Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Cecile Lusby
I use public transit due to limited eyesight, and I approach any bus—Golden Gate Transit, Sonoma County Transit, Santa Rosa Citybus—with a woven ditty bag that carries an iPod with my own soundtrack. I climb aboard the bus and pay the fare while Baden Powell plays a Bach Adagio. I look around and see a bag lady and a day laborer as my ears trill to a Brazilian guitar. The bus becomes holy. Whatever happens, my ear buds buffer me from the stark realities of public life in the 21st Century.
The people who share this ride with me reflect the changing face of American public transit: new immigrants, little toddlers, the aged and infirm, crazy people, and regular drivers whose cars are in the repair shop. I always turn off my iPod if presented with a real human being. On occasion I'll find a passenger reading a familiar book. If our eyes meet, I usually ask her opinion of it, and we might swap impressions of the reading. This exchange is becoming rare, as modern readers seem to want privacy. Without eye contact, I stay silent. I suppress my urge to reach out, and sometimes I also find myself avoiding eye contact like the customers in today's coffee houses.
The changes in bus behavior are part of the new social contract: "No Trespassing. Do not disturb." Always hovering in the air is the possibility all passengers dread—-the angry patron and the ugly scene. Most riders stay seated and remain disengaged, as if a dangerous or explosive situation would defuse itself without active attention or audience participation. The earphones or the dangling white wires send the message, "Owner preoccupied" or "Please do not mistake me for someone who cares."
The problem I most frequently encounter is not so much danger as rudeness—-loud cell phone users or couples arguing. Cursing on public transit is now done full voice, but I am barely disturbed when plugged in. When I first noticed some people's ear buds were not attached to an MP3 player, I recognized the new potential for posing as a music listener to head off any conversation or contact. Am I a fraud if my headphones are in place, but the music is off?
I like the music on. I listen to create a mood, and I love the lyrics most of all, believing Ben Hecht's words, "Old songs are the little houses our hearts once lived in." I hear a familiar electric keyboard playing a series of minor chords and adjust the volume to hear Joni Mitchell's old song.
We are stardust,
We are golden,
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden.
Time passes and people get up to leave. I pack away the player and adjust my glasses to find my stop. I take up my bag, walk to the exit, and make my cautious descent to the street.
Cecile Lusby lives in Sonoma County where she serves as an active Board member of the Interchurch Pantry of Sebastopol and is a free-lance writer contributing to Sonoma County Gazette and the North Coast Observer.
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