|Thoughts on Riding the Bus in Ottawa
I had been standing on Bank St waiting for the #1 for fifteen minutes. The sensation that the transport system of this city has been trying steadily to screw me for the past four years was creeping up on me. I had already visited all the shops in the immediate vicinity; the shops from which I could make a quick escape should the bus arrive unexpectedly. The sole regularity maintained by the #1 was inconsistency. I stood on the edge of the sidewalk looking and waiting until finally I saw it darting in and out of traffic and growing larger and larger in my vision. When it had pulled up in front of me, a small lineup had formed (a man with some groceries, two students, a mother with a stroller).
Rush hour - the seats were crowded, so I chose an empty one two rows back. Four women sat sporadically on the sideways benches at the front of the bus: a young African mother to the right, her baby crying, the stroller positioned awkwardly between the fair-box and the stairway so that boarding patrons were forced to squeeze by; an older Eastern European woman, the embodiment old Hollywood glamour, who jingled the rings on her fingers half heartedly in the crying baby's face; facing them, an older modern-matronly type next to one of those new cross-breeds of business woman/working girl types, wearing stiletto heels and skintight pencil skirts to the office; to the right, facing the front of the bus, two women with hair that could have only come out of a box, a shocking redhead eclipsed only by the bold spiky black of her friend.
The mother with the stroller, from the sidewalk behind me, took the empty seat in front of me, positioning her baby in front of an empty seat. Beside her, a silver-haired woman in a flower printed dress took up a spot on the bench, resting her cane next to her primly folded knees.
A few stops later, another woman got on. I panicked, feeling an urgent desire to give up my seat to this woman, able bodied though she seemed. She stopped to greet the silver haired woman in the flowered dress: "Hi Mary!" who sat sideways on the bench. There was nothing wrong with her; she was just fat-Obese. (Is that the PC term for fat?)
The fat woman took the seat behind me, would have taken mine had I moved. I wonder what she thought about when she looked at my skinny shoulders, staring at the back of my blow-dried head. Millions of relinquished New Year's Resolutions in one woman. I wonder if she looked.
Passing Lansdowne Stadium, the bus began the steady rush-hour ascend over the canal. Mary rang the bell for the next stop, shuffling around two mothers with strollers as she prepared to descend the bus. The bus stopped, the doors parted. Bye Mary! called the woman behind me. I had wondered if she would, drawing further attention to that part of the bus everyone was already trying not to look.
Mary flashed her eyes in my direction and smiled sheepishly. The old woman laboriously descended the bus, fists gripping the guardrail tightly. Again, Bye Mary! from behind me-a rhythmic echo in the last possible second before the doors closed, shutting Mary out of earshot.
Catching two amber lights, the bus tore through the intersection at Sunnyside like a torpedo, slamming its breaks as it passed the stops. The woman behind me dinged the bell seconds too late and stood up to descend. The bus screeched to a halt, sending the fat woman pummeling down the aisle like a canon ball. Her chubby fists grasped desperately for restraints-I kept thinking she had it-but she failed to make contact. Had the bus been going just a little bit faster she would have burst through the glass in an explosion of flesh and pulp.
Observing the spectacle from the sidelines, the working girl (for the working girl is always the dominant image; it's almost impossible to be taken seriously with a rhinestone iguana dangling from your lapel) and another woman sitting opposite her flashed knowing glances at one another, acknowledging the enormity of the disaster narrowly avoided. One woman caught my eye and in an instant I had betrayed myself, acknowledging their knowing stares.
A pretty woman with a mess of curled tresses drove the route in the evenings during the week. Truly, she had an air of innocence about her and was much too beautiful to be driving a bus. I hated to think of some of the people she had to deal with. She would often drive me to see you (remember, even through blizzards? Those were the most romantic afternoons-I wish I could have frozen them forever), and then pick me up again later that same night. It was nice to see a familiar face that I could trust to get me to my destination amidst the unreliable nature of the company that employed her.
It had to be about nine o'clock the other night when I was coming home. Suddenly the bus began to halt forcefully before stopping completely in the middle of the intersection. Looking around, I saw a girl and her boyfriend approaching the open doors hand in hand. She gave him a lengthy kiss goodnight before boarding the bus, flashing her pass nonchalantly.
"You have to stand closer to the curb if you expect me to see you," the pretty bus driver called after the teenage try-hard: her skin was a powdered orange, her hair flat-ironed, steel blue contacts in her Arabic eyes. She flicked her tongue to the side of her lips in an air of put-on annoyance and superiority as she approached the back of the bus. If that oversized Louis bag she was carrying was real, she wouldn't be taking the bus.
