When I was fifteen and a half, I got my worker’s permit and got a job. Actually, my friend Becky got it for me; it was at the dog grooming place where she worked. I was there for a day. The owner told me to come in at 9:30 when I guess she meant 9:00 so she thought I was late, plus I couldn’t make myself violently scrub smaller dogs, plus it smelled, plus I had to squeeze anal sacs and it’s really the most disgusting thing ever.
By the time I was 16, my parents were under the impression that I’d be paying rent when I got a job (“you are high right now,” I told them when they tried to have this conversation with me), so they made me sit down at the kitchen table with the Yellow Pages and call any business that I thought might hire me. You know, because that’s how you hire high schoolers who cold call you because their parents are being dicks. Eventually, I got a job at the St. Louis Bread Company (known elsewhere as Panera and Au Bon Pain, but this was before the buyout/buyin/whatever) because my friends Elene and Sparkle worked there. Because I didn’t yet have the money to buy a car, I took the bus to work every day.
I used to take the bus when I was a kid, mostly because of my grandma. She either wanted to go to the mall in South County, or to Famous-Barr downtown, or to her office where she worked for a jeweler who was nice enough to let my sister and I play with loose precious gems all over the carpet (have you ever flung a fistful of rubies into the air and let them rain down on you, because I have). Eventually, my grandparents retired and got older, so instead of my grandma taking me with her on the bus, she just got my grandpa to drive us wherever she needed to go. I didn’t take the bus again until I got the job at the Bread Company, and even at the beginning, I knew that I could not wait to stop taking the bus.
First of all, the St. Louis public transportation system is not the same as, say, Chicago’s, New York’s, San Francisco’s, or Seattle’s. St. Louis’ public transportation system is a piece of garbage used by mostly garbage people. It’s gross. It’s dangerous. It’s just bad, and it seems like the city doesn’t give a shit about improving it. Don’t like that? It’s true. The first time I got back on a bus to go to the Bread Company, some borderline homeless lady sprinted up the aisle, vomiting into her hands. Another borderline homeless passenger started cackling and announced “it’s ‘cause she be wearin’ all them clothes,” which is apparently science or something. Other times, I crouched into the backest, most cornerest seat I could find to keep out of the way of fistfights, custody disputes, and the general effluvia of people who stand outside and wait for most of their day. This was before cell phone omnipresence, by the way, so it’s a shame that I didn’t see how that turned out.
All of this was when the bus showed up. Lots of times it didn’t, and no replacement bus came along to save the day. The bus doesn’t run every 5-15 minutes like in other cities; if you miss the bus (or it just doesn’t show up) in St. Louis, you’d better make some calls because if you can’t get a ride from someone, you’re going to be waiting a while. Also, it should be noted that even if the bus was technically present, that didn’t mean it would stop. I’ve had a driver extend their middle finger at me and drive on by, but hey, at least they acknowledged my presence. Some people I know don’t get that courtesy. The bus appears, keeps moving, and you’re left to wonder if maybe you’re dead and nobody can see you. And you still have to find a ride.
I think I was just about to turn 17 when my neighbor put a “For Sale” sign in his brother’s car. I hadn’t spent any of the money I’d earned over the past year, so I withdrew a few thousand dollars, handed it to my neighbor, and suddenly, I didn’t have to ride the bus anymore. Since then, I’ve avoided the bus and the people who ride it, preferring to walk, beg rides, or just keep enough money in my account at all times to fix my car ASAP whenever it breaks down.
But that was St. Louis, and now I’m in Seattle. I still have my car and I drive it when I need to (grocery store, suburbs, etc.), but if I’m going anywhere that charges for parking or has close proximity to downtown, I take the bus. One of the reasons I was so excited to move here is because the bus is so great. People sit down. They are quiet. They play around on their phones or read books. There aren’t any fights. Drivers are polite and keep to their schedules, and seriously, I am so fucking happy every time I realize that I’ve gotten somewhere because of the bus that I just want to stand at the stop and preach about how wonderful it is.
There are a few loons and stray weirdness, of course, but that’s bound to happen in any metropolitan area. Like the lady from yesterday. I call her Foghorn Crackhead, because she was a) a redhead, b) a crackhead, and c) made rooster noises in between yelling “HEY-yeah!,” “Lord Jesus get me to this Amtrak on time!” and asking me if my boots were suede (no).
Or the guy from today, an elderly Asian gentleman who sat next to me and ate like 4 hot dog buns straight from the bag.
Or anyone who says “you gotta be fucking kidding me” when the bus stops at a red light or is maybe a minute late in getting to a stop, because in a city where the system is so awesome and you probably won’t get stabbed while waiting for a bus, any deviance from the norm is just unacceptable.
I hope I get this job downtown, at the very least because I can take the bus every day and keep a roster of everyone who needs to be written about here.