I have to take the bus to U. Chicago. I’ve never taken the bus in the city before. So uh… how do I do this gracefully? A study in the mental processes behind taking the bus.
I get off the El with my hand on the compass in my pocket. I need to be on the west side of State Street, so I read where west is. But the stop is easy to find — a mass of people waits there. Soon my bus pulls up, the 6 bus. It’s impossibly packed. No more people can fit. But they do, limbs and backpacks all fitting together like Tetris pieces. Squeeze. Squeeze. Squeeze. A bald man in a black leather jacket, talking on a cell phone, chats happily in front of me as I am mashed against his back. We are off with a lurch. My grips slips because I’m wearing wool gloves. I switch grips again and again. A large woman wearing a once-white fake fur hat is taking up two seats and snoring lightly.
I inspect the wire running the length of the bus, along the wall, that I will pull to request my stop. I envision myself pulling it successfully. It seems awfully far away. Will I be able to reach it? What if my reaction time is too slow?
The bald man pulls a Mentos commercial and squeezes between two affable older woman. One of them chuckles at him.
A white man in a knit cap reads a Guardian Monthly. How pretentious, I think. Well, no, actually I think, how cool, he is reading the Guardian Monthly. And then I think some people would *think* he were pretentious.
Another stop, more people get on, they jam into the stairwell. That would *not* be allowed in Copenhagen, I think to myself. They would just speed on by that bus stop full of people. I shift positions, regret my backpack even though it’s small, and switch grips.
The bus starts its express run, no stops, down a highway, and it flies lightly over small bumps, making our stomachs skip. A crunchy college guy smiles at a girl he knows when this happens.
A woman reads a newspaper, with an obituary headline reading “Helped develop Formica counters”. How sad, I think, that that’s the headline of a man’s life.
What will my obituary headline read, I think. Perhaps: “Wish fulfilled, girl gets to ‘sleep all the time'”.
I can’t understand what stop the driver has announced. His words were garbled, perhaps in Portugese. I ask the man reading the Guardian if we’ve passed 53rd Street yet. “It’s just round the corner,” he says in a lilting Irish accent. My eyes beg for specific directions. “It’s either this or the next one,” he continues. The driver announces 52nd Street. “So it’s the next,” he says. I am relieved. I feel like he and I know each other. We have bonded. When I hear the driver say 53rd Street, I jump to pull the wire. The bus grinds to a stop and I call to him, “Thank you! Have a nice evening!” The doors almost close on me, but I push them apart. Ha!
I pull out my compass, wait till the needle stops spinning wildly, and walk west on 53rd.