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My Life in Public Transportation

 Ted Jackins
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 Ted Jackins
My Life in Public Transportation
by Ted Jackins  FollowFollow
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Ted Jackins is a 34 year old writer, humorist, musician, sometimes artist and convenience store slave living in a small town in North Carolina....read more When he isn't busy basing characters in his stories on customers only to kill them off he is reading comics and enjoying the occasional milkshake.
My Life in Public Transportation
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HAVE YOU EVER had someone strike up a conversation with you in a public place like say, a bus stop, and everything is rolling along nicely when you suddenly realize, “Oh, this person is just crazy”? I’ve been through this situation multiple times in my life. So many, in fact, that I’ve grown to be completely convinced that I had some sort of insanity magnet implanted in my brain as a child, part of some sort of covert CIA operation. Let me take a moment to give you just one example:
One afternoon in the spring of 2010 I was sitting on the bench waiting for my bus home to arrive at my stop in Durham, North Carolina. I had had a very busy day spent at my regular therapy appointment followed by my usual Tuesday ritual of record release day, hitting the two record stores near my therapist’s office. My day complete,  I was eagerly awaiting the chance to get home and listen to a bag full of new LP’s. It wasn’t much of a regular occurrence to see many others using this particular stop so I was pretty taken aback when I saw this middle-aged woman with close-cropped hair and thick eyeglasses come walking up and sit down next to me.
At first, there was complete silence between the two of us but all of that changed the moment I pulled a cigarette from the pack in my front pocket and lit up. She seemed to spring to life as if she had been desperately waiting for this moment all day and eagerly asked if she could bum one. I’ve never been good at just saying no (much to the chagrin of many a therapist, ex girlfriend, and Nancy Reagan) so I handed one over without even a tiny bit of protest. As is the apparent unspoken code of the smoker who never has their own pack, she also requested a light and I waited semi-patiently for her to hand it back after lighting up.
As if by some strange magic, that stick of Virginia-born tobacco and chemical preservatives seemed to break the proverbial ice (Marlboro should really conduct a study) and we almost instantly fell into a deep discussion. Now, when I say WE what I really should say is SHE as this woman could really let loose at the mouth once she got started. It was as if somehow scientists had managed to combine the DNA of Neal Cassady and Robin Williams and then fed that test tube offspring espresso spiked with crystal meth. I honestly never quite knew what the old saying “talking a blue streak” had meant until the moment she had first spoke.
I became instantly aware that I was never going to get a word in as she appeared to dart from topic to topic in an exhausting manner. This part wasn’t really that odd for me as I had encountered plenty of people who are simply “talkers” and in those instances I am more than happy to just sit and listen. No, what started to make me ask myself questions about this lady was when she began to occasionally throw out a question but then go off on another tangent as I attempted to answer. After a while I didn’t even bother to try responding anymore and just went back to listening and asking questions in my head.

I listened to her tales of the art class she claimed to sometimes teach (I can still remember her saying that if she caught a student looking at their sketch instead of at the object they were to draw, she would take a ruler and place it under their chin until they were told “pencils down”), or how her washing machine recently flooded the apartment, or how she didn’t trust the current mayor. It eventually hit me that I hadn’t really gotten a good look at her face since she had first walked up and I decided I would be polite and look her in the face as I usually try to when someone is speaking to me.
I almost couldn’t see her lips for all of their rapid vibration with every word she spoke. Glancing upward, I found that her nostrils were flared as they fought to capture the air necessary for this very important announcement. Beneath the thick glass of her eyeglasses, I found that her left eye was not looking at me at all but instead was permanently fixed on the middle distance just over my shoulder. The right eye, meanwhile, was slightly cocked to the side in a fashion that some people refer to as “crazy eye”. It was almost completely off center and I studied it in horror as the pupil would occasionally begin to twirl in place like some sort of insane top.
Ah, but if this weren’t bad enough I moved my eyes up her forehead a few inches from the frame of her eyeglasses and found sketched across her scalp in a slightly crooked line what I instantly imagined to be a lobotomy scar. I know this is probably unlikely, but when you grow up paranoid, your mind tends to drift toward the worst possibility and once there, it’s nearly impossible to shake.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, the local crazies in any given town never failed to find me but to my knowledge, I was never in any kind of danger. However, when the reality of this situation washed over me, I  felt a chill ripple up my spine and my mouth went dry. You cannot imagine how relieved and grateful I was to look out of the corner of my eye and see my bus rolling up to the stop. I didn’t even bother to be polite and promptly grabbed my bags and stood up to approach the bus. Seeing this, she stood up as well and turned away from me to walk toward the now open bus doors. Even with her back to me, I could still hear her muttering about her cats as she moved up the stairs to board.
I wasn’t surprised that the bus driver knew her by name as we each dropped our passes into the turnstile before being allowed into the seating area to find a spot. I had figured by allowing her to walk ahead of me that surely she would find a seat first so I could sit somewhere different and be rid of her at last. There was to be no such luck as she stood there waiting patiently for me to pick a place and with the bus completely empty there was no chance of being able to sit next to someone else. Eventually I just shrugged my shoulders and gave up, finally sitting up front, behind the driver where I’d be safe and wasn’t surprised at all when she sat across the aisle from me without once pausing in her conversation.
The bus then shut its doors, began to move back toward the downtown station and the woman’s raspy voice was floating in the air just above the roaring engine. I couldn’t help staring at the floor before me as I frowned in the lack of silence. Stop after stop came and went and with each one my hopes of one of them being hers dwindled a little more as the seats around me began to fill with passengers. With more people around me I began to feel my resolve strengthen and I looked up at her face once again.
As I had suspected, the gaze of neither one of her eyes was fixed on me or even in my direction as she rattled on about Aspartame in children’s water fountains. I looked out the bus window and prepared myself for the next stop. As soon as I heard the familiar beep signaling that the doors were opening I grabbed my things and darted toward the very back of the bus. There was no lull in her speech as she continued to address the thin air as if I had never even left.
From my new spot I couldn’t help but continue to watch as the confused boarding passengers shuffled past her, occasionally craning their necks to see why someone they didn’t know seemed to be speaking to them. Eventually this old Black lady came down the aisle in the very back of the line and with an arm full of grocery bags,  plopped down right where I had originally sat. For the first time since I had handed her a cigarette the woman seemed to become aware of her surroundings as she paused in her rant to say a simple hello to her new mass transit buddy. Then it was right back to discussing the finer points of preparing microwave dinner trays as her new victim, finally settled in her seat, began to scowl, realizing that it was going to be a very long trip home..

1 comments

Discussion

  2 years ago
Oh man. I think I have met this lady. Public transportation is the proverbial barrel in which to shoot fish for 'talkers.'

I always feel really conflicted about these predicaments. On the one hand I just want nothing more than to escape their grip. On the other I feel guilty about wanting...read more that and sorry for what must be a lonely existence. But maybe not. Maybe they think the world is just surrounded by people who are their friends and want to hear everything about them!