Under the bus

Bus people: I used to lump them into a category, the same way we lump carnival workers or ultra conservative right wing Republican senators into a group. They are a little off and they have a distinguishing characteristic that makes you want to sit somewhere else other than next to them, either because they talk too much, smell funny, or just plain give you the creeps. Even though I ride the bus, I never considered myself a part of that category.

As I was walking to my bus stop this morning I turned the corner just in time to see my bus pull away into the traffic. “Awesome” I thought to myself and checked my “Next Bus” iPhone app. It was off. It’s never off, but this morning it said my bus was still three minutes from my stop. That was my warning sign.

I was talking to Ella, a co-worker who lives in my neighborhood as we boarded the already crowded bus that arrived fifteen minutes later. The only available seats were at the back of the bus where we were met by a very outgoing bus person. “What’s your name?” he said loudly. I could see Ella scanning the bus for other seats and then see the resignation in her body as she slumped into one of the only two remaining empty seats next to the bus person. I sat next to her and heard the bus person ask her again “Hey, what’s your name?” Ella being the nice young lady that she is, said “Ella”. “What’s his name?” he asked pointing at me and I was somewhat horrified when Ella said “Bill” Why did we have to give a bus person our real names? Couldn’t we at least make it fun and be Angelina and Brad?

“Hey, is that your husband?” the bus person said pointing to me. Ella laughed nervously and said “No”. “Is he your boyfriend?” the bus person asked. Again, Ella said “No”. Then the bus person asked “Why not?” clearly not giving up. At this point the back half of the bus was becoming increasingly interested in this exchange. I thought it was pretty funny and leaned into Ella and said “Just tell him I’m gay”. Apparently, bus people have superior auditory capabilities. “Bill’s gay!” The bus person said, laughing and rocking back and forth. “Bill’s gay!”

“Holy shit” is what I was saying to myself as I felt the blood rushing to my face. As completely out and comfortable that I am with it, it’s still disconcerting to have a bus person “out” you on a hot bus packed with people and no clear exit strategy. Ella mouthed “I’m sorry” and proceeded with her exit from the situation, which was to put earphones in her ears and tune everyone out, leaving me in the dust. I was determined not to look up and was relieved when he shouted out “Next stop!” and hopped off of the bus as it pulled up to the curb.

At this point I was drenched in sweat and red faced. On the other side of me was a lady who was completely oblivious to the situation because she was basically unconscious, her head resting on the ledge behind my shoulders. I heard her make a coughing sound and soon realized that she was not coughing, because I could smell the vomit, somewhere behind me. When the bus person had hopped off of the bus, two young British men got on and stood in front of me, the only remaining spot on the bus. It took about ten seconds for them to pick up the stench and I could hear one whisper to the other “Oi, it smells like rubbish!” I had the distinct impression that they were staring at me.

I wanted to tell them that I wasn’t the smelly one and that it was the bus person next to me, but they quickly got off of the bus as it pulled up to the next stop, which is what I should have done and just walked the extra mile to work. But it didn’t matter, I was one of “them” now. After forty eight years, I am ready to admit it. I am a bus person, but not just any bus person. I am a bus person of the smelly gay variety.

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