This guy at the corner of Venice and Inglewood had his hands up in surrender, poor guy, nobody around except me, waiting for the bus. He was surrendering as hard as he could to nobody.
Good-looking guy, too. Goatee. He could be a guy selling you a car, but nope, when the bus rolls up the driver points to the firehouse across the street, that’s where he’ll pick me up. Meanwhile the driver does not open the door even though the surrendering man is pounding on the door pleading, “Please, please, please.”
A sobering start to a four-bus journey to Northridge to reunite with my pals Miranda and Rhodney. It’s no use to pretend I am not rattled by the rampant mental illness I witness on public transit.
I am rattled.
I also appreciate the privilege of being allowed on the bus and not left behind for imaginary marauders.
In transit I often feel like the blue-eyed son in “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” What did I see? And also, what didn’t I see? On the short leg of this trip east on Venice I did not especially register the infernal, churning embankment underneath the 405. Maybe it is good not to feel soul-sick every time I see those sagging tarpaulins and miscellaneous bike parts and people either squatting or lurching. What I did notice and appreciate was an honest-faced busmate alerting me that I had dropped a pen and handing it to me before I got off at Overland. Thank you friend!
While waiting for the next bus, I saw a man in a Nissan in the McDonald’s parking lot with a joint tucked behind his ear. A jaunty look until he lit up, which made me wonder theoretically how skillfully he’d be driving and more practically about how or if he would respond when the smoke hit his brain.
Standing there on the corner, I had plenty of capacity for wonder because I was extra-focusing on not being on my phone, to make up for having been on my phone a lot the last time I ventured up to the North Valley to play with Miranda and Rhodney.
Why? Oh, I don’t know. Inertia, or else I was working on a deal that actually panned out and is soon going to bring a bunch more readers to these pages, hooray! We won’t be lonely or at least not as lonely.
Meanwhile, standing on the corner, tennis bag in my hand, I wanted to be extra present-minded. So I low-key observed the jaunty guy as he took selfies of himself and his joint and his Nissan in the McDonald’s parking lot. I felt kinship insofar as we both enjoy chronicling our escapades.
A young woman sitting in front of the shrubbery between parking lot and sidewalk started polishing her nails a pale pink, blithely adding nail polish odor to the warm smell of colitas. The weed reek, I don’t mind. Nail polish in public, though, that’s a pet peeve left over from my teaching days when I would go ahead and give kids who did that a dirty look and they’d give me a dirty look right back and so what had been accomplished? Nothing.
Fortunately, the Big Blue Bus pulled up right on time, as I find the buses around here most often do. This one might even have been a tad bit early because the petite bus driver stepped out for a breather, a fine idea if not the perfect location.
From my perch in the way back, I zoomed in on a black-haired woman who stayed outside, hunched over the bus stop bench. She was wearing a black cap, black mask and black tights underneath blue jeans almost completely in tatters. She was working hard at disinfecting the bus bench, scrubbing with something I couldn’t see, I hope not her bare hands.
Scrubbing. Evaluating. Scrubbing.
It was an impossible task that reminded me of the time I asked my mother-in-law to bring over some Windex to help us clean up after our house burned down.
When I tore my eyes away from the scrubbing, I glimpsed what appeared to be the bus driver bidding farewell to jaunty joint guy. Really? It looked that way. I certainly saw JJ waving goodbye, then vaulting through the shrubbery back to his Nissan. Hmmmmmm, thought I. People do what they have to do, and also what they don’t have to do. It is not my place to judge.
But I do it anyway. Our bus proceeded straight and true up Overland before taking a crooked left onto National and onward up Westwood while the nail polisher and a friend who appeared from out of nowhere — the way new readers of this chronicle soon will — discussed Latin American literature. I wanted to interject my newfound love of Los Detectives Salvajes and how it depicts a world where everyone cares not about money nor power but rather poetry. That world is venal and doomed too, but at least it’s more poetic. Does that help? I don’t know. You can’t just go barging into other people’s conversations like that, not on public transit.
I got off at Santa Monica Boulevard, but not before another busmate exclaimed, “Excuse me sir, you dropped your pen.”
Two pen drops within the first half hour of what would be an umpteen-hour bus journey.
They say leaving stuff behind means you don’t want to leave.
It’s true that I take solace in public transit even though or because it is unsettling.
I take solace in the all-pervasive rumble.
There is also the everything-everywhere-simultaneity of the big bus windows, your portal to the universe of Los Angeles.
The hills no longer parched as tinder but rather green and alive after a wet winter
the pear trees in billowing bloom
Reseda Boulevard’s visceral eagerness to please
So yeah despite or because or both of being face-to-face with LA’s down and upside, which is what this city specializes in, the low and the high all at once, I was pumped to be back way up in the North Valley to re-unite with Miranda and Rhodney. They’re so friendly! Rhodney gave me not one but two chewy oatmeal bars and Miranda said thank you every time I gave her a ball.
The tennis courts are clean; nets in good condition. Power lines loom nearby, like, really huge power lines, like, literally touching the sky. A hawk swooped down onto the court next to ours to remind us we were occupying hawk land. Leafless oak trees suggested witches huddled nearby in crooked hats, cackling, calculating their next stew.
Ominousness is part of the charm.
Miranda, Rhodney and I basked in February tennis, then partook of calisthenics.