Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bus Riders - Part 1

I feel the need to preface this piece with a small disclaimer. It's been over two months since I posted a blog because I work a 9-5 that changes to a 7-8 during the holidays. It sucks, it's really trying on your patience, it stresses you out and leaves you with absolutely no time for your own life. You end the holidays feeling like a sore-muscled slave; overworked and under-appreciated. On top of that I had this shitty sickness that took away all appetite, and made me feel exhausted for two months. Most of the meat of this blog was outlined just before the end of October, but all of the editing happened during this super shitty time for me – and I think it's a little obvious when reading through it now. So, I just wanted to let everyone know that while I may already consider my humor a little dark, I'm about to ask you to laugh at sad old people and the homeless. Don't worry, it's still a little funny...

I have lived in Santa Cruz for almost ten years, which is about eight years longer than I should have, but still another thirty-five years away from being allowed to call myself a Local by “true” locals' standards. Here's the standard: If your mother was lucky enough to have ejected you from her uterus while living in Santa Cruz, you are somehow a better person, and thus far more deserved of anything Santa Cruz has to offer when compared to anyone else who merely saved up their own money to move here... But that's all I'll say about the smug locals for now... that's an entire blog waiting to happen...

Today, I want to talk about the crazy locals. The fun locals. The ones that cause gape-mouthed, rubber-necking tourists to rear-end each other on their way to the boardwalk. “Holy Shit! Honey! Look! Is that old man pushing the shopping cart wearing a wedding dress?” << CRASH >>

The ones that inspire the bumper stickers that say


If you've lived here for any amount of time, chances are you have taken advantage of the city's public transportation system. It's not a bad service – clean-air buses with wifi, a good spread of routes, decent fares... It's no San Francisco, but I came from Manteca, where there is one bus that stops three times a day in front of the WalMart - and the next stop is 25 minutes away in Tracy (that's where MC Hammer lives now.)

While the routes and fares for the Santa Cruz Metro are relatively accommodating – it's the fellow bus-riders that most frequently leave you asking, “What the fuck?” In fact - I keep this little notebook in my purse to write down funny slash weird thoughts and memories that I end up sharing here, and as I was going through it the other day I noticed that a vast number of my weirdest encounters occurred on the bus, at a bus stop, or at the downtown Metro station.

Keep in mind that I have a wild imagination and, as Charlie loves to point out, I frequently make up completely falsified back-stories on people I see in public and then base my entire viewpoint on that fictional characterization of them. I have wound myself up with these stories to the point of crying over how sad their pretend lives are, or hating them to the core of my being because of something I bet they would totally do.

It's still real to me, dammit.

So, while some of the following stories are 100% true, and being retold exactly as they occurred – others may just be my version of what happened, and I won't be held accountable for differentiating between the two.
When I was a budding freshman at UCSC (pot pun intended), I frequently rode the bus from campus to downtown. The majority of the buses that service the campus use Bay Street – a long 75 degree angle hill that would leave a freshly juiced Lance Armstrong winded. Even the healthiest of hippies use a bike shuttle to get their roadsters up the hill, and take the easy downhill ride in the evening. (All you cyclists out there, Lucas, who can take this hill without switching gears... while texting with their left hand and eating a meatball sub with their right... just know that when the bus passes you on the hill, the passengers are watching and hoping that a gust of wind from our road-wake will knock you over the curb.)

In 2002, at any time on Bay Street, at some point along it's stretch, you could see the Sisyphus of Santa Cruz. For those of you who didn't pay any attention in high school, in Greek mythology King Sisyphus tricked the gods into letting him escape the Underworld. For his punishment he was forced to roll a heavy boulder up a huge hill only to have it roll back down each time he reached the top. He was made to do this over and over for all of eternity. Shitty.

The Sisyphus of Santa Cruz was a very mysterious character - shrouded in legend and about sixteen thick, black overcoats. I don't think I ever personally saw his face.
He was a large, lurking mass of cloth, almost like the Grim Reaper –
but more bulky and hunched...

Maybe if Quasimodo and the Grim Reaper could have a bastard love-child. Grimmodo! 


But he wasn't just some character – he was a person. He had a name. (His name was Robert Paulson, His name was Robert Paulson!) No – this guy had a really suiting name. Really it's the only name that could do justice to a person like him. His perfectly appropriate moniker: Oscar.

As in “the grouch.”

Oscar didn't push a boulder up the hill – he pulled a long train made up of wagons and shopping carts. There must have been about four or five separate boxcars in his train, all hinged together in a manner that allowed them to snake and bend around the turns of the Bay Street hill. Every cart was carefully covered with more tarps and blankets, just a bunch of lumpy and concealed masses that followed another lumpy, concealed mass. Oscar and his train was a miniature, mobile mountain range moving up and down a larger mountain. That's some poetic shit.

Every single day this man pulled his carts up the hill, in little stints, stopping here and there to adjust something in the carts or sometimes just to stand there. When it was raining, he would prop up about seventy umbrellas to cover his carts, and keep pulling. I'm guessing that when he got to the top of the hill, he must have simply turned around, and gone right back down again. I never personally saw him turn around, but I never saw him reach a destination either.

