I seem to have some kind of knee-jerk hangup to writing memoir. Like, I can't just write about ME and the bus, that isn't enough (for me). I don't know if that's because I devalue my own experiences or because I feel that I should be reaching for a larger theme. Whatever it is, as soon as I start writing about "what happened to me" I start going into writerly rigor/malaise. I get hung up on Why does this matter? Who cares about the people on the bus? (No one, clearly. Have you SEEN the people on the bus? Talk about an invisible class.)
So then, an ode to the people on the bus. But then I think, who the hell am I to be an authority on bus people? What kind of privileged poser who CHOOSES to ride a bus could possibly say anything real about the people who are stuck there? Like Arbus and her freaks: the One Who Looks vs the Seen. But if I could write something as lovely as an Arbus folio, I'd fall over from gratitude. It seems like there is a way to do it so it isn't lame, and it's JUST on the tip of my fingers. A litany? Of passengers, maybe? I don't know.
Here are some things that have happened on the bus:
- When I was in the 5th grade, a man flashed me via a convenient hole in his jeans while I waited on the bus mall for the number #17 (formerly the #24, later the #10) to deep Southeast Portland. I didn't actually realize what I had seen until a few years later. In college a friend told me he watched a couple having sex at a bus stop in front of his house late one night. I was inexperienced at the time, and couldn't really picture how that would have worked: the bench too narrow to lie down on, the seat too shallow for two. I never thought of buses as sexy, but since then, I've made out at plenty of bus stops.
- My best friend and I would get scolded regularly in the sixth grade for being too loud on the #14 headed up Hawthorne. We would race to catch it, after cutting our last class of the day and getting $0.25 soft serve ice cream cones from a nearby McDonalds. We would cling to the poles in the articulated center, twirling around them, dancing, singing, getting shushed. The #14 was not quite a "fun" bus until a few years later, when Hawthorne blew up into a counter-culture haven.
- I rode a bus in New Orleans that cut through the Garden District before traveling down Broad Street (which stretched further northeast, on into the heart of the less famous Seventh Ward) toward Mid-City. Sometimes, I was the only white girl on the bus and the seat next to mine would be the last one filled. We passed three churches along the way, and at least one passenger would make the sign of the cross as we did. On Ash Wednesday the seats would be full of subdued smudged foreheads.
- In Rome my parents and I would take a bus from the guest room we were renting in the suburbs to the closest Metro station, and then take the subway into the city. We did this every day for over a week--out and back--but I don't remember a single bus ride. Only waiting at the stops at the beginning and end of each day. I remember the Metro, and the train ride to Florence, but I can't remember anything about sitting on the bus there at all.