You all know that LA is a car city. If you don’t have one, you’re pretty much screwed. Or, you’re on the buses.
Paul and I live near the intersection that just about every bus in town goes by. Being right near the largest college in town does have its advantages. So unlike a lot of people in LA, we actually can get to loads of places from our home sans car.
But I do remember my reaction, way back when we first started dating, when Paul told me that he’d taken the bus down to Venice to see me; I wondered if he had been standing in the sun too long. Any other city in the world, I’d think nothing of it. In fact, every other city in the world I live in I never drive.
But here in LA, if someone says they take the bus, you wonder if you should offer them some change or a hot meal.
I actually found that a freelance job I was doing was on a bus route. And so for a month, I took the big red and orange rollers every day to and from work. And each day I’d think, wow, this is great, I should do this more often.
On buses, I see people here that I never see anywhere else in LA. The upshot of all that time spent in cars is that if you don’t live in the same hood, shop at the same shops, go to the same gym you will never meet. It’s just like Crash, the movie.
And crash into a bunch of different folk, I most certainly do as I ride the social chariots of this fine city. Which has given rise to a bunch of stories that are my public transport’s greatest hits.
1. Jesus Rides
I met Jesus at the bus stop. No, not that Jesus. No, not even a Latino guy. This guy was black, had three teeth and was a little out of his mind, but in a nice way. He looked like he was a model back in the day who never made it home again after a runway show in 1989. He was obviously homeless but styling it up none the less.
So, Jesus is quite keen for a chat, because it turns out that he’s a psychic so he tells me.
Jesus: So what do you do that you walk into rooms and command them?
Jesus: You do rooms, I see it. So what is it, some kind of writing thing? I think it is.
Me: Well, I guess so. I write screenplays and I’m a copywriter in advertising too.
Jesus: There it is, boy. There it is.
Jesus stares me down, he’s looking hard for something.
Jesus: You need to wear more purple. Yeah, more purple. Like a scarf or something. Yeah, a scarf that you just… (makes a flamboyant tying/throwing gesture round his neck) like that! That’s the shit you need. Bring you good luck.
Me: Thanks Jesus! I gotta go mate, that’s my bus.
Jesus: Alright now! God bless!
Me: You mean Dad bless right?
Jesus looks at me flatly.
He waves me off dismissively as I think about how homeless crazy humor and social norms are probably very different to mine.
2. Cross your fingers.
A very large black man is sitting right in front of me. He’s got dreads down to his waist and oxywelder shades on. He’s totally cool, till the bus stops and on gets this white guy. The white guy gives the black guy a kind of odd once over. The kind that probably warrants a “what do you want” look back again.
But instead, the guy in front of me decides to up that to a “what amount of hell do you want me to visit upon you” course of action.
He starts mumbling. Then it slowly forms words. Then it sounds like he’s summoning, like a low rumbling prayer that’s building up steam. I have flashbacks to the first Ghostbusters film.
By now, other people on the bus have begun to watch this guy as well, wondering what’s going to come next.
Then he takes his fists, extends the middle fingers of both of them in the direction of the white guy that slighted him, and the incanting rises to another whole level. The bus driver looks back in the mirror. I wonder what the line is where he has to get out of his seat and break it up.
Fingers then decides that he’s going to call down the heavens. He overlaps his fingers to make a crucifix and holds it forth like a vampire slayer. He’s out of his seat now and slowly approaching the white guy, who all the while has been doing his best to ignore him.
But there’s no ignoring a huge man, speaking in tongues and holding his cruci-fuck-you-fix a couple of feet from your face.
In a bold move of self-preservation, the white guy is up, pretending it’s his stop and bails off the bus. With victory assured, Fingers is back in his seat and looking out the window again.
Apparently you have to breathe fire to get a bus driver to tell you to tone it down in LA.
3. Wino Joe
Homeless drunks are a permanent fixture on the sidewalks here in LA, so it’s no surprise that they get around on the buses. The thing is that when you don’t have a home, you have to bring all your stuff with you. Every trip is basically a whole move.
Wino Joe got on the bus one day when I was traveling to work. First he got on a couple of garbage bags, then a few more VONS bags. Then the last two. He piled them up in stages on the disabled seats, then plonked himself down next to them.
He didn’t pay and the driver didn’t argue. This driver also knew to pick his battles.
Then Wino Joe got all the way around the bus. Oh no, he didn’t move to do this. He didn’t have to. The smell of his collection of treasures managed to work its way into every nook and cranny. The windows opened up like a Mexican wave down to the back of the bus.
But no one got off, no one complained, no one said boo. And Wino Joe reveled in it. He stared out the window at the city going by and I thought, it’s probably been years since he was in a car, he gets to go around the city and no one hassles him. The bus is like a little slice of heaven.
I hope his new digs are better than the old. And that he chucks those bags away.
4. The guy with the titty t-shirt
You see a lot of “fashion” on the bus, that could be a whole post on its own. But there was this one guy, this one day.
He’s early 20’s, white, blond hair, blue eyes, and chubby. OK, cool. But he’s wearing this white T-shirt that he’s cut the sleeves off of, then cut the arm holes down to the waist band. It’s like the world’s skimpiest poncho.
This is matched with tight black jeans tucked into cowboy boots.
As he passed by and his movement caused the fluttering of the homecut top, the entire bus was treated to the nipple and ripple show. My imagination never stirred, I couldn’t not know everything that was under that cotton.
I’m not a body fascist, live and let live. However, even if you can slice cheese on your abs, don’t leave home dressed like a stripper. On one hand I admired his flying in the face of body beautiful LA. On the other hand, every time I think about it, I feel something that’s half way between a head scratch and a shudder.
5. Banger Bingo!
So there’s a Latino guy sitting on the bus on the long strip of seats that runs down the wall on one side. Shaved head, goatee, black T-shirt, baggy jeans, lots of tats, baseball cap.
I didn’t think much of it. Until…
Another Latino guy round the same age, gets on the bus and sits a couple of seats down from the first guy. Shaved head, goatee, black T-shirt, baggy jeans, lots of tats, baseball cap.
That’s funny, I thought. They don’t even look at each other. In fact, now I notice that they both sit slumped and cross armed. I wonder if I can snap a photo.
Then a third Latino guy gets on. Shaved head, goatee, black T-shirt, baggy jeans, lots of tats, baseball cap. C’mon. Really?
He takes a seat in between the first two guys, slumps, crosses his arms. They even have identical looks on their faces. None of them think it’s odd at all.
I mean, if I sat down on a bus and saw some white middle-aged guy with Asian Math Student glasses, designer jeans, an over-thought purple neck scarf and some ridiculous black bag, I’d look. I’d probably make an attempt at an unsaid yet mutually acknowledged joke.
If I saw two, I’d start a band.
But that’s me.
And as funny or dumb or unpleasant or weird as some of these bus rides have been, I know nothing nearly as interesting would have happened in my car.
Thank you buses of LA, you’re the greatest buck fifty show in town.