catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 19 :: 2006.10.20 — 2006.11.03


Route 6: Eastown/Woodland

sad to see
a trash bag full of recyclables
mums that never bloomed this fall
an elderly woman whose nose is being devoured by cancer

is there a commonality of evil here
or just a coincidence of neglect?
yes, and a commonality of cloud and rain and coolness
that binds my perception to sorrow.

I walk the four blocks to the bus stop, slowly becoming familiar with the route after our move to a new town.  It's pumpkin-smashing season and every time I see the cracked and rotting orange flesh, I always think of the people in Africa who would be grateful for the produce we so flippantly destroy each fall, who work so hard to coerce vines to sustenance in drought. 

Flippancy—it's an attitude we've been trying to avoid by leaving the car in the driveway, collecting our quarters and taking the bus to work, for the sake of community: human and animal and plant and molecule.  Though the city is smaller, the bus routes fewer, it still recalls for me commuting two hours by elevated train for my last semester of college.  I'd get on the "el" at 87th Street on the south side of Chicago, transfer from the red line to the brown line downtown and ride all the way to the end—Kedzie or Kimball, depending on which route I felt like walking to school that day.  It was a study in demographics: at 87th Street, I was the conspicuous white face among fellow passengers who were almost always all African American.  The colors began to shift as we approached downtown, lighter faces, but then, it got all mixed up as we headed into Albany Park, one of the nation's most diverse neighborhoods, where over 24 languages are spoken.  It was a curious transformation, one that I observed day after day, without ever settling on a single meaning, and one that set a precedent for reflective repetitive journeys on public transportation.

Today, I am on time and so is he.  From my seat, I see his face from two different angles.  His mouth has the quality of a ventriloquist's dummy.  His route is automatic.

There is a passenger sitting as close as he can to the driver—which is not very close—who is teasing about making a donut stop in one of the approaching neighborhoods.  He slurs the cuss words that fall easily from his lips, talks loudly in a high nasal voice about last night's gubernatorial debate.  But the elderly woman across the aisle with skin cancer on her nose isn't taking the election bait.  I'm new here.  And the driver is just trying to make it to the end of his shift.

The driver talks about having redone the floor in his "place" on his day off and I wonder if he's married.  He says he went to bed at six last night so he could be up at 2 am for work and he confesses to being addicted to caffeine.  "I'm just like you," says the loquacious passenger, "except I'm addicted to alcohol."

Recounting these conversations might give the false impression of noise.  Mostly, we are quiet and attentive like a class watching a sociology film, trying to learn something about the ways of ourselves.  Except that we are the film—we are the viewers and the viewed.

Next week, we'll take the same scene again.  I will be in a different seat, but the smoking man at the bus stop will be there.  And the old woman with skin cancer sitting in the same seat, and the caffeinated bus driver just trying to endure, and the alcoholic, sleeping this week and carrying a giant Weight Watchers mug of some liquid.  And the same gray cloud covering the sky, tepid autumn air.

It's as though we're just trying over and over again to get something right.

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