Oh, No. 27 local bus, I study you day after day, week after week, yet I do not understand you. To me, you are the ultimate enigma. You are an elusive legend, renowned for your capricious nature. Many claim that you do not actually exist, that you are just a myth. Yet I have actually sighted you, 27, and I’ve tried to understand you.
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I wait for you, silent, in an area you are known to frequent. West 36th Street. I’m patient at first, even optimistic that today will be the day you trust me enough to come to me freely and without hesitation. I’m careful to blend in to my surroundings so as not to startle you away. I attempt to appear casual as I smoke my morning cigarette and sip my coffee. I pretend to be unconcerned that you have not yet appeared. Yet, my eyes dart to Falls Road, then to Roland Avenue, back and forth, back and forth. Over time, I’ve learned that one can never predict from which direction you will approach.
You see, little by little, I begin to understand some of your basic habits. For instance, I see that you travel in packs. Yesterday morning, for instance, after waiting 55 minutes for just one of you to appear, 3 of you traveled down the road in a neat row. Also, you are difficult, if not impossible, to train. I push the yellow ribbon, my request is acknowledged with a sweet and cheerful “ding,” yet you do not pull over at the next stop. Or even at the stop after that. You refuse to be domesticated in this way. I both resent and admire that proud spirit!
My hands begin to shake now. From cold? From fear that I will be fired for being late to work again? From revulsion for the filthy drunken man who just sat down on the bench so very, very close to me? I stand up, as casually as possible, for I don’t want to startle either you or the drunk. You see, I suspect sometimes you hide in the shadows and wait for the perfect moment to approach. My eyes still dart back and forth, back and forth. Falls, Roland, Falls, Roland.
I see many beasts with markings similar to your own pass through, yet these are not the animals I hunt today. These creatures are migrating to Reisterstown Plaza. It is the southbound 27s I seek this morning. Yet observing others of your species pass by...2 of them, now 3, now 4...as I wait for just one of you, fills me with a seething frustration I can barely contain. My hands shake harder. The people around me mutter curses. I silently agree with their sentiments.
I listen for sounds that signal your approach. Squealing brakes? Yes, this might be you. My hopes soar, only to quickly plummet. Alas, it is the Odwalla delivery truck (I am, for a moment, distracted, wondering who actually drinks that). Wait, what was that screech? Is it? Could it be? No, it’s just a UPS truck. My stomach is in knots. And I now have to pee.
People drive by and seem to stare at me. Hillies, hipsters, and hoodlum-wannabes alike seem to judge me lacking. They know I am unsuccessful in my quest to find you. They know I don’t stand a chance against you. They know I will soon break. Their eyes impart their scorn and sympathy.
I realize now, finally, that you are too brutish for schedules, too untamed for timetables. No. 27, you drive me to despair.
Wait, what’s that? There you are! Down by the 7-11 and quickly approaching! My cold and nervous fingers fumble for my MTA pass. You pull up for me and your brakes whine their displeasure. I offer you a greeting I believe is quite civil under the circumstances. After all you put me through, I still strive to befriend you. Yet you only grunt in reply.
You have gobbled up so many of my fellow No. 27 followers today that there are no more seats. Where I was freezing minutes earlier, I now sweat in your moist, fetid heat. I feel the bus-stop drunk pressed against me through the back of my coat as you shimmy and tumble down rutty Howard Street. My knees throb with every impact. My bladder throbs in tandem. As I endeavor to remain upright, my breasts keep bumping some stranger’s head. She turns to stare at them. You rattle and shake. I fear you will literally fall apart. I focus on a greasy spot on a window and pretend I am invisible. Most of those around me pretend the same. You wound us daily with your indifference. Yet it is because of us that you exist.
I wonder how I could have been naïve enough to anticipate your arrival this morning with such optimism.
We finally part ways and I run as quickly as I can away from you (the morning cigarette does not help with this). It is too late; I am already late for work. I arrive done-in, dazed, and in defeat.
Indeed, you are an unpredictable and willful beast. You’ve broken my spirit, stripped me of my dignity. You leave me helpless, humiliated, humble.
I give up. I’m limping away. You win, No. 27 local.
Beginning Monday, I will stalk new game.
Oh, Light Rail, please be gentle with me. I’ve been hurt before.