I discovered the most amazing view of downtown Ottawa riding the #1. Just rounding the crest on Bank St, passing Heron and approaching Riverside. It was abrupt, unexpected. Offices and hotels downtown lined up like soldiers, noble and historic. The colours at sunset are amazing, when the lights in the buildings are just beginning to sparkle.
Fleeting glimpses of sunset over the canal. Colours changing in the leaves.
On several separate occasions in the last couple weeks, I've watched the #1 go by from inside the Starbucks at Bank and Third. Well before it was due. The first time it happened, I accepted the inevitability of the situation and sipped my latte while smoking a cigarette and people-watching from the patio. The most beautiful people live in the Glebe, two young men, up-and-comers, in running spandex each pushing power-strollers; an old wrinkled woman, hobbling slowly on a cane, with flawless makeup decked out in turquoise and a matching Gucci tote.
The second time the bus passed, I vented my frustrations to the friendly lady brewing my espresso. She nodded in agreement, a placid smile smeared like lipstick across her face. She had no idea what I was talking about.
I went over to the bus stop and, cell phone in hand, scrutinized the listings on the schedule. I was completely amiss as to whether that had been the last bus running ten minutes late or the one that I was trying to catch ten minutes early. A fifty-fifty toss-up.
The schedules had been replaced with a day glow orange version of their former plain-white selves. A small notice at the top read "Times are approximate and based on typical road conditions. Actual times may vary slightly." Try replacing "slightly" with "significantly."
And me, as I sit, lost in headphones; cell phone and iPod tucked neatly into a slim leather clutch. Not anyone sits in the seat next to me, only other girls my own age, or other women who see me as non-threatening.
End of April, a rare 25 degree day, school just let out. The bus flooded with preteens... you can never tell anymore. I sat down next to a girl who looks to be my own age, with a stud in her nose and silken flax hair tied back.
Hello? Guess what. What? So I went to ... and ... was there and she was wearing a ... purple ... and ... Oh my god! - I moved seats, but her voice followed, piercing the afternoon drone.
A young girl with a novel in her hands boarded and sat down near the driver, striking up a conversation like old mates. The flow of their banter was interrupted by the intrusive and excessive sneezing of a man a few rows behind me. I see his reflection in the glass behind the bus driver's head (I wonder if it's bullet-proof?) blowing his nose.
Two obscenely fat what-must-have-been sisters boarded at Billings just as the bus was pulling out. They made their way laboriously toward the back, when the first of them suddenly swung down and sat next to me. That's my ex-boyfriend she said to the second, gesturing to a smallish black boy sitting behind me.
He asks her if she's still staying at the same place, and she says no. Where you at now? She asks. Bank and Cooper, he replies. But I'm moving to Toronto soon, get on the police force.
Yeah, I just finished police foundations. Gotta get out of Ottawa.
You're looking a lot better than you did in high school, she said over the rumble of the bus.
You look a lot hotter than in high school.
Oh. I ran into... what's her name, that works at Loeb...
Yeah. I ran into her the other day.
You got a girlfriend now?
Yeah. A pregnant pause. That bitch's got me running up and down all over the place.
French. Another pause. Crazy French bitch.
I stopped listening, focusing instead on the height of the water at Riverside, threatening to spill over onto the sidewalk. I wished I hadn't worn flip-flops.
The sudden appearance of Lansdowne from the bridge over the canal broke me from my daydream; I rang the bell to get off. I'll have to email her, the pretty blond shrieked through static noise. Give me your number anyways, was the last thing I heard from the fat sister.
An old woman, sitting in the shelter, alone. Dressed for Jamaica, only more layers (brown and black tribal printed) gypsy skirt, yellow cotton vest, floral print wrap-around under a denim jacket, tweed hat perched precariously on top of her head. As many bags and parcels sat at the base of her skirt, like a Christmas tree. She was alone, waiting for some last bus home. Just like me, on the last bus home from visiting you. We almost missed it, remember, sitting on that bench, with my head on your shoulder.
I love looking at all these people riding the bus, going here and there, going to see people they love, or maybe not. They all remind me of little bits of you - of being on vacation in Mexico, of the first weeks together where we would weather any cold to be together, of the chill when we were breaking up. And now seeing you again, the cold feels surreal. Like nothing compared to the emptiness I felt. Somehow, now, going out in the blizzard doesn't feel so chilly.
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