I don’t ask for my car to break down. I try and take care of it as best as I can, but there is only so much you can do for a ’93 Toyota Camry. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that a car that old is prone to break down now and then, and I really shouldn’t be as surprised as I usually get when it happens. It’s like being shocked when a glass breaks after dropping it from a good height. “How could this happen to glass?” It’s just that at one end I’ve put so much money into this damn car, but at the other end I probably haven’t put in as much money as it is actually worth. I got the car for $10 from my father’s wife. She was originally going to give it to me for $1, but the guy at the DMV told me to mark it as $10 to avoid some weird tax. Now that I think of it, I actually didn’t pay her a thing. She just made this figurative charge for the DMV. So in the end I guess I get what I don’t pay for.
I don’t ask for my car to break down, but when it does I insist on taking public transportation. I don’t all the time, mainly because my mother insists on me driving her car. I don’t know what she has against public transportation. Maybe she thinks that working through the bus schedule is more trouble than it is worth, maybe she doesn’t want me to spend money, or maybe even she thinks they are just going to run late because I am on them, and within this lateness I get mugged by several men and maybe even a few women. I don’t know why, but I really don’t mind taking the bus. I actually see it as a relief, to both my mother and myself. It should be a relief to my mother because she won’t have to worry about her car. Her car will be fully accessible to her and all will be well. It’s actually a bit of a relief for me as well because obtaining her car is a bit of a hassle at times. Most mornings I don’t have to get up very early, but if I need to use her car I have to get up early in order to drive her to work. So on a day where I don’t have to be at school until ten o’clock, I need to get up at six-thirty to leave for Smithfield at eight and then be back at Cranston around nine. So now I’m technically ready to get to where I have to be for ten, but I have no energy. I need to sleep up until the last possible minute and hit the snooze. So I’m ready for ten, but because I have no energy I lull around and end up being late anyway. I can’t win this way. Driving my mother isn’t the best either. She can very much be a backseat driver, so much so that I usually have her drive when we are both in the car. I drive with her there now and then, and it still feels like driver’s ed, only this time the instructor is trying to get us killed. “What is that on your windshield? LOOK OUT!” The bus is different because I have to adhere to a schedule, which I actually like. If I don’t meet this schedule, the whole day is shot and I’ll feel awful. A bus schedule at least motivates me enough to be on time. If I have my own car, it’s like I’m saying “Well, if I’m late, I’m late. At least I have a way to get there.”
Recently I got my opportunity to take the bus because my car broke down on the way to teach my theatre class. I was coming up to a red light and there was suddenly this great burst of noise coming from my car, followed by some sputtering and then nothing. Stuck in the middle of Pleasant Valley Parkway next to the Coca-Cola plant, so at the very least I wouldn’t get thirsty. That’s not true, actually. I don’t drink Coca-Cola. I was referring to my situation as a “pop n’ stop”. First I popped, and then I stopped. I saw it as a nice little explanation for my situation, although the situation was far from nice. It was like the car behind me took out a gun and shot my car. I immediately turn on my hazard lights, which should have told the traffic behind me that my car had thrown in the towel, however the traffic behind me was apparently not that smart. The person directly behind me was honking with this confused look on his face. “Why aren’t you going?” Look, buddy, if you can get this thing to start, I’ll let you have it. Maybe not all of my lights were working and I looked like some guy making a turn, but forgot how to halfway through. The worst was that I had to move my car somehow, and the moment I tried to push it myself it began to roll backward, causing a frantic hand to plunge into the break. I was fortunate enough to have the guy I almost backed into get out of his car and help me push, so I was mostly out of the way now. The side street was tight and I really couldn’t be parked there. Funny enough, I was surprisingly calm for having my car break down. This was probably due to the first thought running through my head being “Hey! Day off!” I really shouldn’t have been that happy. I had a class to teach after all. But then I realized they were getting a day off too, so it was alright.
