Ahhhhh, the 174 and the 41. Everyone knows what I'm talking about, right? I'm talking, of course, about the #174 and #41 Seattle city busses. They look the same (like busses). They act the same (like busses). Yet, they may as well be vehicles from two separate planets, given the vast differences in their purposes, the clientel that they serve, and the sorts of daily adventures I have on them going to and from work.
The 41 - the first segment on my trip to work - is the express bus to downtown from the northern edge of the city. You step on that bus and ZOOM - off you go, straight down the interstate with no other stops. Five minutes later, you step into Seattle's thick downtown-scape of noise and skyscrapers and urban excitement. Everyone looks and acts proper on this bus, sitting quietly and reading the newspaper or typing on their laptops until arrival. Nobody talks or passes gas, or tries to sneak on board without paying. People get on and off quickly and seamlessly, whipping out their shiny bus passes furnished by their corporate or government jobs. And at the end of their 9-5 jobs, the calm and lovely 41 whisks them effortlessly back out of that urban grit, into moderately suburban serenity and the exurbs beyond.
And then there's the 174: the second part of my commute. Now the 174 is the salt-of-the-earth sort of bus where the REAL PEOPLE ride, baby! We keep it REAL on the 174! This bus runs up and down Pacific Highway, two and around the airport, past grungy strip malls into pseudo-urban and dilapidated suburban hell. Here, you've got more than just oh-so-environmentally-conscious commuters dipping one safe little toe into downtown life. Here, you've got real people who rely on the bus to get around. Mommas with three kids hauling grocery bags; crazies talking to themselves; immigrants dressed in a million different ethnic garbs; hoards of teenagers - mostly black and Hispanic - talking loudly (and profanely, even!) while blasting their boom boxes.
When you ride this bus, you better not have issues with personal space - because it's pretty much guaranteed: people are going to cuss in your ear, shout into their cell phones, body slam you when they sit down, and fart loudly. And this bus will always, ALWAYS be late - because nobody every has bus passes to quickly flash at the drive. People only have crumpled bills and coins, and usually not enough.
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I've got so many stories from the past few years of cruising around on these two busses that I could write a full book of vignettes. But I'll start with one from last week, because it relates - kinda - to the subject of babies. And I've got another even juicier one, too - one from this very evening - which I'll save for later.
This one has to do with me in my white, puffy Michelin-Man-looking winter coat that my mom lent me. It's stuffed with fake feathers or something, and very, very, puffy-n-fluffy. Now, at nearly 6-months preggers, I'm already fairly rotund. With my mom's white coat on, snapped around my chin with a gigantic fur-ringed hood enveloping my face, I truly look like the Pilsbury Dough Boy crossed with Big Foot. And, I forgot to remind my mom that I + White Colors = Disaster, given my tendency to spill everything on myself.
So, I was wearing my coat on the 174 on my way to work one morning last week, innocently grading essays, when BAM - it happened: blood started pouring from my nose in rivulets. It happens a lot these days: random bloody noses. My whole body is just engorged with blood. It happens in class, it happens at night, it happens while I'm in the grocery store - so I should have known it would happen right then when I had no Kleenex or anything even similar to Kleenex, AND had my mom's gleaming puffy white coat snapped around my chin.
First, of course, I yanked off that coat, examining it briefly for blood stains - of which I saw just a small one near the bottom seam. Then, I tried sucking down my nosebleed for a while - making these deep, gutteral, disgusting snorting sounds in an effort to swallow all that metallic-y, bloody, snotty, spitty goodness. It sort of sounded like I was hawking a loogie, but a backwards one. And, being already closely surrounded by weird, old, bad-smelling men making similar phlegmy coughing sounds (and even spitting directly onto the floor of the bus, I might add), I didn't feel so bad about joining the chorus of 174-sounds.
But sucking down a bloody nose can only get you so far, as all you chronic nosebleed-havers can attest. I really, really, really needed a tissue.
There was a brief break in the blood flow, so I used that time to rummage frantically through my bag for an old napkin or a piece of cloth, an antique American flag, a Maxi-pad, a banana peel, an envelope, a magazine, SOMETHING I could use to catch blood from my nose. But there was nothing but pens, a jump drive, a tube of chapstick, and a bunch of keys on a key chain. Nothing that would do me much good. And with my newly cropped hair cut, I couldn't even use my dark brown tresses of hair as a makeshift hankerchief (ahhh, how I miss the days when I could use my hair as emergency dental floss!).
With a long while still to go on my trip, I had to resort to the one and only thing that could be used to scrape blood off my upper lip: my student essays, of course. I rifled through them and found one with just half a sentence or so on the last page, ripped it out of its staped position, crumpled it up, and there it was. My pointy, sharp, totally uncomfortable excuse for a Kleenex.
But hey, it worked. And I'm pretty sure that student didn't know what he was missing.
Oh, one of the coughing, stringy-haired men sidled up beside me did give me a couple of long stares - I could feel his eyes on me. But I didn't mind. I felt like one of them: part of the proud, gritty 174 crew!
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Coming soon: tonight's completely and utterly different encounter on that OTHER bus, the 41.