Tuesday, October 05, 2004

On the bus, with John Kerry

I had a cunning plan to not go down to the bar this evening. (To avoid any unnecessary tension, I can reveal that this plan was not successful.) The plan was to go to the cinema instead of the bar. The film of choice was Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry.

The major obstacle to the plan's success was that, for the first time since my move to Columbus, I would have to negotiate the COTA bus system. (Incidentally if you are looking for an object lesson in how not to design a website for a public transport system have a look at COTA's website. They do not even have an overview map of the bus service.) In any normal, civilized city, one's first trip on the bus would not be too daunting. Columbus is not, at least as far as public transportation goes, a normal, civilized city. Whereas in a proper city, each individual bus stop would have a timetable, and possibly a map, in Columbus they do not bother with such niceties (necessities). Instead if you stand at a Columbus bus stop, you are meant to intuit — from the shape of the clouds, or the length of the shadows, or the number of maroon cars, or a watch and a (scoffs) timetable — when, and if, the next bus is coming.

To improve my chances of successful intuition, I forearmed myself with a set of timetables (printed out at work, of course). Despite leaving work a good hour an half before the film's start time, I still managed to turn up twenty minutes late, and with a burnt mouth to boot. The oral injury was the result of trying to eat a, piping hot, pizza in two minutes before I had to leave the house and catch a bus. For the record, I missed the bus anyhow, due to the fact that the number five bus was masquerading as a number ninety-six. After missing this bus, instead of walking 5 minutes and catching the number two bus, I decided to wait 10 minutes and catch the, round-about routed, number seven bus, that wouldn't get me downtown quickly enough to make my connection. Eventually, after an interminable ride on the number seven bus, an unnecessary mile and an half hike across downtown (and one of its slightly shady neighbours) and a short trip on the number two bus, I arrived at the Drexel East. Although I didn't see much of it, it seems like a cool little cinema.

The reason that I wanted to see this film is that I wanted to feel something positive towards Mr. Kerry (and no I don't mean 'feel something' like that). Up till last week, I'd felt a lot of bad feelings towards Mr. Bush (whom, a prior incarnation of myself, would have voted for four years ago, if he'd of had a vote), but no positive feelings towards Mr. Kerry. However, last week, during the debate, I saw a few glimmers of the underlying John Kerry, as opposed to Mr Not-Bush. These few glimmers of John Kerry, the individual, intrigued me. Well they intrigued me enough to spend $5 and go and see the film about his Vietnam days. The film was certainly very interesting. I think you have to admire a guy who comes back from a war, in which close friends of his died, and then openly, in a senate hearing no less, calls the war 'a mistake'. All of this he does by the time he's 27, or in other words my age. Hopefully these budding warm feelings about Kerry will increase in the next month, and maybe they'll spread amongst the rest of the populace.

The return journey was both less dramatic and more traumatic. The lack of drama was due to the bus arriving 5 minutes after I did at the bus stop and dropping me off 5 minutes and one beggar woman — who claimed that her husband had just died of cancer — away from home. The trauma stemmed from the window behind my seat making loud cracking noises every 100 metres. This in itself was not particularly traumatic, but it evoked memories of the Blind Bus Driver of Haverhill. This was a gentleman who drove one of the little "Hill-hoper" buses from Haverhill to Cambridge, and he was blind, or at least drove like it. We are talking about a guy who was wearing sunglasses — in England, for goodness sake — and on no occasion turned his head to the left or right, but kept staring blankly forward. Seemingly the driver made turns based on how many bumps since the last turn. He took great pleasure in brushing the bus passed every bush or tree beside the road, so much so that he broke the indicators and scraped most of the paint off the left-hand side of the bus. It was a white knuckle ride through hickville Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

One quick childish giggle before I leave. On the window behind me was the message: "Please keep all body parts away from the window opening.". And I thought, normally the sign tells you to keep your arms inside, what other body parts have people been sticking out of the window. Well, I don't think I need to elaborate further.

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