So that Friday when I had to come and work at the computer lab on campus, I took the opportunity to take the bus. If you haven’t ever taken public transportation, do yourself a favor and take it at least once. It’s really not as bad as you might think, although the two-day experience I had was no short of interesting. It started out well, though, or at least as well as it could be. I had gotten up that morning, determined to take the bus, determined not to drive my mother to work with her backseat driving, but it wasn’t until after everyone left that I realized I had no cash on me. I didn’t make it to an ATM before and wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this one off. I ended up having to take a ten-minute walk to the nearest Citizen’s Bank so I could take out some cash. The ten-minute walk isn’t what stinks, it’s the fact that the bus stops right down the street from my house. I really only had to walk a minute to catch the bus, but today I’m running through rain so I can get on the bus further on its route. But I pulled it off and I figured things would be smooth sailing from there. How wrong I was. I needed to be home in time for a rehearsal later that night, so I take an early bus to give myself some breathing time. My trip ended up being my breathing time. The bus gets caught up in some heavy traffic on our way to Kennedy Plaza and we are stopped. I’m sitting on this bus and I am jumping in my skin. Am I going to catch my next bus? Will I get home in time? Will I even get home? Oh jeez, maybe my mom is right and I am going to get mugged, or maybe that guy in the back has a gun and he’s going to shoot us all to bits! Someone actually got off the bus while we were in traffic and decided to walk the rest of his trip, which in my mind was Kennedy Plaza. I could see him getting there and making his next bus, which was also my next bus, and he’s just sitting there with this smug look on his face because the rest of us are still stuck in traffic. I should have followed this guy, but I didn’t. I sat there and tried to convince myself that we’d make it. The bus just has to make it! It’s on a schedule, how could it be late?! We didn’t make it, so I have to wait at Kennedy Plaza for the next bus to Cranston and basically get home at the time I didn’t want to get home. However, because I am getting home at this later time, I now get to see…the sex. Not real sex, but it was close enough for a bus stop. I’m inside the actual station, and there is this young couple making out in some shadowy corner. There are tons of people around these two people, who had to be freshmen in college or thereabouts, and they are going at it. I immediately give it a month. I’ve seen this type; the type that is so desperately in love that they end up suffocating in their own tonsils. I feel horrible thinking that this relationship is bound to fail, but I know it is. I just know it. I think I have an idea of what love is, and it isn’t it. It’s just two people going at it like bus stop animals, and I can’t look away. It isn’t love, but it’s hot, and now I’m this pervert. Kennedy Plaza has turned me into a voyeur and I need to look away. So I’m trying to look anywhere but in the direction of this couple, and I’m facing a pane of glass, and now I can see them in the reflection of the glass. But I think “Well, it’s not like they can say I’m staring at them.” And this seals the deal. I am officially a pervert now. All I need now is a mustache and an 8mm camera, and Saturday night is going to be alright by me. Finally they stop, and now I can look away. But the girl is very distinct looking, or maybe she just seems distinct because I’ve been staring at her suck the face off this boy. She was wearing this green dress, and now she was sloppily putting on a hooded sweatshirt while fiddling with a shoe. This is what made it like sex. She had to get dressed after the whole experience. I couldn’t tell what the couple was saying to each other, but it might as well have been “That was great, but you should probably get going now.” So now I’ve had my dose of bus stop porn and I go home.
My second day on the buses was certainly more interesting. It started with me not catching the first bus. Luckily the next bus would still get me to where I had to be on time, which was ironically my theatre class that I had to teach. The guy waiting at the stop claims that the driver drove off early. If this was true, I don’t know, but this man and his portable radio claim that it was this Spanish woman driver who left five minutes before she was supposed to and was a “nice lady”. I think… “No. That’s not a nice woman at all.” But I don’t dwell on it, and as I wait there not dwelling this other guy comes up to me, also waiting for the bus, and says “You look familiar. Were you at East?” “Yeah, I was.” “JROTC?” “Yeah.” “That’s where I know you from. What’s your name?” “Ryan.” “Yeah, that sounds familiar.” “Oh, well, what’s your name?” “Sean.” He wasn’t familiar in the least. He could have been familiar; the guy was only a year behind me in high school apparently. But I respond with “Yeah, yeah, yeah, alright.” I just ramble on like I could even pretend to know who he was. But I chat him up a bit, which is good. I tell him about my car, and later when he leaves the bus at his stop he says to me “Good luck to you.” I don’t know why that stuck.
