On the bus ride through the rain and cold tonight, at various stops and starts along the route from the Central West End to Southtown, I found myself locking smiles and bumping fists with a woman who, at regular intervals, was deriving a great deal of joy from the act of lurching into the center aisle, over and over again and shouting:
“Aint that right, bus driver?”
And each time, the driver would respond, as if by synchronicity through the shared experience of holding one’s own against the rain and rudeness of these glistening city streets. . .replying in the most melodious and throaty of tones: ”That’s right.”
And each time afterwards, the woman would wrap her arms around her own waist and
roll back in the seat laughing, seemingly pleased with herself for having elicited one more positive response from the person in charge.
In response to that bit of repetitive interaction. . .for the whole twenty-minute ride home, between spasms of laughter and fidgeting, I could feel that oddly familiar sensation moving through my skin, sensation that can only be described as being caught between the wish for someone to make it stop and waiting for it to start all over again. This went on until I pulled the bell cord for my corner…though at times she would mix things up with the obsessive repetition of news flashes and singsong bits of wisdom:
“Everybody thinks Popeye was strong, but really he was a sissy,”
“Read my lips; catch my drift,”
and “Stare too long, you’re doing it wrong.”
At one point, she stopped to unwrap a very large sandwich and fondle it in anticipation, all the while casting her weary eyes down at its wrapper like a prized catch, the bag emblazoned with the name of the priciest gourmet grocer in the Central West End , most likely anticipating the moment when the rain would let up just long enough for her to leave the bus and enjoy it.
But for now, she had found a warm place to seek refuge from it all, no doubt thanks to the means of strangers, the first one with money enough for that sandwich, the second letting go of a transfer pass that paid for the ride. . . followed by the brown-eyed girl behind the wheel. kindly and obligingly saying those same two words over and over again. That’s right.
A loaf of bread, a jug of vitamin water and thou. . .
It was so very wet and cold on the walk to my place and I could feel the rain pelting my pant leg as I gripped the handle of the umbrella to brace against the elements. In a matter of minutes, I could see the stop on the street running perpendicular to my own ride. As I approached it, I realized I would have to raise my umbrella enough to clear the height of a man for whom I could not yield the right of way without taking someone else’s eye out.
And aside from the sound of his laughter as I passed, accompanied by that of the wind and rain, all I could hear in my head was the echo of the broken record lady.
“Read my lips; catch my drift.”