On the bus (8)

March 24, 2007


When I got on the bus, I noticed first that the busdriver had a cloth mask over her mouth and nose. I supposed this had to be because she had allergies, she didn’t like the pollution, or for some private concern.  Whatever her reason, the busdriver had a clear barrier between her insides and the world. As each of us got on, mostly ASU students, she said a loud “Good morning!” to each of us. To a one, we each responded in kind.

At the next stop, more students got on–the same litany of “Good morning!” followed by mumbled “Good morning, howsit going?” A boy with uncombed hair, a skateboard, and a Dr. Pepper got on and did not respond to the busdriver’s shouted greeting. She stopped him by saying, “Hey! I said good morning!” He smiled to us on the bus and said an exaggerated “Good morning.”

The busdriver may have put a barrier between her mouth and the air, but she would not allow a barrier between driver and rider. She demanded interaction, however superficial and prosaic. On the way off the bus, we each said “Thank you;” I felt like I had to say it. She responded, “Your welcome!” to each one of us, and to a few she said, “Have a blest day.”


On the way home, the bus was crowded, again with students. One white boy was wearing a baggy basketball uniform and had his earbuds in. Through the whole trip, he rapped loudly and poorly to the hip hop songs playing in his ears. People were rolling their eyes and not making eye contact; I was thinking that he was a dipshit.

Shortly before my stop, he changed his tune and started singing Garth Brooks’s “I Got Friends in Low Places.” Heads snapped around. One girl in the back row started singing it too. A few other joined in. By the end of the song, about half of the bus was singing the song with the boy, who was now grinning.


On the bus (7)

February 28, 2007

Yesterday evening, I walked from my department to the bus stop, tired and ready to go home after a long day.  At the bus stop I ran into another student from the Religious Studies department, one of our international students.  Michael is from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia and is one of several Indonesian students who study with us at ASU (our department has a unique strength in Indonesian religious studies).  Confession:  I had always assumed that Michael was Muslim as are most people from Indonesia.

I asked him how his studies are going.  He replied—in his so-so English—that he is working on his master’s thesis.  I found out that his thesis is about the effects the Dutch Reformed Church missionaries had on the Minahasan people, the ethnic group in Sulawesi of which Michael is a member.  (Note to those who didn’t know:  Indonesia was a Dutch colony until it gained independence in 1945.)

Michael, it turns out, is a Dutch Reformed Christian; he even went to seminary in Indonesia before he started this program.  I was surprised.  I told him that I was Dutch in heritage, had grown up in the Reformed Church, was now a Presbyterian, and probably had family members somewhere who were Dutch Reformed.  

He asked me if there were many Dutch traditions in our worship service.  I said I didn’t think so in the Presbyterian Church, but that there probably were in the Reformed Church (this despite the fact that I wouldn’t know a “Dutch tradition” if it bit me on the nose).  He said that in his congregation they still practice many Dutch customs, and it’s been hard for him to recover the Minahasan parts of their worship practice.  I asked him if they spoke Dutch in church.  No, he said, but his great-grandparents used to speak it.  Now they just speak their indigenous language.  I noted to him how my family history was in some ways similar—my great- and great great-grandparents had spoken Dutch, but now we all spoke the local language, English.  I said it seemed that we had a lot in common historically.  He said, Yes, but you were the colonizer.  Touché.

Anyway, some people came by and told us that the bus had changed its route temporarily and wouldn’t be stopping at the bus stop where we were waiting.  Luckily, Michael doesn’t live too far from campus, so we walked together to his house.  From there he gave me a ride in his car to where I needed to go.  So, today’s episode of “On the bus” doesn’t actually involve a bus ride.

(Dutch postcards of churches in Sulawesi.)


Here’s a story from today’s paper–a real Valentine’s Day “On the bus” treat for all you lovers!