There were a few characters on that particular bus. One was this young kid who got on and sat in one of those sideways seats right up in front. I almost sat there, but I ended up not, which was good. I hadn’t noticed that there was a sign at those seats reading “Reserved for seniors and disabled persons. Reservado para los de edad avanzada e incapacitados.” So now this kid was sitting there, and in my mind he is instantly a senior citizen. Why not a disabled person? No idea. Senior citizen seemed funnier. Now this girl comes on the bus and she is pissed! She has this look on her face and it is a scowl to beat all scowls. Wherever she is going, she doesn’t want to be there. She sits in the sideways seat right near me and her scowl is a nose away, not to mention she is now an instant “avanzada”.
Of course Kennedy Plaza had to try and live up to the experience that was last time. It did. I don’t know what it is about that place, but it is a constant show. Now there were two African-American cops, both bald, along with another bald African-American on his knees in front of them. The two cops were talking as if he wasn’t there, so I couldn’t tell if they were there for him now. The man looked like he could have had newspapers in his lap, so maybe he was selling them. So I watch for a while, once again becoming the notorious Kennedy Plaza voyeur. One cop fist bumps some random white guy. Go Obama. Now a fire truck pulls up, and of course it is in the spot where my bus is going to pull up. Some fireman get out, and there are some bike cops as well, and now they are here talking, ignoring this newspaper man. The fire truck moves and an ambulance pulls up, followed by more talking and ignoring. Next thing I know the guy on his knees is gone. It seemed like a lot of commotion for nothing.
Then – CLANG! Something drops in the plaza and my eyes go right to it. A can of iced tea, its owner looking down at his drink that he just carelessly dropped. He picks it up, tosses it, but makes no movement to clean the spill. In fact, he is focusing every last drop of his energy to not look at that spill. He looks down once more as the liquid creeps towards his expensive sneakers, and then he does this weird back-step to avoid the spill. He is avoiding this spill with every bit of his body. It’s like if he doesn’t look at it, it isn’t his anymore. A RIPTA worker sees it, and she knows. She knows its sneaker-boy, but doesn’t do anything. She goes on her way. I look back to sneaker-boy and…oh shit! Oh shit!! He’s making out with his girlfriend! It’s the same stop as that couple from before. No! Why is this place a giant aphrodisiac? I need to get out of there. My bus is supposed to be here in four minutes, but the ambulance is still there. I’m thinking this is going to delay things unless they get the hell out in four minutes. You have to move, buddy. I’m the consumer! And surprisingly they do move. These guys work fast. Lucky I went outside because my bus was parked further back from its stop. I get on with the thought that I could have missed this bus because it didn’t pull up. But I’m there.
I met two more people on my trip home. Two young African-Americans, brother and sister. The brother was bothering the sister about some guy she might have been dating. Apparently they were on and off a lot. The sister wanted no part of this guy’s bull and was gripping his fingers very tight with intent to hurt him. And she was hurting him. He’s squirming there trying not to scream out in pain, and he’s going “Why are you trying to rape me?” Sister wants none of this, insisting through more fingers that he doesn’t throw that word around. But he continues “Why are you raping me?” Finally he says “I bet all the white people on this bus are freaking out because of what we’re doing.” I don’t know what compelled me to respond. Maybe I was just winding down from a long day, maybe I was happy that I was actually getting my car back when I got home, but I turned around and looked at him. I looked at him and said “We are. On behalf of the white people, we are freaking out. In fact, I’m pissing myself right now.” He laughed. He could see I was joking, and I went on to tell him that I was in theatre and this stuff didn’t faze me. This became an invitation for him to fill me in on all the details I didn’t know before, but after that I sat in silence home.
It was an interesting two days to say the least. In a way, I’m looking forward to the next time my car breaks down.