I could see from the top of the stairs that one of my buses was waiting. Someone had just come out of the turnstiles from the metro at Harvard and was making a mad dash for the lower bus tunnel. We were both underground. He could see the bus from where he was. I could see him.
I did not want to make a run for it, however. For one, it’s a little undignified, I find, and, well, I was in no hurry. Sure, I’d miss that bus and maybe wait ten or twelve minutes for another, maybe even less. Meanwhile, there’s a copy of Anna Karenina in my bag, halfway read, which means still a lot more to go.
It turned out that I did not have to run, after all. Walking gently, I made it to the bus tunnel and saw that the bus was waiting. It was the 73, running between Harvard in Cambridge and Waverley Square in Belmont. (“Waverley” or “Waverly”, the spelling doesn’t matter. There’s even a plaque on that square itself with a quote from a local historian explaining how both versions have been and continue to be in use.) The last few feet, I decided to quicken my pace just a little. It would be undignified had I run for the bus when it was far away, but to be ambling along while other passengers were waiting, or to be left behind at the last moment, would have been more embarrassing still.
I needn’t have bothered with any rush, as the 73 remained standing there, and, I noticed, the 71 right in front of it. These two are “my buses”; they both stop near where I live in Watertown, and I can take either, depending on whether I turn left or right as I exit the house. Coming back from Harvard, then, either bus will do, but, if they start off together as they were doing just then, I usually take the one in front, as they are electric buses (“trolleybuses”, as they used to be called somewhere, sometime), so the one behind can never overtake the one in front. The 71 ends up in Watertown Square, but the two have the same route up to the edge of Cambridge and Watertown.
I don’t like sitting on the bus. There are often many people, and I just feel guilty, especially for potentially depriving older folks of seats. But sometimes I do sit. You know, very frequently I see many people purposefully not sitting. Chivalry en masse, on mass transportation and Mass Transportation.
But there I was, anyway, sitting on the 73, contemplating whether or not to make a dash for the 71, for it was the one in front. By the time I got up, it was too late, and the bus was about to start. Oh well. So I just stood near the front of the bus. It is just about rush hour, so the bus is pretty full with a crowd, the usual eclectic kind.
Plenty of young people. Students, most likely. Many have electronic things to read, or rather, electronic things upon which, using which, reading is possible. Older people as well, many with real books or magazines themselves. I always keep an eye out for Armenians; this is a popular bus route for them. There’s a bunch of teenagers sitting in the back, talking loudly. I dislike the loud talkers on the bus and metro, but sometimes, whether it is rude or not, I listen in. One of them starts playing a song on some other electronic thing. The older lady sitting next to them asks who is singing. It turns out to be one of the teenagers herself. “Wow”s and “awesome”s abound. A little further up, there are three adolescent young ladies. Are they speaking in French? I want to know, but I’m not close enough by, and I hate to stare or to make it obvious I am looking at someone. It is already dark outside (at five o’clock! But this is the north, and it is not quite the Winter Solstice yet), so I sneak a peek at the reflection in the window. Yes, those girls are speaking in French. How strange. Suddenly, one of them looks at me, at my reflection. I turn away. I wonder if she was indeed looking at me, or at something outside.
I have been on this bus with this very driver before. He is an older man, and he likes to declare the bus number and route, and the stops. It’s actually a little funny, as the buses have announcements built into them, before each stop. But this man adds his own bit anyway.
“Mount Auburn Hospital, next stop.”
I would really like to ask him how long he’s worked for the MBTA (the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority – such a quaint-sounding name for such a modern concept and organisation; well, really it’s only the “Massachusetts Bay” part that’s quaint-sounding, but you know what I mean). What makes it more odd is that almost everyone on the bus can’t hear him anyway.
“Abuhdeen Av. Change for number 72.”
Immediately the slow, deep, synthesised computer voice of the bus concurs: “Aberdeen Avenue. Bus connection.”
“Stah Mahket, next stop.”
He has a local accent. He must be a long-time resident of the area, perhaps a scion of an old Bostonian family. It could be that his folks fell on hard times during the Depression. Was his father a bus driver too then? Did he used to ride with him on long routes, and hear his dad call out names of stops, maybe take tickets with his little fingers, or return change to passengers? He is echoing his own father and hearkening back to simpler times. I wish that’s his story, so I am afraid to ask him.
It is my stop. I touch my wallet with the card to that little machine near the door. It dings. “Thank you,” I say, as I alight from the 73, on its way to Waverley.