The #9 bus is one of those sleepy neighborhood routes that comes once every blue moon. It goes by some playgrounds, schools and rows and rows of houses. By the time that I get on, it’s filled with commuters, waiting patiently to get home.
But getting on the 9 is the most exciting part of my afternoon. After getting out from Studio 206 Physical Theater Intensive, I walk briskly to the bus stop. When I see the bus pull itself around the corner, I can’t stop smiling.
And it’s all because of Charlie, the bus driver. My first day on the bus, he said:
“Minnehaha. Ha ha ha.”
Usually I am the only person left on the bus, and I soon found out that it’s Charlie’s last stretch before he gets to go home. So during our five minutes alone, we talk about movies, buses, my theater workshop and weekend plans.
You’ve got to know something about me though: I never talk to people on the bus. That goes for all modes of transportation – subways, planes and cabs. I grew up in two big cities where you’re supposed to pretend that no one exists when you are on public transit. Maybe you stealthily check out the cute guy in your line of sight, but no making friends. You get on and get off. It’s not a place to linger or talk. Shmoozing with the bus driver, talking up the other passengers – that’s a sign of naivety, a weakness. The nice ones never survives the in city, they fall behind.
However, it’s kind of awkward to sit in an empty bus every afternoon of the week without talking to the only other human being sharing the space with you.
“So what you studying?”
“I’m an English major.”
“Really? I wanted to be an English teacher.”
“Yeah. I actually know this scifi book, written by a black lady…”
“I think I know her. It’s, um, Octavia Butler!”
“Yeah! Have you read her?”
“No, I haven’t, but I heard that she’s really good.”
The next day, the 9 didn’t come, so I had to catch the 7. I felt so bad, as if I had lied to Charlie or had betrayed him. As I stood at a bus stop after getting off the 7, I heard a honk.
There was Charlie driving the 9 on the other side of the street. He waved with the book in his hand, turned the corner, stopped and opened his window.
“Email me when you’re done,” said Charlie.
“I’ll try to finish it in two weeks,” I replied.
Because in two weeks, I won’t be taking the 9 anymore. My workshop ends and there’s no reason for me to ride through South Minneapolis sitting by Charlie and talking about life. I think about it and it makes me sad. More than I thought it would.
Maybe that’s why you don’t make friends on the bus. Because the goodbye is unavoidable. Why waste effort on something that doesn’t last?
I try not to think ahead too much. I do have two more weeks on the 9. I really should get started on that book.