Intercontinental Musings from Public Transit

To my relief, gratitude, and disappointment, I was given my first ever car when I returned from France. Up until then I had been completely dependent on public transportation and my loyal bicycle. Here’s a selection from the irregular log I kept in my sketch book of my public transportation adventures from the first part of this year. I’ll miss the people I met and the stories I heard and the characters I dreamt up backstories to. I’ll miss the community of travelers and adventurers and commuters and the lost. Traveling by car is freeing, but solitary.

Metro station graffiti, Marseille (Peace Everywhere)

Dec 31, 2013

In a lady’s bathroom stall at the Greyhound station in Jackson, Tennessee,
I found a comprehensive log of all blowjobs given in the past century,
as well as a bit of argumentative free verse love poetry.

No matter what happen
Between me and mine
We will Always be

We hav A understanding
No fate here BITCH

January 3, 2014
At the Nashville Greyhound Station.

All the people who rushed home to Nashville for the holidays have had their homey illusions dashed by family (Sherri, my talkative line buddy), social workers (unnamed young mother of Demarius) and Santa Claus’s various disappointments (Demarius, age 5) and are now fleeing en masse back in the opposite direction, to which the label of “home” has been sharply reassigned. (Home is where your stepfather isn’t, Sherri confides as she adjusts her blue eyeliner in burnt-out screen of her aging flip phone. “Every year I hope he won’t be a dick.” She gives me a hug when we part ways.) All of them are in front of me in line.

Thank Buddha for obesity; the bus to Memphis was delayed by drama surrounding a woman too large to fit in a single seat and a sold-out bus and I climbed on right before the driver pulled out. Her reward for her girth is sitting next to a stranger’s wailing 2 year old as they rearranged the bus to put the smallest passenger by the largest. Resigned to her fate, she pulls out a 3 pack of Hunnybuns, and gives two to her tiny seatmate.

The old man sitting next to me declines my offer to put his suitcase in the overhead bins. He’s just going to Memphis, he says. No point. It’s a 4 hour trip. Your sense of scale changes alarmingly when 4 hours gets you halfway across a state instead of halfway across a country. I had started to think of my 1-hour trips from St. Lo to Caen as almost infinite, forgetting that I once considered an 11-hour bus trip to New Orleans to see someone I had loved in an end-of-summer way for 3 weeks perfectly reasonable.

Maybe you can measure love in Greyhound-hours?

January 4, 2013
Church buffet line.

Episcopal Church Lady expresses astonishment that I,
widely acknowledged to be a Sweet Little Thing,
risk my ….unspecified something
to ride on Greyhound buses with some Pretty Wild Types,
by which she means black people.
I shrug and compliment the pimento cheese.
Would personally prefer to be trapped in a metal can barreling along I-40 with the Wild Types than her.

January 7, 2014
The train from Gare St-Lazare, Paris, to Lison, to St. Lo

A small listling of things I’ve seen on American public transit which I have never seen on French public transit:
Being courted with Hostess mini-donuts across a language barrier by a polite guy reading Asimov in Spanish translation. If they had only been the powdered kind instead of chocolate, he may have stood a chance.
A woman too large to fit in one seat
Any idea that denying said woman access to a free second seat is in any way discriminatory
Anyone with their belongings in three bulging plastic Walmart bags
A small child with a tickle-me-Elmo on full volume
Anyone striking up conversations with total strangers, in particular about SEC football, which in particular almost lead to fist fights

A very small listling of things I’ve seen on French public transit that I have never seen on American public transit:

Having a train compartment to myself
Aging dowager empresses in furs

January 7
the 4-note jingle preceding every incomprehensible and vital announcement in the French rail network haunts my dreams.
C G G# D#

February 2
Today I carpooled with two complete strangers from Rouen back to St. Lo 3 hours away and was not kidnapped. I learned a lot of vocabulary for organic farming. Sort of. I think she wanted me to protest against megacorporations with her. I have her card.

March 17
Amalfi, Italy

Holy fucking god I almost died. Jagged coastlines, one lane roads, and Italian public buses conspire to create something a lot like Space Mountain but without the seatbelts and with more techno music, blaring horns, and a very real possibility of instant death. A+ 10/10 can I go back?

A Sunday in May.
Evening train to Paris-Saint-Lazare
(I’m going to see my Normandy again)

The train in France has a ragged pulse.
There’s a steady ebb and flow on weekdays, and on Sunday night the tide comes in.
The tide comes in to Paris.
Students with dinners wrapped neatly in wax paper eating homemade tarte tatin
Rich suits sauntering back from seaside lovers, lipstick on their collars
(No seaside tan, though: this is Normandy in May)
Similarly untanned families in matching Breton sweaters eating the kind of fancy patisserie box dinners
That come with their own stupid doilies.

The overworked conductor always sleeps through the Sunday night train to Paris;
It’s too crowded, he gives up.
There is a quiet, cordial confederation of the impoverished colonizing the floor.
A Roma girl and her little brother making baskets from Fanta cans.
Migrant workers in from working at the dam at Arrowmanches,
At the lettuce farms in Isigny,
Back to work in construction in the dreary banlieues.
Disestablishmentarian college dropouts with dreadlocks and ANTI-FA stickers.
A broke, homesick American English teacher.

I like that easy familiarity of the ticketless.
We use the informal “you”, we pass around a bag of gummi bears,
None of us are too broke to buy Fanta-can ashtrays,
But, Frenchly, we mind our own business.
No one swaps stories. The ANTI-FAs read Franz Fanon aloud to each other.
I stare into the night and conjure up mountains and sun.

ANTI-FA= anti-fascisme

May 26
Train back from Paris airport after missing my flight back to the States
I miss home I miss home I miss home I miss home mon bled à moi me manque

DSC05714Shrine near public ferry. Ischia, Italy


2 responses to “Intercontinental Musings from Public Transit

  1. I am sitting in the library right now. I had to suppress my laughter to the point that I was snorting desperately through my hands, much to the obvious disdain of the other quietly typing, and reading library dwellers. Most excellent!

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