gall and gumption

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quiet Desperation

Overslept. Stopped at Union Station for the post office. Back down to the platform to continue on the Metro, the train that pulled into the station had a sick passenger on it and was being offloaded. No one was to get on. Took a cab the remaining distance to the office (got caught in traffic and had to take a detour) and on the way saw this which was, it turns out, one block from my office and was over by the time I finished another errand, a cashier's check at the bank and the teller made two errors and had to redo the whole thing. And for some unfathomable reason this nice lady at the office, when I finally got here, a lady I don't know at all, started chatting away at me in the friendliest manner possible, quite charming, in Portugese. She was paying me compliments a plate I was holding. It wasn't my plate. I managed to smile and say, "Si," and escape. I'll be out of here for good before she finds out that I don't speak Portugese. My Ethiopian taxi driver's comment when I wondered about the cause of the smoke: "There are all kinds of people. Every morning when I wake up I thank God I am alive."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Natives Know it as "The Caribbean"

Wonder how long it will take them to fix it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bus Ride 2

My days begin in sorrow and woe and regret. I wake up between 2 and 4 a.m. and then lie around and read or write in bed, and then I doze off again and wake up much too late. In other words I oversleep almost every day but not really because of the waking up in the small hours thing. Then it's a mad scramble to get dressed and take the dogs out. The thing about walking these dogs is that they actually expect variety and interest in their daily life, so we don't walk the same route. Mischa is so used to the neighborhood now that she will actually continue to enjoy herself after 20 minutes or so (when we take a walk from somewhere we've driven in the car she can only go about 20 minutes before the anxiety makes her start looking for it and then you are fighting to drag her in any direction that is not toward the car), and Sweetie of course would happily roam all over the suburbs of DC if I were so disposed, and she is always hoping I am so disposed. Failing that, now that it is spring, she rolls out her whole repertoire of exceeding cutenesses to keep us out as long as possible. But nevertheless we must press on. Then it's home, and then I'm hurrying up the hill to the bus stop.

I know that terrible things happen all over the world but the feeling I get when I see the bus fly by the stop and me still half a block away is just horrible, it is like being rejected in love, only (mercifully) it doesn't last as long. So I get to the bus stop feeling crushed and stupid. My office mate, a level-headed young woman from Spain, says the feeling is remorse: "If only I had gotten out of bed a few minutes sooner! If only I had not stopped to look for [name non-essential thing]! If only I hadn't misplaced the [name essential thing]! And so there I am at waiting for the next bus.

All this would be bad enough but what makes it worse is that the buses are at least as unreliable as I am. I've waited out there for 20 minutes, which means it takes me longer to travel the 1.5 miles to the station than it does for me to ride the train all the way downtown. What's worse is that there is an alternative bus that comes a block away and takes a different, shorter route, and as I stand at the stop on the corner of my street I have to debate with myself whether I should hurry down the block to that stop and increase my chances--but what if the 12 shows up just as I'm in the middle of the block? Or, oh it's going to be here any second now, just wait! And so there have been times when, while waiting for the 12, I've seen two 25s go by. I don't know how I keep my sanity. I'm not alone in this frustration. There's a whole army of us who face this every day. I could list all my conjectures about the reason why the bus is so unpredictable but basically when I'm standing at the bus stop in the cold I'm pretty sure it's just that God hates me.

Well a couple mornings ago I waited oh I don't know 12-15 minutes or so for the bus (perhaps if I were a more exact observer of time I might be better at catching buses), and then I saw it, the 12, and, incredibly, right behind it, another 12. So apparenty the one that was supposed to get here at 8:45 got here at the same time as the one that was due 20 minutes later. The 8:45 didn't stop, but the 9:05 did, and so I was on my way. When I got downtown I stopped at the little bakery where I get coffee on my way to work and My Friend the Bakery Guy was there. He works the register, and we always chat a little, I'm not sure exactly when it started but for some reason our very brief conversations about nothing always seem to end in giggles. And now we call each other affectionate nicknames like "babe," and "kiddo" and "hon," and "dear", and the pace of the chat is just right. So I told him about the two buses arriving late that morning, and there really wasn't time to go into the kind of detail I've given you here but I can pack a lot of whining into a small space, you know. He listened to me, and then when I was finished he looked fixedly at me a moment and then said, "You're gonna let it go, right?" Of course I wasn't, but then, well, yes, what else could I do? "Yes," I sighed. "All right, then," he said approvingly. So the only reason I'm telling you this is because of what he said.

Bus Ride 1

I got out of the Metro station quickly enough to be able to catch the bus that runs to my house. It was rather crowded and I was distracted and preoccupied and so found myself sitting in one of the back seats (they face inward, rather than forward) just as the toddler in the forward-facseat next to me began to scream. Opposite me was a Black Adonis of perfect manners. Next to me was a woman with a screaming toddler, for my sins, and this man spent a good part of the ten-minute ride smiling at the kid and trying to distract it. Not that scary smiling that creeps kids out but this sort of good-natured "Ah! There you are!" smile of recognition. It actually shut the toddler up by distracting him for a couple minutes. That was his way of dealing, compared with mine which was Crank up the iPod and Scowl. Then he, to my surprise, got off at my stop and as I stepped off the bus I almost collided with the passenger who had gotten off ahead of me (Mr Adonis was behind me) and this other passenger, pale and fat and looking somewhat unwell, was involved in some sort of contention or dispute with a signpost. The signpost was apparently not holding still long enough for him to grab it. He was fat and the sidewalk was narrow, and he kept sort of swaying slowly toward the post, grabbing it uncertainly, breathing heavily in deep concentration, and then, it appeared, he didn't know what to do next, and he'd lose his grip and have to start all over again. I watched this for about a minute and then I smelled the booze as in Whoanelly better get out of here so he doesn't vomit on my boots!, But Mr. Adonis was only aware of the struggle and not of the smell, and as I moved on I glanced back and saw him towering over the drunk man and heard him say, in a voice of the most unaffected gentleness and kindness, "Are you all right?"