Mar 12, 2011

Commuter mornings and musings

Three mornings in a row I have waited for the bus, feet growing cold from standing on snowy ground. I was attending a course in Flash in town. My usual routine of walking to work was switched to making sure I made it to the bus stop in time for my morning commute.

Each morning presented its own version of winter:

Wednesday morning the snow piled down in large, sticky flakes which melted into wakes of slush on the sidewalks and roads, choking traffic. Behind me on the bus, some woman with a smoker’s deep voice yakked on her cell phone the entire half hour ride into the city center. She interrupted her conversation to comment, with swear words, on the two occasions when the bus tires spun in the slippery slush. I wished she’d shut up.

I am usually patient on public transportation and was amused by the class of middle school kids that came aboard right after my stop, dishing out swear words of their own. (I realized with a bit of sadness that youthful shock and awe just doesn’t work when the parental generation talks the exact same way.) I wasn’t able to be patient with the cell phone addict behind me. Perhaps because I had a head cold and should have stayed home; perhaps because her conversation was the most boring stream of words I’ve ever been forced to eavesdrop on.

And her complaint about the spinning tires, delivered as just another stream of words, interfered with my daydream of excitement. Rrrrrrr, growled the spinning tires. What if the bus doesn’t make it up the hill? Rrrrrrr. What will the bus and its full load of passengers (the school kids had to stand) do if we can’t move? Rrrrrrr. What will I do if I’m late for my class? I pulled out my own cell phone to text a message to that effect. Rrrrrrr. The tires spun the slush away and got traction on a bare bit of pavement.

In town, I discovered that the beautiful stone pavement at the city light railway stop was slippery with snowy mush. A thought about city planners who seem to forget about local climate flashed in my mind, only to be drowned out by the necessary focus on where to put my feet.

I crossed the main town square, wide, flat, white. Another expanse of stone pavement, another thought about city planners and climates.

At any rate, I made it to class with time to spare, as another student was later than I was.

Thursday the snow came a bit earlier in the morning, so I figured the roads would be cleared by the time I left home, so I counted on taking the same bus as the day before.

I arrived at the bus stop in time to see the pick-up truck with its plow share clearing off the last meters of sidewalk on our side.

The bus arrived a bit earlier than the day before, and there were no school kids. But there was a woman behind me, talking on her cell phone. A younger, fairer voice than the day before, exchanging information about where to meet, and hanging up, which was more pleasant to my ears than a discussion about discounted dinettes.

The tires had no problems with grip and I got off the bus in town after the schedule’s stated 20 minutes. I still had to watch my step on the stone pavements, but yesterday’s huge puddle from melting snow was no longer blocking the pedestrian crossing at the last intersection I had to cross.

Friday morning offered up a snow blizzard in the morning. Tiny, pointy grains of snow were whipped in every direction. I swapped from the hooded raincoat and down-filled coat of my previous mornings to a wool coat and umbrella. Just when I thought I’d figured out which way to hold the umbrella, the wind shifted and pin-pricks of snow came at me from two new directions.

The bus ride into town had a pleasant ambience, thanks to the conversation held between a couple of young women. It was like sitting in a cafĂ©, and the sort of background noise I like. It’s how buses are usually supposed to sound, when not filled with commuter silence. One-sided cell phone chatter just doesn’t do it.

The smooth ride into town meant I met a green light at my first intersection, found a dry spot past the light railway’s stone pavement, and headed for the town square for a third time. The day before, the city had started to plant daffodils in the huge planters on the square, and now the poor plants were getting covered in white. The square itself looked like someone had spilled powdered sugar on it. The wind was whipping snow into tiny drifts, creating circular bald spots in between.

As I rounded my last corner before my last street to cross, one of the old regulars - I’ve always assumed he is an alcoholic - asked me for money. I had no small bills, so apologized. What I really wanted to do was lend him my umbrella. How could he stand in that blizzard, hatless, gloveless, scarfless? One of my classmates said the old geezer had an apartment. Her tone suggested that he was not to be pitied. My reaction, though, was relief: Nice to know that he does have a roof over his head. I mused to myself why he would panhandle on the street if he had a home, and concluded that he’d been doing that for as I long as I lived in Bergen, so it was his “job”.

The weather was far more favorable on my way home. I passed more beggars on the street, but the best was the old man coming off the bus. I never saw someone so ragged and dirty: His clothes and his rucksack had holes, he used a piece of rope as a belt and his long, white hair was so matted it looked like dreadlocks. What a vision! I started to stare, then remembered my manners and tried to look away.

He stopped in the doorway for a moment, blocking the passengers behind him from getting off, and of course, passengers from getting on. He paused there for so long that he ended up getting everyone’s attention, including mine. And when he did, he grinned widely at us, shaking his dreadlocks, pleased with his “performance”, and got off. I had to smile.

I really enjoy taking public transportation.