Love Bus


On the bus (5)

February 12, 2007

tension springsAs I’ve said, the bus I ride is normally at least half-full of college students. Since the university is flanked by two working class neighborhoods, and the bus runs from one to the other through the campus, the other half of the riders are lower middle class or poor people.

Today the bus was fairly full. Near the front was an old Native American woman accompanied by a young white man with a long black beard. They were dirty and talking loudly. The young man started telling loud and uncouth stories and jokes. Many of the college students started laughing–a few even turned off their iPods to hear better. Some started asking him questions. The man was obviously drunk, high, or in some other manner unstable, but he was amusing the students. When his and his woman friend’s stop came up, he stood up quickly and knocked the woman in the face with his backpack, by accident, and he didn’t even notice. This caused even more laughter, and the woman acted surprised and sort of mimed that she was not hurt and that her companion was a little crazy.

Normally people don’t talk to each other on the bus. But after these two clowns got off, the students huddled up to talk and laugh and repeat lines that the funny man had said. I thought the students had been laughing nervously about the outbursts of a loose cannon while the man and woman were on the bus, but now I realized that they actually thought he was funny, or at least laughable. I had felt distinctly uncomfortable about the situation: a poor white man, down and out, possibly impaired by drugs, unusually accompanied by an older Native American woman, cracking jokes for a privileged bunch of students. To me, this felt very raw and potentially explosive. But, after they got off the bus, the students cut up and laughed like it was all in good fun–those homeless types sure are funny!

On the bus (4)

January 26, 2007

There were two Native Americans, a man and woman, probably in their early 30s, but I’m not sure exactly how old they were.  They were wearing black and gray clothes, and they were unkempt.  The woman was overweight, and the man had a pitmarked face, dark sunglasses, and was skinny.  They were sitting very close to each other sharing ear-buds from their Walkman.  He was whispering in her ear and kissing her ample cheek.  She was talking in a loud voice, responding without shame to whatever he was saying.  

They were talking about their parents and elderly relatives.  His mother, it seems, is in a white-funded Seniors program, probably on the reservation.  She said, “Those old people are lucky.  They got to go to Hawaii.  They do all kinds of stuff.”  He replied, “Yeah.  She went to Alaska, too.”  

Then she said this:  “First, they killed them.  Now they are over-killing them!  They deserve whatever they get from them.  Those white people tried to take away their language, put them in f***ing boarding schools, and all that sh*t.  They didn’t talk about ‘urban Indians’ back then.  They deserve whatever they can get.” 

She said this loud, and because of where I was sitting, she said it right at me, one of two white people on the bus.  It was a moment in which it was impossible, at least for me, not to be hyper-aware of race.  

On the bus (3)

January 25, 2007

Today’s bus driver was a black man who shaves his head and has a bushy beard and mustache. I was sitting on the right side where I could see his face in the mirror. It was the middle of the afternoon, and everyone on the bus seemed tired. A little boy sat by his mama with his thumb in his mouth totally asleep, head bobbing around with the bumps in the road. The bus driver was tired, too, and he was yawning. You know how your eyes sometimes tear up when you make a big yawn? Well, this happened to the bus driver, and a big tear dripped down his left cheek. He didn’t seem to notice it and left the wet line down his cheek. When he wasn’t yawning, it looked like he was driving the bus and quietly crying to himself.

On the bus (2)

January 16, 2007

Today is the first day of the spring semester to school at ASU, so the bus was full of returning and excited undergraduates.  I saw a young woman talking to her two friends, a man and a woman.  She had nasty fake nails on, done in the French manicure style.  In this style, the quick of the nail is a lustrous, fleshy pink while the extending portion of the nail is pearly white.  

Most people on the bus were being quiet since it was still early in the morning.  But the fingernail woman was talking loudly.  She informed her friends that she had recently busted off a couple of nails, one so badly that it bled.  In fact, she said, it bled for twelve hours.  She wagged the formerly bloody finger; it looked ok now.