I was involved in a rumble at the bus stop. Not exactly a West Side Story rumble. Ok, not exactly a rumble either, more like a small physical altercation, some screaming, flailing and a crowd of on lookers appalled at my behavior. What else is new? As it does with these things it started out innocently enough I had just moved toSan Diegowas settling in nicely. I was looking at new things to do; new ways to explore the town. I live just north of Golden Hill which is not far from downtown where there is lots of goings on. I wanted to open that area up as a playground for me to enjoy the galleries, the waterfront all the goodness it offered the tourists. The problem for me is driving downtown is dangerous. Much more so for others as I am not a fan of pedestrians in mass milling about, they start to look like bowling pins after a few corners. Not good. The first alternative to driving for me is walking but it would be about 3-4 miles some of which had some hinky territory. I wanted to walk around all day and to add the 6 or 8 miles getting there that is a bit much even for someone with a 36 inch inseam and the stride of a giraffe.
I love trains, as romantic as they are; they were out for this endeavor. One of these I will take a long train ride and get a sleeper car; I don’t care where the destination is. Though en route I might feel the need to wear a 1940 nipped at the waist boiled wool suit like Myrna Loy did in The Thin Man. That and hang out in the bar car drinking manhattans with the perfect shade red lipstick. But that was not today.
So with that retro-adventure off the list I was up to try the bus. There is a number 2 bus that runs right outside my apartment and I decided to research it and see what the route was, how much it costs. What an average person would think encompasses all the key data one must know for a successful bus experience. I hate being the dolt standing at the platform at the front of the bus fumbling for cash, tokens and route maps with a line of tired, hungry folks queued up behind me. I find it very uncomfortable to be the center of attention especially with strangers and then there is the whole bumble, fumble witness aspect that turns me beet red. The bus went to the heart of downtown where I wanted to go and all the way to harbor drive so I could get to prime walking territory. I was thrilled and hey it was a new adventure and very green. I have taken loads of buses when I lived in Manhattan, I even took a local city bus in Phoenix when I had 5 hours to kill on a layover, but I had never taken a bus in California in all the times I have lived here. I am not counting my adventures on Grey Hound fromPensacolatoNew Orleanshere because that is a whole other kind of bus trip; we are taking city bus only.
I like to be a passenger, I enjoy taking in all the scenery of daily life as I move past. Being single and chaufferless I rarely get to indulge. I can be distracted easily as a driver (not something I am proud of), but what I am proud of however is I hardly hit things because of it. So riding around on a bus to see the sights is very appealing. I get my change ready for the ride and wander out to the bus stop and wait. No more than 5 minutes later the bus comes, I climb up the steps and try to put my quarters in the change hookey dookie( this may or may not be a technical term). The change is not registering; the driver looks up and says forget the rest of the money it’s on the fritz sit down. Score! I get a sale price for my first trip on aSan Diegobus. I get a seat and watch the world go by. I make note how and when folks pull the cord for stops, I get familiar with the culture when my time comes. Again this is a little nerve wracking because I am shy and klutzy so doing something as to not invite conversation with strangers is key. I know I am hyper-vigilant; I like to know the answers before someone asks the question. I want the least amount of muss and fuss going through life. I also know that life is not orderly, linear or neat. It is not fair, it frequently does not make sense, and I need to go with the flow as upstream is futile. So that being said I travel along to my stop downstream and successful disembark at the harbor. Here I start a wonderful day of exploring San Diego complete with a long walk at the harbor, taking pictures, finding a great seafood place and end with a movie I wanted to see at a downtown cinema I love. I am feeling happy and smug my bus trip worked out so well. Yes, too soon to feel smug you might say, and you would be right.
I wander back to the Broadway bus stop I had scoped out on the ride down to the harbor and see it is starting to fill up. I am downtown later than I planned as the sun is setting I am getting really cold. The day was hot when I started so my shorts, sandals and sleeveless shirt were perfect, now with the sun dipping behind the building it was getting nipply for sure. I waited for the bus pacing a little to keep warm. There were construction workers, students, and all kinds of folks starting to gather as we waited and waited for the bus. There was no bus in sight. Standing there pacing trying to keep warm I watched an very elderly woman in a wheelchair with arthritic crippled hands struggle to get her jacket out of a small pouch and try to put it on. I watched her for about 7 minutes struggly struggle that only the truly uncoordinated can fully appreciate. She looked to be in her 80’s and in rough shape. As I watched I saw her jacket slipped out of her claw like hands and fell to the sidewalk. I stepped up and bent over to give it back to her I had wanted to help all along but had restrained myself. As I touched her jacket she let out a wail and started shouting.
“Stop, stop, don’t steal my jacket, get your hands off” she screamed in a four pack, one quart of bourbon voice.
Stunned I let the jacket fall onto her lap. I stared at her shocked at her shrieking and windmill type motions her arms in an attempt to strike me and secure her jacket. I was only just starting to stand straight when her windmill motion and the energy of her screaming tipped back her wheelchair sending her bird like cranium toward the sidewalk. I was startled enough to take a step back as the screaming and flailing and was no near to help right her even if she could let me close. Her trip backward had not registered with my friend as she was not only enraged but it was now clear to me mentally ill. I had seen her as old, true, disabled yes, but this was unanticipated. As I imagine mental illness always is from a distance. Both the construction workers who I had spotted earlier rose from the bus bench and stopped the backward progress of the chair unnoticed, lucky them, by the crone. All eyes were on me, the jacket thief. She calmed down slightly as I backed away trying to avoid contact with the now 20 or so folks standing waiting for the bus. Evidently I was chanting “I’m sorry” as I backed up. The heat in my face was near nuclear and I was shaking. I took a deep breath as I was starting to get light headed as another old woman came up to me. Oh great I thought here is round two, they are tag teaming me.
“Dear you can’t help them sometimes you just have to leave them alone. They don’t understand” she smiled broadly with her three teeth.
“I get that now” I muttered and shook my head. I smiled and stepped closer to the construction workers. They were looking at me with smiles too. We laughed as I shrugged. The one of the guys starts patting his pockets down and looks at me sharply.
“Hey where’s my wallet?”
“If you had your coat in it I might have been tempted”. There was laughter all around and then they focused on my feet each of which displayed a brightly colored sponge bob band aid clearly visible through my sandals.
“What happened there?” one pointed.
“A different miscalculation” I smiled and slid away from my new friends shaking my head.
The bus lumbered up 10 minutes later just shortly after the stares had stopped sizing up the jacket thief. As I stepped up into the bus the old adage “no good deed goes unpunished” was running loops in my head. I found a seat and stared out the window trying to breath. The wrath that was unleashed was so unexpected it hit me physically, what can I say I am a delicate flower. Sure externally I am 6 1”, fit, strong and have my moments of clarity and intelligence. I however got into a physical altercation with a mentally ill disabled woman twice my age and she kicked my ass.
I am also learning disabled, I am dyslexic and dysgraphic and probably a few other things as of yet undiagnosed. I hated school and was set apart, not on the short bus per se mostly because we lived too close to the school, so I was a walker. This is one of the things that got me here today, this walking thing. And in the end, when everyone else at that bus stop knew that the answer was to walk away from the crazy lady I finally earned my seat on the short bus …
I was all by myself.