Now that the weather is fine, I’ve been riding the bus more. The pluses are what I don’t have to worry about: Parking, mainly. Parking isn’t that expensive compared to other large cities, but I resent every penny I pay for it. Street parking is cheaper, but impossible to find and when you do, you have to monitor the app to make sure you don’t go over for even a second and the enforcement pythons don’t strike you with a $45 ticket.
So when I can, I ride the bus. It’s…an experience. I take the city bus into town, the suburban bus home. Public transit is a divisive issue in a region so fraught with racial politics, poverty and sprawl, and it is highly, highly imperfect. But the inner-ring suburbs like Grosse Pointe are among the places you can make PT commuting work, and I’m grateful.
Why “now that the weather is fine,” you might be wondering? It’s because the most convenient stop for my schedule is a good (checks the app) eight-tenths of a mile from my house, which is a bit of a hike in the morning, when the buses only run every 30 minutes or so. Miss it by a minute, you’ve wasted about 45 more. In the winter, I ride in with Alan and bus home. But in the summer, sweet summer, I can bike to the stop, stow it on the rack, then reverse the process when I get downtown. I like it a lot, although I’m sweaty when I arrive. No biggie.
Anyway, the city bus going in is rarely not full by the time we’re halfway through the route. When you’re poor and work low-wage jobs, you don’t work 9 to 5. And if you don’t work at all, the bus is how you get to your doctor, to the grocery, to see your friends. Which happens all the time.
There’s a driver who’s often on my route, the sort of — if I can traffic in a mild ethnic stereotype here — formidable African-American woman with whom one does not play. Fans of “The Wire” might remember her from season four, when someone very much like her walked into an unruly gym assembly of middle-schoolers and silenced it with a single glower. So the other day, a guy gets on. She takes one look at him and says, “That stays in your pocket. And if it don’t stay in your pocket, I’m putting you off.” I looked at the guy’s pocket, from which poked the neck of a flat pint bottle. Oh. He didn’t like that, but he knew who was in charge. So he sat down next to some other guy who seemed similarly drunk at 10 a.m. The two of them struck up a conversation that was, well, drunk.
I couldn’t quite follow it, but it had all the hallmarks of drunk talk — one or two phrases repeated and repeated and repeated, including “I AIN’T PAYIN NO MORE RENT” and “LIKE JOHNNIE SAY, IT’S CHEAPER TO KEEP HER.” If either one of these guys had a Her that they were somehow keeping, I’d eat my hat, but whatever. “I WAS GIVING NINETY-FIVE DOLLARS A MONTH, BUT NO MORE. NO MORE RENT.” I tried to imagine what $95 might rent in Detroit. (Shudder.) It seemed they were spoiling for a fight with the driver, but she had no doubt sharpened her skills on scores of others, and just kept her mouth shut. But when the guy sitting next to me started listening to music on his phone without earphones, she pointed, snapped her fingers and nodded to the “no radio” sign. And that was that.
Another day, a political discussion started between two passengers sitting in different rows. It seemed to start over housing, then pivoted through public assistance and wound up with Trump, at which point others joined in and the volume increased. The driver actually turned off the white noise of the A/C so she could listen and join in. It reached a crescendo with one of the original talkers saying IF TRUMP SO GREAT, WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE WORK FOR HIM IN JAIL? Another squawked, HE WANT A DICTATORSHIP. Others were chiming in from all corners, and then, suddenly, it was the ringleader’s stop. He stepped down and I gave him a golf clap as the driver caroled, WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COF-FEEEEE.
This never, ever happens on the bus home. Maybe we’re all too tired.
Every day I do this, I save $6 — the difference between combined fares and the parking — and gain far more in observational details.
Other than that, the week’s been sucking. I have to take my lifeguard recertification test tomorrow, and I’m-a flunk that bitch, I just know it.
But there are fun things to read. Like this, an account of a visit to some sort of Ayn Rand fest in Cleveland, of all places:
I woke up the next morning ready to learn. It was hard to choose which seminar to attend during the triple-booked 8:40 a.m. slot. “Logic: The Cashing-In Course” seemed to be the biggest draw, but it came with a homework assignment, and “Duty as Anti-Morality” seemed a bit too by-the-numbers even for me, an Ayn Rand novice. Given the conference’s focus on establishing Randian beach heads in American culture, I opted for “Appreciating Ayn Rand’s Tiddlywink Music.”
Tiddlywink music, for the uninitiated, sounds like the score to “Steamboat Willie” or a tune you might hear on an old-timey carousel: manically upbeat and repetitive, calling to mind a sonic hamster wheel. For an hour, we listened to different examples of the genre, which seems to have been classified as such by Rand and no one else. “Pay attention to the tinkling,” the lecturer encouraged us. To me, it sounded like something a homicidal clown would listen to, or what a particularly sadistic interrogator would blast at high volume to torture his quarry.
What made Tiddlywink music uniquely pro-capitalist? It has roots in the 1890s, which Rand insisted was the only historical period of true human flourishing. It was an era of unfettered capitalism—child labor, robber barons, tenements—which she loved not in spite of those things, but because of them.
And here, as in so many other spheres, Rand’s true believers heed their master’s voice. For objectivists, Rand’s whims and fancies are inextricable from the movement’s philosophical precepts—so the assembled faithful were duly tutored in the finer points of grainy music-box melodies of the 1890s. We listened intently to Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz”—an inferior piece of music, we were told, because of its melancholy overtones and low “note density.” Tiddlywink music, in happy contrast, had five-and-a-half notes per second. When the hour was up, the presenter asked if we’d prefer a Q&A or another song. “One more song!” the crowd shouted back.
OK, I gotta get some sleep. Fingers crossed for me memorizing those chest-compression-to-breaths CPR ratios.