The Geary bus is the one that takes a straight shot all the way down the more-or-less center of the north side of the city, along one of the more major boulevards that cuts the full length across. This is the bus I am on most frequently, and the bus I am, therefore, most fond of. I have a tendency to grow fond of streets I am on often, and buses I take.
The 38 is not an easy bus to love, though. In the morning, it is filled with small gangsta children of all stripes. In the afternoons, the elderly on their way to Kaiser Permanente, and some of the elderly, they smell like they are elderly, but they talk like they are pro-wrestlers, and when you try to offer them your seat, it is as if you just said something unflattering about their mothers.
Late afternoons through the evening? It is all about the Richmond hipsters busing into the Tenderloin for some down-and-dirty slumming and some cheap hook-ups. They are loud and the things that come out of their mouths make you want to open up the emergency windows, slot their heads in the opening, grasp the little red handle and pound and pound and pound the glass up and down and maybe you should stop listening to their conversation and try to concentrate on your book, now.
But the 38, it is also one of the rare runs-all-night buses, and all night, it is populated by the souls of the damned. You absorb and admire the rich pageantry of life, as you sway under the bright and unforgiving lights of the bus and you suck in the pungent, loamy odors of late-night humanity, and you wish you had money for a cab.
Usually you can ignore the rest of late-night humanity by keeping your head down, or your eyes closed, or your book all the way up in front of your face. If you choose the book route, though, there’s always the guy who wants to talk to you about it. There’s the guy who goes, “Hey. Hey. Hey!” And you are exhausted because you just worked 14 hours and tired and it is 2:00 in the morning and you ignore him studiously. And still, he says, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” and you blink very hard because sometimes it is hard to avoid looking around instinctively when someone is going "Hey!" at you.
And sometimes, he persists and persists and you look up, finally, gritting your teeth, into the wild eyes of a man in a baseball cap and the shiniest white sneakers you have ever seen in your whole life. His feet look like they’ve been encased in marshmallow fluff. He will say, “Whatcha reading? Whatcha readin’ there? What, is that James Joyce?” He will swing forward out of his seat, be perched right on the very edge, hanging off the pole by his elbow and peering into your face.
And what do you say? You say, “Yeah.” Then you look back down at your book, because maybe, maybe that will give him something exciting to think about for the next 15 stops.
But he will persist. “Woo!” he will say. “Is that some light bedtime reading? Jesus Christ! Unbelievable, I tell you.”
And you will flash him a tight little smile, one that says, “That was an amusing remark and good job but I am going to ignore you now, thanks so much” but he will persist. “Bedtime reading? Bedtime reading, huh?” and you finally say “Yes. Bedtime reading.”
“It just goes to show you,” he will say, and you will have no idea what he means, but that is okay, because he will flop back, and pull his legs up onto the seat, and be silent all the way to
Fillmore street. Until he props his chin on his knees and fiddles with those giant white sneakers. He is, it appears, still caught on the spectacularness of James Joyce reading. “It goes to show you. Truth is stranger than fiction.” He will pause. You will hope furiously that you can continue to keep your eyes on the page. Then, he will lean very, very close and he will say, “Truth is stranger than fiction! Am I right? Am I right?”
And you will close your book, because you keep losing your place and your head is a little swimmy anyway because you haven’t been sleeping, and you will agree that he is absolutely right.
“Fucking hell I’m right.” He will pick something out of his teeth, stomp his feet back on the floor of the bus, one after the other. He might point at you. “Jim Morrison knows. Just like fuckin’ you do.”
And you will not be able to stop yourself, you will be utterly unable to control yourself and even as the words are falling from your lips, you are asking yourself what exactly is it you think you’re doing and yet you still look at him and you ask him he really thinks Jim Morrison is still alive. And you know you were right about it being a large and foolish mistake. “Of course he’s fucking alive! He’s fucking alive, man, he’s alive! Life and death is an illusion, you fucker!” he will cry, and slap his hand on his knee. “He’s out there, man, you know it? He’s so out there. You know that shit. He’s like Kurt Cobain. They knew about that shit, about life and death. Take some Buddhism, man. You got to take some Buddhism.”
And you will agree that Buddhism is, perhaps, the thing to take. And you will be relieved when you see that your stop is the very next one, and you will stand up to make your way down the aisle to the back of the bus.
“I don’t need to know you to love you!” he will call. “Hey! I don’t need to know you to love you! Jim Morrison knows that! I know that! You know that!”
And you may even feel loved, as you walk around the corner to your house, which is conveniently right on the very major busline that runs at all hours of the night.