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May 20, 2024

Return Fare

By Michael Price

"A very good day to you, my good man."

Late March in Minnesota can get to be a little sloppy in the waiting-patiently-at-the-bus-stop department so I had, in advance, de-crudded my black high-top Chuck Taylors at the curb, in complete and sopping wet utter denial of the pre-spring Popsicle-toes-chill that I, once again, found myself enjoying not so much, prior to the day's sloshy three step assent into transit heaven. I had my Walkman silenced and bus card drawn upon boarding. Perfect timing but, of course, I had been handling the gas saving gig for years.

"Yo, man, turn yo' radio off," timbred the bus driver, impressively so.

"Ah, but it isn't on, dear sir."

The Fat Albert of the Metro Transit world looked at me as if I were everybody else, responded not, and sat there, an obvious strength of his, apparent to anyone with eyes.

I offered an ear bud, smiling. "Would you care to ... "

"No, man. Take a seat."

The man was a bass -- a great big, African-American bear of a barber shop bass. The real cool sounding kind, Lou Rawls on 'roids, the kind of guy that used to scare the crap out of me when I was a creature every time he opened his mouth. When the gas pedal was abruptly administered a little extra front paw, I awkwardly fell into an acquaintance of sorts with the metal restraining pole on my left while groping for a pocket in which to stuff my card.

"Thank you so much," were the words I chose, wisped with sarcasm, massaging my right shoulder and elbow (a keen sense of public tact prevented me from rubbing an entirely different anatomical appendage, slightly south of there), while straightening, composing myself. The tightly parka-framed cherubic face in the front seat, hanging on for dear life to its grown-up, apparently derived mild humor from my slapstick balancing act, giggled briefly, and snotted considerably longer than that, both in real time and actual length of drippage, unashamedly dampening its Flintstone snowpants from above. The big bear-driver grinned at me in his rear-view mirror. Our eyes met.

Theretofore, I had not been aware that members of familia ursidae were capable of such facial glee.

This particular male of the species was.

"Hey, y'all, check it ooouuut, this 'ere next stop is Fairview Avenuuuuuue," he boom-miked at the very bottom of his voice, the words resonating impressively throughout the capacity challenged, extra long double-bus, jump-startling the poor passed-out sot draped obliviously over the two seats directly across from junior-giggle-booger and matron, as I aisled back. It was predominantly your typical pre-work morning crowd that professionally ignored me from both sides, human senses effectively distracted by their daily a.m. fix of FM jock-talk, newspapers, sleep, or any combination thereof. One exception of a young fellow was having a quiet but amorously animated conversation with a sweet young thing that, as far as I could tell, wasn't actually on the bus. He was sitting alone -- no surprise there. I opted for and settled into a seat a little over halfway back, just on the other side of the bendy part of the long bus -- the part with the accordion walls and that damn turntable floor that always makes life so entertaining if you just happen to be standing on it during sharp snaking turns, because it's the only place on the bus that there aren't any metal poles or hand holds to hang onto, which is really stupid because that's the one place there definitely should be something to grab onto to avoid looking like you've been sucking 'em down non-stop since Saturday afternoon's ballgame-and-brewskis-weekly-reunion-with-the-ex-jock-pals down at Happy Hour Central ... but perhaps I have digressed. At any rate, I ended up sitting kitty-corner across the aisle from a couple that didn't get a room that day, unfortunately. I watched for a while; pretty PG-13 stuff for seven-fifteen in the morning. I unzipped my bright yellow Family Guy faux-fur-lined windbreaker (Brian-logoed, of course), dug out a book from my backpack, de-bookmarked, and got on with it.

Ah, Vonnegut.

"What are you reading?"

My chosen window-seated mate was quite attractive and smelled recently bathed, two of at least three good reasons to sit next to her. A standing room only crowd was only an estimated stop or two away. I silently flashed the book cover and smiled.

Might have been the other way around.

"Oh, I think I like him," she purred.

"As do I ... which you undoubtedly have guessed by now," I cutesied amiably, to no reaction, "seeing as how I carry it with me." Nothing. "And, you know, because I'm reading it."

"I prefer reading books that I like. Books I don't like are boring."

I kept smiling, but remember, she looked and smelled good.

"I'm Jainee."

"Mike," with no handshake, simply pleasant acknowledgment.

"With two e's."

"I think I knew that." Back to the book.

"How could you have known ... "


The bear-driver had resoundingly P.A.'d a five-second-plus reverberation of a pirate-esque bass trill that forced me to look up. Hell, damn near everybody did, that sucker was loud.

Hmm, I mused; I had never before heard of that street, not on this route.

My seatmate shot a puzzled glance my way which, actually, didn't change her overall appearance a great deal. The little kid up front re-giggled. Another aspiring kindergartner joined in the levity, a few rows in front of us.


And another, across the aisle from the one-man romance plan.

"What was that?" Jainee mindlessly probed. The less annoyed of our busmates re-buried themselves in their vices. Most of the rest of us, bobble-heading stupidly above seat level, all significantly less than bemused, tacitly what the hell, it's too early for this crap-ed in unison, while awaiting further announcements, as I was certain there would be.

"Not sure," I lied. "Hmm ... audio described Vonnegut," I pondered lightly. "It'll never sell."

"I think the bus driver has a microphone," said Jainee. Then, "What?"

Looked and smelled, looked and smelled, good and good.

"Hey, check it ooouuut, yaaa'll, all my little monst'as back there, we be sneakin' up on Caaaarrrleton. Caaaarrrleton is yo' next stop."


