Coming Clean

In rainy weather the bus is crowded. Fair-weather bike riders and those who would otherwise walk join the ranks of the regular transit riders, filling seats and turning bus rides into standing room only events.

One blustery winter day I boarded my regular bus, crowded with rain soaked riders.  The wet jackets and so many passengers made for a steamy environment, the windows clouded over and the bus was warmer than usual.

Soon I started to notice an odor – the unmistakable scent of cat pee.

I did a quick survey of the riders to see if I could figure out who the offending rider was.  Which one among us stank of urine?

This was my regular bus and most of those on board were, like me, daily commuters taking the bus in to work.  I searched the isles wondering who it might be.

As the bus continued on more people boarded, the bus heated up and the smell was more pronounced.

I could not imagine who was walking around stinking of pee.  I looked for a stranger, certain that some unknown rider was responsible for this offense.  Before I could discover the stinker the bus arrived at my stop and I made my way to work.

After a full day at the office I made a dash through the rain and caught my regular bus home. The ride home was just as crowded.

Soon enough I noticed the offending odor again. This time, I thought, I am going to figure out who it is.  I searched the crowd for a familiar face, looking for someone who had been on the bus in the morning.

Each person I suspected – the old man who always looked a bit shabby, the teen who didn’t appear to ever wash his clothes, the woman in a cat sweater and carrying bag of yarn – eventually got off at their stop, yet the odor persisted.

And as the bus neared my stop I suddenly realized that I was the only person still riding who had been on both the morning and evening bus.

I was the one who smelled of cat pee.

The Pissers - Jack (r) and Louie (l)

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Listen and Take Note

I am sure that I should not so readily admit this, but here goes.  I love eavesdropping on the bus.

There is something so intriguing about hearing small snippets of conversations.  You are never quite sure of the whole story or who the conversation is between – friends, strangers, co-workers, lovers – but that makes the listening in even more interesting.

It makes me feel a bit like an urban anthropologist.

Last week, in a particularly crowded bus, I listened to a man having a loud and lengthy conversation on his cell phone. There was discussion of money with clearly some disagreement over the amount.  Then the conversation moved to a discussion of what seemed to be a mutual friend with kind words, “sure he’s an ok guy”, followed by statements that made me wonder, “I told him to stay away”.  I was drawn in.

I was standing and as the bus grew more crowded I moved toward the back.

It was then that I saw a seated man quickly scribbling notes in a black and white composition book.  He was writing so fast and with such zeal that I had to peer over to see what he was writing. I could not believe my eyes. As the cell phone man said, “but I had her picture all over the gym”, the seated man scratched out those very same words.

I had found a fellow urban anthropologist taking field notes on the bus.

Before I could figure out how to reach out  and say, “You are taking notes, what a wonderful idea!  What do you do with the notes?  What have you heard?  I listen in too! the tide of passengers changed.

The cell phone man made his way further toward the back, finding a seat out of my earshot, and I was moved to spot where I was no longer within view of the note taking man.

Oh, if only we had connected!

Now that I know you are out there – fellow eavesdropper, urban anthropologist, note taking man – I will look for you.