Monday, March 24, 2008


The Regina Bus

On my way to visit friends in Regina.
I love bus trips. Train trips, too. There's something about traveling with a group of people that feels friendly and familiar. I'm sure it's the years of band trips that have worn into my mind the rare mix of "home" and "adventure" that I get on a bus.
Three hours on a bus is like a gift. It's not that I don't take time at home to do the kinds of things one can do on a bus, the relaxation is just somehow more effective. When reading at home, one might find oneself constantly figuring how much free time is left, anticipating a commitment, or mentally preparing to do some chore or other task.
Disappointingly, reading or writing is often done at the expense of other "more important" things that "should" be getting done. The chores get done with a feeling of resentment and the relaxation is coloured by distraction or guilt.It's something I would like to eliminate from my life. I am closer to that goal than I think I have been since grade four (the last year before joining band). I can say with a reasonable level of confidence that that is when all activities began to exist in opposition to that one all-important task: practicing.
The other people on this bus would likely be surprised to know just how strong an urge I have to talk to them. It's bizarre. It may have a clinical name. My condition is such that I constantly want to interact with people. Especially when it is unexpected. I want us all to sing a song. We could play a game. Talk politics. The activity is irrelevant, so long as it's inter and active.
Perhaps I'll start chatting at the woman sleeping in the seat next to me. And when she grows tired of me, I'll switch to a new seat and a new conversation. Maybe I'll move toward the back of the bus where I see a five-o-so year old who could probably use some entertaining.
I picture myself politely inquiring of the driver:
"Would I be able to use your microphone to talk to the passengers for a bit?"
"What do you need?"
"Oh. I'd just like to see if they want to sing a song or something together. Or maybe play 'What Am I?'"
"What Am I?"
"Yeah. It's a guessing game. Kind of like twenty questions. Someone thinks of something - it could be anything - a thing, a concept, a famous person. Everyone else takes turns asking questions to narrow down the possible answers."
"I don't think so."
"Just out of curiosity, is there some sort of rule against it?"
"I think it would bother some people."
"What about the song thing?"
Instead, perhaps I would just start introducing myself at the front of the bus, shaking hands and working my way down the aisle.
"Hi! I'm James. Nice to meet you." Shakes hands.
"I'm a teacher from Saskatoon."
"Oh yeah? Are you running for politics or something?" Polite follow-up question.
"No, I just like meeting people."
The elderly woman beside me keeps nodding off and waking up. I suggest she might actually get some rest if she had a pillow. We chat briefly about trips and sleep. I mention having kids. It's bait. An open door. She doesn't care about my family and doesn't ask. Or maybe she's waiting for something. Or maybe she's just tired. Although 'just' is usually a lie. Or at least a mask. Perhaps she finds young men threatening. Maybe she doesn't want to be here at all and talking to someone only makes it more real.
Although I sit beside her, poised for conversation and revelation, I begin to mentally play the field. I start emotional word-affairs with the other passengers. I ask the behooded twentysomething in the seat ahead of me (whose garments are covered in skull-and-crossbones) what music he is listening to. We discuss rock. And metal. And Rock Band the video game. And, yes, it is so much more than a game. His headphones are the over the ear sort.
I move three seats back to the next lone passenger. I tell her I like meeting people and can I sit for awhile and chat? She looks suspicious but friendly and yes I can. We exchange Facebook I.D.s and pull out our laptops. Coincidentally we both still have our profiles cached. We trade laptops and get to know each other a little better. She browses my hobbies. I check out her wall. I wonder if the elderly woman three seats ahead is wishing she'd asked me about my kids when she had the chance.
There is an intermittent groan-creak that chatters out from the upper right edge of the window on my right. It's annoying.
I wonder how any people on this bus would like to sell me something. I wonder this because as my eyes scan randomly across a page of the magazine the woman across the aisle is reading I see the words "'s most powerful antiseptic." Is she an independent saleswoman? If I struck up a conversation with her would she ask me about my children and then try to sell me "the world's most powerful antiseptic"?
"Children are dirty, you know?"
"The average child is carrying over 5 billion germs, three strains of contagious virus, and a powerful cocktail of earwax, mucous, and fecal mater on their hands alone."
What if I were the person sitting alone? What if some unusual young man encouraged me to surrender the excess real estate next door and engage in conversation? Would I take the bait? Would I do my own fishing? Would I consider it a threat to my solitude and personal space? After all I went to the trouble of standing up and fussing with my coat and other belongings longer than the other passengers for the express purpose of deflecting unwanted company, preserving this neutral zone of extra leg room. How long will he stay? Will I feel comfortable asking him to leave if I want him to?
I catch myself worrying about my hair. What if it looks weird? How can I introduce myself to random strangers with weird hair on my head? How is it that it's taken me so long to consider this? Perhaps this can be turned to my advantage. I'll go to the bathroom to check my hair and check out the other passengers on my way. Surely someone will look just bored enough, hopeful enough.
The back few seats watch my entire approach. Perhaps wondering what effect my visit will have on their near environment. I reach both the bathroom and an important realization at the same time: I have no desire to give the impression that I am actually _using_ the bathroom. I push open the narrow swinging door. Leaving my lower body outside the tiny room, I lean in just enough to spy the roll of tissue paper and pull off a few squares. I don't see the mirror. I return to my seat with the tissue politely but necessarily to my nose. I make no eye contact.
Now I'm back in my seat. Sleepy woman beside me. The metronomic "tch" of snare drum leaks out from Skull-and-Crossbones' hood. Slightly intrusive. Familiar. Maybe I'll just put on my headphones and listen to some music.

Last night, I met another you at the library. He was a middle aged man getting some books and videos with his wife. She was getting research help with one of my colleagues. He came to me and, shrewdly ascertaining my work/boredom quotient, he struck up a lengthy conversation about where he wanted to travel in the world, asked me about politics and tried to draw any comment I made into a topic of conversation.

You are not alone...
Great post! I've had many imagined conversations myself though usually when working alone in the woods. Strangely I don't often feel like talking to strangers when they're actually siting beside me. I think its a space issue though as I don't mind it when I can control the distance.
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