If I were Clark Kent then the Philadelphia bus system would be my phone booth. That sounds cool, like every time I use public transportation I fight crime. Not the case. It would probably be more accurate to say that the front doors of the bus are the phone booth because from the moment I step onto that bus I shed my old self and become someone different. The new persona I take on while boarding the bus is one of two in my repertoire. I call them Captain Hard-Ass and Mr. Meek and their sole purpose is to help shield me from my intense hatred of public busses.
The funny thing is, as a bleeding heart liberal who thinks all of our nation's funding should go to education and the National Park service, I love the IDEA of public transportation, and some public transportation is fine… outside of Philadelphia, where "brotherly love" extends as far as the curb and everything within the lanes of traffic falls more in the category of "PURE, SEETHING HATRED".
As a result I despise the fact that I have to jump into my car and drive to the store… but I also thank God I CAN jump in my car and drive to the store. Its hard enough convincing myself to take the bus when I know I'm going somewhere to earn a living, if I had to ride that sadness-mobile anywhere else I wouldn't be able to get up in the morning. Now, you may be thinking "but Owen… busses are good for everybody involved…". Well, yes, I agree with you. But I'll still tell you to shut up.
Still not convinced? I'll provide an example.
When I get on the bus I immediately find a seat somewhere near the middle, that way I don't feel like I have to stand for the elderly, but I can avoid the loud truants who seem to just hang out perpetually in the back rows, because there is nothing cooler than skipping school to ride a bus all day! After sitting down I choose my persona du jour.
Lets say, for example, I'm Captain Hard-Ass today. I lean back, usually put an arm up on the seat next to mine, and proceed to scowl at anyone and everyone that boards the vehicle. Somewhere in my mind I assume that this will work to deter people from sitting next to me, because we all know nothing is scarier than a short, white guy scowling on a city bus.
Mr. Meek works differently, that is when I pop those ear buds in my ear and proceed to memorize the pattern of mud, tears and failure on the floor in front of me, never making eye contact.
On this particular day I was playing the role of Mr. Meek. Unfortunately I had made the broad oversight of leaving the house without my iPod, carrying only my ear buds. Now, as a trained actor one would think I would be able to perform the difficult task of PRETENDING I'm listening to music, and frankly I was able to fool just about everyone who boarded after me, the normal people.
Crazy people, however, function on a different scale. So when the next guy decided to sit across from me, I could tell I was in trouble. When you exude so much crazy that it forms a palpable vapor that hangs around yourself, you somehow also have the ability to tell when people are pretending to listen to music.
I never learned this guys name, but his long hair, matted and colored all the colors of the disgusting rainbow, (not to be confused with the regular rainbow), and his missing teeth did not scare me half as much as the gigantic Sketch Book he was holding under his left arm. A nut job is bad, a nut job with a sketchbook… cataclysmic.
I was in the midst of breaking my cardinal Mr. Meek rule, i.e. my eyes were not locked on the floor, and I must have been looking at him (I was sure something was living just behind his ear), and he caught my eyes. I knew the shit was about to hit the proverbial fan when he looked over at me, all I could hope at this point was that he wasn't going to fling any actual shit at me. The microsecond before I was able to avert my gaze told him all he needed to know: that I was his long lost best friend and my only wish in life was to be filled in on what he had been up to for the past few years.
He turned in his seat, a bad sign, and faced me with all the enthusiasm as a puppy find its master has returned home. A toothy, (or lack thereof) smile erupted across his face and he muttered something that I pretended not to hear, but what sounded like a question. After a brief pause he seemed to answer whatever question he had just asked himself, and then directed another frothy query in my direction. I decided to try guilting him into shutting up, so I rolled my eyes and removed one, ONE, of my earphones.
"I'm sorry… what?" I said, dripping with exasperation.
"Where you heading?" He asked.
"Home" I replied, intent on not giving this guy any idea where I lived.
He smiled and then began describing how, back when he played in the studio for The Beatles, he knew a girl who lived "around where I live", (because my home was clearly wherever the fuck it would suit his story best). So already I was getting nervous. All I was being subjected to at this point was a booze soaked description of some poor young girl who had been the object of his attention while he had time off from recording with the Fab Four. The question dogging my lips, (about being unsure as to which of The Beatles studio albums had been recorded in Philadelphia) never had time to form because suddenly the unthinkable happened:
"Do you want to see my drawings?" he asked, pausing not even for a moment between asking and opening his book of horrors. I realized at this point that returning the ear bud to my head would solve nothing, so I decided to opt for indifference, hoping my lack of enthusiasm would turn him to another passenger.
The page was flipped and I saw, scrawled across the large white paper, two large circles with two smaller circles inside them, and down below, about halfway down the page, was a large triangle. All three were completely devoid of color, but the steady hand that had drawn these images evidenced the precision and care that had gone into this piece. This was not the sketch of a child's mind, but rather a person who genuinely thought he was making high, albeit minimalist, art.
"These are the tits," he said loudly, pointing at the circle sets and causing a woman sitting a row ahead of him to snort her iced coffee. "I tried a lot of different sizes, but these seemed to work." He removed his hand and took a second to gaze at his opus, smiling to himself for the accomplishment he had made in determining Ideal breast size. Then his hand shot back to the page, this time, a little lower, drawing my eyes. Once more… his mouth opened…
"I found the triangle to be the best way to show the bush."
This phrase was uttered slowly and proudly, as though a father was explaining to his young, awestruck son, the story behind how his own father had fought bravely in World War Two. It was said in the way a psychologist finally discovers the truth behind the human condition. Imagine, if you will, the tone of Einstein's voice when E=mc2 unveiled it's secrets, or the way Darwin's voice must have cracked so lightly when he came, finally, to understand the mysteries of evolution.
"I found the triangle… to be the best way… to show the bush."
In case you didn't comprehend the gravity of the discovery the first time.
If this man was in any way unnerved by my stony visage, he did not show it. Clearly, to him, I had just broken down weeping at the sheer beauty of his discovery. Behind his eyes I was already on my hands and knees begging him to reveal this one truth, this fact that would enlighten the ages, to the world at large. "Why?!" I was screaming. "Why are you riding a bus in Philadelphia when you hold this knowledge! Quickly, brave adventurer, get yourself to the UN building in New York, for only there can your discovery of a triangle shaped bush be used to calm the warring factions of the cosmos!"
He sighed, a long, pleased sigh. And looked back at me. Over the next fifteen pages of his Sketch Book I was subjected to more and more of his Triangle Bush Manifesto, before this grand man, this Pythagoras of female genitalia finally noticed he had missed his exit two stops ago, and stood to rush off the vehicle. As I watched him go, the sun suddenly set behind him, (despite it being 3 in the afternoon), illuminating him in all his glory, and when he was off the bus, the world seemed a darker, less beautiful place.
As I slowly replaced the ear bud in my now cold ear, forever unable to unheard what I had just heard, the young man sitting beside me turned and looked me square in the face.
"Dude… did you know that guy?" he asked.
"No," I said. "But I shall never forget him." I uttered, before my eyes once again returned to the muck and the mire on the floor of the 23.
Triangle-Bush-Man, wherever you are, godspeed traveler. Godspeed and please, leave me the fuck alone.