I used to have a friend that lived on Carleton, right on the bus line. But she worked overnights, anyway, would have been sleeping, probably, so I decided to stay on the bus with Jainee, stick with it. She seemed needy, somehow, but I couldn't tell you of what.

Carleton Avenue's dozen or so all-aboards officially filled the bus, as far as I could tell, and included yet another three-and-a-half-footer-with-mom act. This youngster was apparently displeased with the unfortunate condition of her noticeably hand-me-down galoshes or was simply P.O.'d in a general sense. In either case, she wasn't being very subtle about it.

"Whoooooaaaa, little lady, whooooaaaa, now," rattled the walls. "It all gonna be just fiiiiii-eeen."

So, naturally, the kid yelled louder, in spite of several good intentioned motherly threats. The other five bus-tots in the crowd (I actually made the effort to count -- why, I know not) were all giggling their cute little asses off, with volume. Pretty much everybody else was definitely not giggling their -- with a wide range of variance -- considerably larger asses off. The fine young Asian gentleman sitting closest to the aforementioned sot-of-the-day snoozer happily offered his seat to the mom's lap-full-of-unhappy-daughter, then all but sprinted past us to the back of the bus, where he happily stood, listening to stock reports. Shortly thereafter, sot-man woke up -- somewhat grumpily, or so it seemed -- and stumbled off the bus at the next stop, nose-diving, limbs a-splayed, into a veritable lake of puddle, even for late March in Minnesota. He lived, but received very poor scores from the judges.


Plus giggles galore plus beautiful screamer.

A serenity-disrupting cloud of annoyance pervaded the bus, and the windows weren't even open yet.

"I'm really looking forward to summer."

The world needs more Jainees.


True, with that particular booming blast from the throne the little screamer changed her mind which, obviously, was a good thing, I admit. But that made the score: amused bus-tots six, annoyed business throng ... well, infinitely more annoyed. It was no contest -- the bear-driver was winning. He was, and I make no shameful apologies in advance for saying so, in the driver's seat.

"I just bought a new swimsuit."

The mind reels.

I remember the first time I saw those "Mr. Microphone" ads on the tube when I was about twelve. I thought, gee-wiz (maybe eleven), those things are really super cool! (Ten?) I pleaded with my father for weeks concerning the possible acquisition of one; "Aw c'mon ... " was my best spiel, by far. He said, "What in heaven's name do ya want with one of those silly things?" Which, in retrospect, was an excellent question, of course, but I got a paper route anyway.

I had waited thirty-eight years for the perfect opportunity -- thirty-eight long, patience tested, possibly stage struck years of toting around my super cool, paper-route-earnings-paid-for Mr. Microphone, in a backpack, pretty much every day on the bus -- to answer that question.

" ... testing, testing ... hello?" My right forefinger and nail thumped the head of Mr. Mike, twice. "Is this on?" And twice more.

"Hey, I can hear you."

I covered Mr. Mike with my off hand and leaned closer to Jainee. "I can hear you, too," I whispered.

"No, I mean really loud."

"LOUD AND CLEAR, PALLY!" Yet another voice to be heard, male and from the rear of the bus, no electronic amplification necessary.

I removed my off-hand mute and spoke, somewhat distortedly at first, into Mr. Mike. "Thank you, sir, for the confirmation. I'm afraid I'm rather a novice at this sort of thing."

"NO PROBLEM!" He may have been late for work.


"SHUT UP!" Naw, he was drunk, too.

Silence, nary a diminu-titter. Not a word. I heard a pin drop. Jainee was sewing, now. I reached down and picked it up, handed it back to her. Needlepoint, I think they call it; looked a little like a turtle.

"Yes, about that, Mr. Bus Driver, sir," I second-tenored over the transit air waves. "What you are doing, young man ... it's not very nice, particularly at this hour of the morning, with all the 'aaaarrrrgh' stuff ... crap, I can't even do it half as good as you can. You do have a lovely sousaphone of a voice."

"Yo, check it ooouuut, what we got next here is Priiiiiior Avenue."

"See, now that, sir, is a little different, I do believe," I continued. "I mean -- and I think I can speak freely for the vast majority of this morning's fine assemblage of commuters -- we truly do appreciate it when you announce the upcoming stops."

Jainee pulled my Mr. Mike hand to her lips. "I sure do," she announced without dropping a stitch.


"And you have fostered quite a unique style, if I may say so ... "

The bear-driver had been listening -- "Thank you," he growled -- I hadn't been sure.

" ... not altogether distasteful ... "

"YEAH, DISTASTEFUL!" A smattering of voiced approval from the masses.

" ... you obviously have an excellent rapport with children ... "

Jainee leaned into Mr. Mike. "I kinda thought you were kinda, like, cute." This time she did drop a stitch or two and, by the way, it was definitely a turtle.

"It's just that -- and I want to be fair about this -- this is the time of day, for many of us," I paused, looked around, further confidenced by a reinforcing gaggle of acknowledging nods, "to just kind of relax, mellow out, as it were, perhaps quietly catch up on some news. You know, maybe listen to some tunage, prep for the work day, sleep one off, whatever..."

I had the floor. A rush of overwhelming empowerment tingled throughout my body. Nods of approval turned vocal, hardly rivaling a revival meeting in terms of volume and intensity but modestly encouraging nonetheless. The kids joined in the fun, adding a youthful flavor of exuberance to the mix. Jainee stopped sewing and did cheerleader splits in the aisle. Metro Transit had itself a bandwagon, and we were on it. The people had a voice, and it were me.

Dear Dad ...

Article © Michael Price. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-06-11
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