Ponder this:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

1965: Riding the bus

When I was in my teens, the city/village bus was the way we got to the city to shop at the three-story department stores on Pearl Street, to see movies at the grand old Palace Theater or at the smaller, less rococo second-choice Strand, and to anyplace in between the village and the city. There wasn't much in the fifteen miles between, really, except my high school and some of my friends' homes. At the city end, I wasn't aware of anything beyond the capitol building at the top of State Street. To me, it was as if the whole city was one block wide, and stretched from the
D & H Plaza to the capitol. Beyond was The Uncivilized West.

As late as the mid-1960s, a trip to the city required fixed hair, stockings, a skirt. I'd get dressed up and walk from home across the village to the local post office/bus stop and stand waiting for the stinking behemoth to lumber its swaying rounded gray and white bulk around the far corner. It would pass out of sight but not out of hearing, droning down Chatham Street and rounding the corner to Malden, and I would nervously check and recheck that I had my two quarters (one for going and one for getting back) to give the driver for my passage. It was an exhilarating innovation when coin machines were installed and a person could just board and drop the fare into the machine. I felt thrillingly anonymous to be able to step up, drop my quarter and dime (the fare had gone up to thirty-five cents by then, probably to pay for those machines), and walk down the aisle of dirty old green and white seats to choose a spot on the starboard side.

Two "bus" memories come to my mind:

One is of a fat woman with long greasy hair who always sat alone on the long back seat. She rode from the city to the town's lake, where there were camps that had evolved into small ramshackle year-round homes. At irregular intervals throughout her ride, she would erupt with sudden, loud noises: "HUP!," "HUP!HUP!HUP!"
Every HUP! made me twitch with fright. I thought she was insane: Maybe she was urging the bus onward, faster, as if she were driving a horse and wagon.
I had never heard of Tourette's Syndrome; who had?

The other is the summer that I took tennis lessons at the high school, and rode the bus there and back every day.
I fell in deep and silent love with John, the bus driver. I had checked old high school yearbooks and I knew his last name. I had determined that he was six years my senior. Sixteen/twenty-two: not an impossible span for romance.
I would try to look fit and Bobbie Brooks-perky/nonchalant while John and his bus approached.

For the return trip, it was good if it was a hot day and I was sweaty, as if I had played hard, when he picked me up. After a couple of weeks, we had just about reached the initial stages of conversation . . .

He: "What are you, some kind of a tennis nut?"
I: "I love it!" (I could barely keep up a volley.)

. . . when the day came that the bus stopped, the doors opened,
I looked up at him with a flirtatious smile...
...and tripped and fell sprawling up the steps.
I think I never took another tennis lesson.

I mentioned that old bus in an email to my friend, and she recalled The Burning of W's Birthday Pillow Incident, as follows.
"I had wrenched $35 from my penurious fists to buy a large floor pillow; a generous and sophisticated gift, I mused. In a fairly crowded city/country bus, I carefully set my cumbersome trophy in its classy store bag on the floor by my feet (on the wall side - nobody was going to grab this from me!).
Gradually, my neighboring passengers and I became aware of the vaguely smoky smell. Then of the vaguely smoky air. Then of the fact that I had sat my package on a smoldering cigarette butt, and now had a smoldering wad of stuffing. The driver pulled to the side of the road, walked back to me with a look of disgust and boredom, picked up the pillow, walked to the open door, and threw it out. Pulled the bus back into traffic, and life went on."
Oh, the drama.

3 comments:

Lynette said...

Vignettes. Thanks.

Wanda said...

Your post brings back memories of my own...I once took a bus to Cincinnati with a few girlfriends in my early teens...it was a big deal to us.

Tigerbi said...

Memories for me, too ! Your descriptions are better than photos (and sound tracks) HUP HUP :)