Going Home


The bus was down the street where it turns around, ten blocks away, shimmering in the sunlight. All over Chestnut Street couples were out walking with their children while the overdressed girls, parading in groups, filed in and out of the shops, saying shit was cute while checking their reflections in the windows, constantly aware that they were being watched by groups of young dudes who were sitting around in front of the restaurants or across the street standing in front of the bars.

Looked like another casual Sunday in the Marina and there I was just trying to get home. Seemed like I’d been waiting for that bus forever. Although nobody else apparently was: too many cars were driving by, too many people were walking the streets, but nobody was waiting for the bus.

Yet there I was standing and waiting, the bus coming closer, and then when it looked like it was just gonna drive by, I had to wave my arms to get the driver’s attention. Pulling up wide two car lengths past the bus stop, I had to run to the open door, not wanting him to take off again. Gave the driver a dirty look while I was putting my money into the fare-box. What dude? Never seen nobody waiting for the bus before? Hell, you new at this bus driver thing?

Back-a-the bus crowded with foreigners, sightseers, tourists, backpackers, day hikers, museum goers, helmet-headed skateboarders and little old lady’s with their hair wrapped up in handkerchiefs after a day by the Bay. Coming from the Presidio and the Palace of Fine Arts on its inbound/downtown run, the 30 Stockton Bus slices through about ten different neighborhoods: the Marina, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown just to name a few.

Hot as hell in the sun, the goddamn windows in the buses don’t open any more. Probably due to some kind of safety precaution to stop you from being able to stick your head out while the bus is moving. Leaving us with only those little ones that are above the main ones that slide back, almost letting the air in, but really not enough. Closing my eyes I could hear everyone talking: bits of Spanish, Italian and clumsy English made harsh with a Russian accent.

A jolt from the brakes wakes me up, almost sending me flying out of my seat as the bus pulls off of Van Ness onto Bay Street. A German tourist yanks the next stop cord and is rewarded with the bus continuing on, speeding up, passing a double-parked cab, running a red light. Voices start to chatter, terse words in various languages become louder, revealing what I sense is fear amongst a few of the passengers on the bus. Told you the driver was out of his mind. Although a good percentage of San Francisco bus drivers do get caught up in random drug testing, instead of getting fired, because they’re union, they only get warnings before they finally have to go to rehab. But it looks like they missed one today.

Somewhere along Columbus Street, by the foot of Russian Hill, across from the Cable Cars the driver suddenly pulls over and lets the worried and now somewhat tortured tourists out for Fisherman’s Wharf. The remaining few that stay on board exchange bewildered glances as the woman in the seat next to me mumbles something in Italian and crosses herself as she stares out the window longingly at the spires of Saint Peter Saint Paul.

With a shudder the bus heaves forward with such force that it feels like the driver is pressing down the accelerator like he was standing on it. North Beach is whizzing by on my right: earlier in the day I saw an apartment there that I’d like to rent, be nice if I survived this bus ride so that I could do that. Union Street’s a blurry vision, Washington Square comes and goes as it fades into the shadows of Chinatown. Halfway home but the traffic’s at a standstill, backed up through the tunnel, horns honking as the light changes and nobody moves. The bus swerves to the breakdown lane and enters the tunnel, honks his horn and takes on the two oncoming lanes of traffic.

My cell phone’s ringing, but it’s in my front pants pocket. Out of reach, because I’m sitting down, people looking at me because I’m ringing. I start coughing as the bus breaks free of the tunnel and hurtles into the sunshine of Union Square. Something about those exhaust fumes makes me want to gag.

Exhausted I get up and push my way through the tourists, hoping the driver don’t pass up the Market Street stop. Pulling the cord don’t seem to work so I just shout for him to let me off and amazingly he stops. Not at the bus stop of course but in the middle of the block in front of Macy’s. I just can’t stay on this bus any longer as I’m coughing up phlegm like an alley cat coughs up fur balls. Stumbling off the bus into the street I spit in the gutter and make for the curb.

Up on the sidewalk half a man on a skateboard is begging for change, his one hand balancing himself, the other holding a dirty paper cup that he shakes back and forth jingling the few coins that are inside. Covering my mouth as I cough, I go the other way avoiding his eyes cause the whole scene makes me uneasy. Joining the throngs of diligent shoppers, I cut through Macy’s past the makeup booths filled with painted women. A left turn and I’m in the sunglasses section: broke my pair last week, but still can’t find some that I like. Seems as though big is in this year and big just don’t go good with my head.

From inside the store Ellis Street looks clear and I make the doors at a sprint, probably freaking security out, thinking that I’m shoplifting or something. Right on Stockton, left on Fourth I’m almost home although from the looks of it I still got to push my way through the crowds of people coming out of the Metreon movie theater. You’d a thought that it was too nice a day for all these folks to have spent the afternoon inside watching a movie.

On the other side of Yerba Buena Gardens I cross Third Street in front of the museum, hardly anybody is there, the outside café’s tables are empty, the museum store deserted. With just two blocks to go I pick up my pace, the shortness of breath continues, the air in my lungs feeling hot.

On the corner of Harrison Street, across from my apartment building, I see an ex-client of mine walking on the other side of the street. As I come around the block and head for my front door he’s standing there punching in numbers on the security pad like he lives there. Opening the door he sees me coming and smiles as he holds it open to let me in.

“Hey man,” he says, “Ain’t this great, we’re neighbors!”

Suddenly I’m feeling very tired and like I’m in a dream I walk to the elevator and push the button to go up to my room.

3 Responses

  1. Adriana Bliss

    Ha! A great punch line in this one – how well it works to intensify urban suffocation. I could feel that bus, see the neighborhoods of San Francisco, and without doubt, your inability to breathe. Nicely done as always.

  2. Green Glass Beads

    You found an apartment you reckon? I think that was a sign if ever there was one, that you have to move. Your story reminded me of a busdriver I once had who was on his last ever bus journey and decided to announce to all us passengers he was gonna see if he could run all the red lights to our destination. Some nuts out there…

  3. lab munkay

    How is it you always make icky things so enjoyable to read?