I commute by bus to work everyday. It’s convenient, its inexpensive, it gives me a good twenty minutes to read, check my blackberry, get on Facebook, etc.
I learned to navigate across Los Angeles on the bus thanks to my mother and grandmother more than twenty years ago.
I am old enough to remember when the MTA was the RTD, when tokens came in a little plastic bag and when a transfer to another bus was only 25cents.
I never noticed that there was a “type” of person that rode the bus. Not even when I was much younger and all the ladies on the bus cleaned rich people’s homes and were friends with my mom.
Now that I am older and have returned to the bus after many years of driving, things seem different.
Like today, I took the bus from Downtown to my home in East LA.
The woman bus driver almost didn’t stop. If it hadn’t been for the red light, she would have left me behind and I would have had to wait another 40 minutes.
I had to knock on the bus door to have her let me in. She was a heavy set lady, Latina, Chicana, had a tattoo of some kind on her right arm that just sneaked itself from her sleeve. She wore dark sunglasses and seemed annoyed that I had distracted her from focusing on the road ahead.
“Next time, waive me down, wait at the end of the curb and don’t expect the bus to stop” she snapped at me as she took a bite of her apple.
I looked in the belly of the bus, six people, four were older Latina ladies, more than likely nannies, or factory workers, there was an older African American male with a cane, maybe on his way to County hospital and a young punk-looking Latino with backpack, around 21, maybe on his way to a CSULA night class, the last stop on the 71east.
I raised my eyebrow at her and asked “Don’t you normally stop?”
“Not unless you wave me down” she said. “Arent you going to pay?”
I paid and sat there for twenty minutes and saw this lady bus driver display without guilt, the most utterly shameless contempt she felt for her job and for her passengers.
Anyone who tried to get off the bus using the front door would hear a sneering “Noooo, use.the.back!”
As we reached County Hospital, she veered in a different direction and didn’t do the round-about by the outpatient bus stop. A very important part of the commute. Almost as if she purposely refused to stop.
I already know why. That stop has all buses East & West stopping at the same location, facing the same direction. Buses literally go inside the patient drop off zone, and only go their perspective way once they are outside on the street. Passengers always ask “Downtown?” even though the bus flashing lights say “CSULA”
It’s an interesting stop that begs the question “who goes to County?” The answer may as well be on the people boarding the bus. Mostly poor people of color, a mix of recently arrived Latino and Asian immigrants alongside poor whites, and homeless.
An elderly Latina lady had boarded the bus by then, she walked slow and sat in the handicapped seats. She carried a few bags with her and wore those nurses shoes older Latina women wear. My grandmother tells me they are very comfortable. She needed to get off on Evergreen & Wabash, a stop right in front of a “Mexican” mini market, painted green and decorated with a Virgin Mary on the side wall.
The bus driver refused to let her out using the front door.
“Back of the bus!” she yelled as she signaled with her hand.
I knew the older lady didn’t understand, but she looked onto the floor and made her way to the back of the bus.
With each step she took, my heart sank further into my stomach.
The young man helped her with her bags.
Two stops later, it was my turn to get off.
“Excuse me,” I asked as I approached her, “Do you normally not stop at County Hospital?”
“What?” she asked.
“I noticed you didn’t stop at County General, and I was wondering why you took a different route.”
“After a certain time, we don’t pass there” she replied.
“Oh I see, well, what time is that? Because its only 7:30pm, seems early to not stop at the Hospital”
“Yeah, well we don’t stop there after a certain time”
“Well what time is that?”
“I don’t know. We just don’t”
“You don’t know? You don’t know what time that is? So how did you know not to stop there? Was it on your schedule? If I pick up one of these thingies will it tell me if you make that stop?” I asked her as I held a bus schedule.
“I don’t know!” she exclaimed, “you’re better off calling customer service, number is on the back”
“uh-ha” I muttered.
“To be honest, I screwed up and took the wrong turn” she admits. “But I still was not going to stop at County”
Her tone told me she didn’t really care that she had made the wrong turn or that I was asking.
“I see” I said, “I use to work at County last year and got off late sometimes, I remember this bus use to stop.”
She shrugs her shoulders, “Well that was then.”
“I see…Well, I just wanted to double check what time that was that you no longer go to the Hospital in case I ever need to go, I know not to take this bus” I replied.
“Call the customer service line, like I said, the number – ”
“Is on the back? Yeah, I see it. I’ll be calling the customer service line” I said, “I have a wholelota questions for the MTA regarding this line, but mostly I have some comments…This is my stop. Can I get off?”
“Back of the bus only” she replies, giving herself a satisfactory half grin but refusing to look my way.
My my. When I left to work this morning, I didn’t know that I would have a donut for breakfast, or that I would be on a magical time traveling bus that would transport me back to Alabama, 1955.
I linger for a half a second longer than I should.
I know she knows I’m pissed the f*ck off. And I know that she knows, that I know, she messed with the wrong commuter.
The door remains closed.
“Uh-huh.” I say, “Thanks”
As I watch the bus roll away, I catch a reflection of myself in the windows, my stringy hair over my eyes, my dad’s yellow flannel around my waist. Somewhere in the distance I hear Kurt Cobain.
Mental Note. Metro line 71east, Spring and Temple 6:58pm, bus number 7773.