Houston had a population of over 2.1 million people within a land area of 599.6 square miles according to a census in 2011 and sadly only 2.7% of professionals ride the Metro. I know what you’re thinking – how the hell could this be on the list? It’s sad that I have never utilized our public transportation system in all the years I’ve lived in this city. I’ve spoken to quite a few people, though, and they’ve never set foot on a bus here.
Houstonians primarily use cars to get around town; we are the leader of the losers with the lowest participants using mass transit. Growing up in a suburb I was clueless where the hell the bus went let alone where to catch the dang thing. So I figured this would be the best introduction in going against the grain.
Mission for weekend #1:
- Ride the Metro
- Ride the rail
- See movie solo
I asked my good friend (let’s call him Hermes – Greek God of travelers, the underground, border crossings and much more) numerous questions about the bus. He’s no stranger to the Metro, completely depending on it to shuttle him around to auditions, concerts, church, to run errands, etc. He promised to help me through this journey, giving me his Q-Card (my ticket to the city for the day) and 5 lines of instructions on how to get around. This is no phenomena to 50% of of the people I know – they have been riding busses, bikes, trains or subways for half their lives. Being a kid of the suburbs, though, this was new to me. I’d been on my fair share of busses and subways domestically and internationally, but never in my hometown.
The last time I travelled alone was when I decided to visit Westminster Abbey on a work trip in London. I had a taxi drop me off, enjoyed the guided tour and then couldn’t get back because the majority of the taxis didn’t take credit cards. I was screwed and felt very alone.
Anyway, back to Saturday at the bus stop with Hermes.
Me: It’s hot as hell out here.
Me: Do I have time to run over to that Starbucks to grab a snack?
Hermes could already tell it was going to be a long trip. He was going to ride a few stops with me, helping me get the hang of things. When we got on the bus I instantly felt out-of-place. I hugged my backpack close to my chest and thought: I wonder if you can get any type of weird diseases from a bus seat?
Me: Can you get any weird diseases from a bus seat?
Hermes: <shakes his head and cracks a smile>
I took in my surroundings. Now, I had changed about five times before leaving my house – skirts, sundresses…I decided on a pair of jeans, a summery blouse and my cloth Toms (an ensemble I’d regret later).
Hermes told me he’d be getting off soon and that we’d meet up later at our favorite fro-yo joint. As he exited the bus, my hands felt clammy and there was a rush of anxiety. There were two fun homeless men sitting behind me. I couldn’t make out half of what they were saying but they were really enjoying themselves. I learned that this was a place for them to escape the heat of the summer; a community where they could congregate and talk.
The woman who was once a man, that I had noticed earlier, pulled the cord to alert the driver we were approaching her stop.
Homeless man #1: That girl’s kinda odd
Homeless man #2: Yeah…
More banter back and forth that I couldn’t make out. I looked out the window. It was nice not having to stress about driving – am I going too fast, too slow, guy behind me is on my ass, person next to me is going too slow/fast, driving too close. The burden was now all on the bus driver and I could sit back and…relax.
Homeless man #1: It don’t matter where ya goin’, it’s what ya see.
I scribbled his words in my journal which was an array of jargon, incomplete sentences and random thoughts.
When the bus stopped we spilled into the sidewalks of downtown Houston – its streets vacant, with the exception of a few stragglers. It was clean, quiet and the shadows from the tall buildings offered more than enough shade. I walked to the rail, as instructed. A man wearing a baseball cap two sizes too small for his head, a bright, neon orange t-shirt and filthy jeans stood behind a newspaper stand – leaning on it like a pulpit, only letting go to point to the sky: God’s a’watchin’. Yes, He is!
The platform was littered with various types of people: young, old, dirty, clean…
I swiped my Q-Card. Hermes told me the rail ran on the honor system. Neon t-shirt started singing – his voice filling the air. Onlookers texted on their phones or fiddled with their belongings. The guy’s voice took me by surprise.
“I thank ya, Jesus…” he started singing. I couldn’t believe more people weren’t crowded around to witness this lyrical wonder, but maybe I had just been missing out on something normal – living in my car world. I took a video of him.
The rail rolled up and we all piled in, no spare seats. Guys on the rail do not offer up their seats for women…even if they’re with children or pregnant. A short guy stood three inches behind me, wearing an oversized Rockets t-shirt and baggy jean shorts, sporting dirty Nikes, gripping the pole we shared to steady ourselves. His phone rang, an annoying rap tune.
“Yeah, man. What’s up? Haha! Yeah! No, it’s slick – it runs all the way down here and then by the campus. You don’t even gotta pay!” I rolled my eyes, upset that he cheated the honor code. Maybe he didn’t know, though; I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. He was probably a rail virgin too.
He continued on, in a loud voice, all I could see were his white knuckles, holding on to the pole, “I don’t drink a lot, but last night I had a 12 pack of Dos Equis (he pronounced it Dos E-queeze) – yeah, man…I think it’s Spanish for toothpaste. (Whaaaaat the hell, I thought)
Dos E-queeze continued on: Bud light? I can make that by just letting water sit out in the sun for a day.
I tried to enjoy the ride with this clown yelling into his phone.
