Friday, September 18, 2009

Riding The Bus

Its late evening on a Friday night, and I'm just off my shift, enjoying a leisurely smoke at the end of day's play. This random guy comes up to me and says "Hey, bro. You got a dollar for the bus?" Instinctively, I shrug, and spread my palms outward, universal gesture for "Wish I could help you, but this recession's been hard on us all, especially us starving student types. Whaddagonnado?" But then I remember I've got some loose change in my pants pocket, and the guy looks like he really needs the money, so I arrest him with an upheld finger, while I fumble around for the 75 cents I do have to give. He palms the money, dips his head in gratitude and disappears around the corner. The wrong corner. The closest bus station is round the other side of the block.

The streets have their own language. A hidden alphabet, a lingo, a code. Its a knack you pick up, how to communicate complex ideas via a shrug of the shoulder, a tilt of the head, an incline of the left eyeball and a quiver of the right nostril. I can go through some days without opening my mouth or uttering a single word at all. The semiotics of the sidewalk. And like every language, each speaker imbues it with a little bit of himself. There's a multitude of dialects, a glorious cacophony of voices, a miscellany of inflections and tones to choose from. The same idea can be referred to in many different ways and by many different names, while retaining its quintessence.

Like the 'bus'. The bus that goes nowhere. Sometimes, if pressed, the aspiring passenger will reveal that the bus goes to San Francisco, sometimes Fremont or Sunnyvale, but more often than not, the furthest the bus gets is the nearest liquor store. Or the closest fix.

You think I'm being cynical. But when you sit on the same stoop on the same street every Friday for a whole year, and the same people come up to you every time, and ask you the same question, its kind of difficult not to get just a little bit jaded.

In the Ramayana, there's this really clever bit about a shape-changing demon called Mareech. The demon acquires the form of a beautiful golden deer, captivating the senses of Sita, so much so that she begs her husband Rama to catch the deer and bring it back for her as a pet. Rama, prince-in-exile, is an accomplished tracker and hunter, but the golden deer is much too fleet, and eludes even Rama. Long enough for Ravana, king of the demons, to abduct Sita, who is left unprotected and vulnerable, while Rama chases the demon Mareech. Eventually, however, Rama sees past the illusion, and slays the demon.

The parable uses the simple metaphor of the 'golden deer' to indicate the folly of being captivated by the material world. In the end, Rama uses an arrow, much like the magickal Sword of Reason, to 'kill' the demon, thus destroying the illusion.

The bus that goes nowhere, like Mareech, is a thing of hope. The golden deer, fleeting promise of a better tomorrow, always JUST out of reach. If only I could have another dollar for the bus, I'd make everything right, just one more dollar to get all my shit back together, to make it through the night, to make it to the morning of my tomorrow. Just one more dollar, I'm telling you man, that's all I need.

But you of all people know how it is. Another day, another dollar. Just one more rung to the ladder, and one step closer to the edge. Its a hole that never ends, a bottomless pit into which you can fall forever. Fall long enough, and you forget you're even falling anymore. Round and round the circle goes, where it ends, nobody knows. When you're lost and far from home, its kind of hard to get a grip, or to summon the will to break out of a comfortable rut. Easier said than done, and all that jazz.

Funny thing is, a dollar is a dollar is a dollar. You could invest in a decent fix with a dollar (if you know the right people, and speak the right street-jive), or diversify your portfolio with some liquid assets to help you get through the night. Or you could see that dollar for what it really is, see all the potential condensed within it. If you want it to be, it can be a doorway that can lead to anywhere. Even home. Grab it, hold onto it, and stop falling. Take that dollar and get on the bus. The real bus, the one with wheels and a driver and a destination. Ride that bus through the night, until you see the sun shine down. And you just might find yourself in a better place than you were at before.


(For DollaRapper, BlueBaglady, AngryOvercoatGuy, BugEyeWanda, and all the rest of the downtown gang. May you catch your bus, and may it see you home.)

1 comment:

Chenna said...

The blog really spoke to me, i was on that street corner waiting for the bus right with you. I can honestly say, i was there!