The train stopped and spit me out into an area of town that was pretty undesirable and known for a rough street. My mom had once taken the bus in this same area over 30 years ago, pregnant with my brother. Walking around the slum to make it to her job at Southwestern Bell where she’d scale ladders to twist wires in her stockings and tweed skirts.
I crossed over to my bus station. The only girl waiting, scribbling in my journal until a man on his cell phone came up and stood just inches away. I quickly flipped over the page and pretended to draw a bird that looked more like a dysfunctional duck. I can barely handle stick figures so there was no convincing a poor onlooker that I was a street artist. I definitely did not fit in at this bus stop and got quite a few stares.
Four men sat on the bench talking about their “bitches” and how they weren’t worth a damn. A short guy in his house slippers spewed the f-word religiously, and hurled a sandwich into the road. I saw the bologna peeking out over the crust. A few birds pecked at the bread and I quickly snapped a few shots of them and also the sign that read not to feed pigeons.
Feeling nervous and completely out of place, I felt like I needed to make a new “friend” at my stop. The bus didn’t appear to be coming anytime soon and my fellow bus riders looked like they were just taking advantage of the shade. I noticed a man on the other side of the plexiglass shelter finishing up his lunch, his bike thoughtfully propped up against the station.
I peered around the glass, and he took notice and said hello.
Me: Hey, that’s a nice bike.
Bike Guy: Thanks.
He patted the seat of his cruiser.
Me: So it’s easy to get that thing on and off the front of the bus?
Bike Guy: Yeah, you just snap it in. It’s nice to have a good, comfortable seat. You don’t wanna tear up your ass, ya know? ‘Cause tearin’ yo ass up is bad.
Me: No…yeah, that’s the worst (I laughed and smiled). This is my first time riding the bus. What do you enjoy about it?
Bike Guy: You get to see all sorts of things, and you don’t get all stressed about driving. You get to meet people. If you weren’t doing this today, we would never be talkin’.
He was right. Any other day, I would walk right past this guy and not think twice. I felt a pang of guilt, talking to him to lessen my chances of getting my throat slashed trying while trying to complete such a “simple” task on my list.
We chatted for a bit longer. The bus came and I grabbed a seat in the front. A skinny, averaged sized guy entered the empty bus and pointed to the vacant seat next to me, “Do you mind?”
I moved my bag over and he sat down. I asked him where he was from (Seattle) – he was a music producer back home and has lived here for quite a while; coming here to chase a musical dream that never quite panned out. He’s happy, though, and he and his partner live in the Montrose area. Today he was on his way to get his hair cut in Bellaire. We had something in common: our passion for music- playing the guitar and the piano by ear. He had been quite the athlete and showed me his withered left leg – he had been in an accident as a kid and seven surgeries reconstructed his limb that was significantly smaller than his right. We talked about George Jones and he sang his favorite song by the artist – a pleasing voice.
I shook his hand as I exited the bus, I shouted: I’m writing a blog – Againstmigraines on WordPress – check it out if you remember.
Also coming off was my bike friend from earlier. He walked his bike over to me, “You ride this line often?”
Me: No, I’m just doing a project…
Bike man: You’re a good person. I can tell it in here (he pounded his heart with his fist) and then gave me “dibs”. I would like to have dinner and smoke a cigar with you!
Me: Haha! Thanks, I appreciate that! Maybe one day.
Bike man: Hey, it’s a small world.
He turned to leave, but I stopped him.
Me: Can I take your picture?
After fro-yo, Hermes and I decided to take the bus together to do some shopping nearby.
Unfortunately, my attire, as earlier noted, was not suitable for walking around in 90-degree heat, so I had to stop and buy an entirely new outfit.
I had survived my first bus excursion. I felt a little closer to society and a little sad that it took 32 years. I talked to people who I would have never met, and taking myself outside of my comfort zone relaxed me. There was a whole world I was missing because I was so busy being caught behind the steering wheel of my car, darting in and out of traffic, 5 minutes late, low on gas and frustrated by our busy highways.
Today I scratched another thing off my list: seeing a movie solo. I couldn’t believe it was the first time I was going to the movies alone. I just always have had someone to go with but that’s no excuse. I found the most gigantic purse I own so I could take a coat (which I would usually steal from my movie-going buddy), a bag of 98% taste free, salt free popcorn and a bottled water.
Gatsby in 3D. I’d heard it had gotten terrible reviews but I’m a softie when it comes to Leonardo DiCaprio and convince myself that if it sucks at least I get to stare at a handsome face.
The theatre was pretty packed to my surprise and I choose a middle row, middle seat and set up shop. I’m sure I looked very trendy in my disposable 3D glasses that were covering my eyeglasses. About an hour into the movie I realized I had to pee, and also realized that I’d either have to trust everyone around me not to steal my things and go pee, or pack up everything and run to the bathroom. I didn’t know what to do so I resisted the urge and told myself I could make it another hour and 22 minutes and I did. The music in the movie was great and it was beautiful.
The most confusing, frustrating and time-consuming event was me trying to find my damn car in the parking garage – walking up stairs, back down the stairs and up and down rows of cars. I should have just taken the bus…
Pictures from my day in no particular order:
Waiting at one of the stops