Once in a while, he and his carts could be seen outside the Safeway on Mission – just a few blocks away from Bay Street (probably showing off his carts to the other carts) but never anywhere else in town. I have a friend who says his neighbor told him - he's gotten to be that kind of Legendary character around here - that Oscar once walked all the way to Half Moon Bay and back, pulling his carts the whole time. That's 100 miles round-trip. I have another friend who says Oscar is a bonafide genius - and yet another who says he's a millionaire. I'm sure all of it is bullshit.

I moved away in 2003 for a little while, and when I came back I didn't see him around any more. I haven't heard any new stories or sightings of him since either. Maybe he finally found where the hell he was going. Or maybe there was some kind of Harry Potter-esque wormhole on Bay Street, and he finally found it. Now he's living an awesome life in a secret world - No wonder he wanted to take all his shit with him. I bet his carts were filled with Hawaiian shirts and khakis, and he was transported to a tropical island with a private resort. Or it was full of vodka and water-socks, because the tropical island is deserted... and you would just want to be naked and drunk all day on one of those. The water-socks are because even nudists wear shoes.
When I moved back to Santa Cruz in 2004, I got a job across town from my house. When you take the bus early in the morning, at the same time every day, you get to know the faces of the normal commuters. On this particular route, it was mostly nurses and Cabrillo College kids with early morning classes.
But three days a week, I had a special addition to my morning people-watching: The Pirate Businessman. This guy was amazing. 

The Pirate Businessman is always in a really nice suit. Sometimes it's just a vest and a tie, sometimes he sports the full three piece ensemble. He carries a leather briefcase and wears a big, shiny watch. This dude could definitely afford an expensive car – but he has to take the bus because he's a fucking pirate, and he wears an eye patch, and cyclopes are not allowed to drive. Which is so cool. (I learned today that the pluralization of Cyclops is Cyclopes. Which is funny to me, because it sounds like an antelope with one eye.) 

He also has kind of longish hair, so it really adds to the whole pirate look. He wears a lot of dark clothes, and a long trench coat in the winter. He's Debonair, with a grain of Party. He actually looks a lot like Gary Sinese as Lieutenant Dan – but all cleaned up, and with an eye patch, and he has legs. So, I guess really – it's not a lot like Lt. Dan at all... but for some reason I have always equated the two. Also, I always picture Lt. Dan with an eye patch - which is inaccurate. Seriously, it is... Google it.

The best part about the guy – while he looks like he could be the minister of a Satanic church – or like he reads too much about Jack the Ripper – or clears his internet search history way too frequently – he is the nicest, most gentlemanly guy in the history of bus riders. I've seen him give up his seat to women, elderly folks, Rosa Parks herself, and move to the back of the bus - or stand with his briefcase wedged between his expensive Italian loafers, while his one good eye focuses on the hand rail for balance. I've heard him engage in polite, intelligent conversations. I've seen him hold the back door open for people exiting the bus after him, and even pull napkins out of his pocket for a girl who spilled her coffee on herself. I've seen that guy finish the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle between stops. That's not true – he only rode the bus on the weekdays. But that guy was so cool, I bet he could do it.

I still see Pirate Businessman around all the time. I wish I knew his name because what if I have one of those weird coincidences where I run into him outside of Santa Cruz, and we both know that we know each other from somewhere, but it's not like I could say - “Hey! Pirate Businessman! It's you!”

That's probably offensive - to cry babies!

And people with one eye... Cry Babies with one eye!

(You can only cry out of one eye anyway, so it's not as bad.)

The weekend commute was a different bowl of mixed nuts. I started my commute from the Westside – a fairly affluent part of Santa Cruz where if you aren't a home owner, you were an asshole landlord who rented to whatever college kids had the wealthiest parents. (Thank god my friends had wealthy parents.) There was also a small retirement community just around the corner from my neighborhood, and every Saturday morning we would stop to pick up the same woman. She was dressed very fashionable – for an ancient relic of a human - all matching pastels, white walking shoes and sun visor. She was the cutest LOL (that stands for Little Old Lady.)

She would hurry herself along just as fast as she could as if she thought it was making us all late just because we had to stop and wait for her to board the bus. It pained me to watch how quickly she would try to get to her seat and settle herself so she wasn't caught standing when the bus started rolling again. The bus driver would never have done such a thing – but she just seemed like the type of person who constantly fears being a burden on other people, and doesn't dare ask any favors because of it.

Man, that won't be me... I'm going to be the craziest, most entitled old bitch I can possibly be. I've been training for it my entire life... at least I thought I was until I found this....


To get to work, I had to take one bus downtown, and transfer onto another bus that went to the east side of town. The little old lady was doing the same thing. But, we didn't get on the same bus during our transfer – because I was going to work, and she was definitely going to the Capitola Mall Seniors Only Mall-Walk. A lot of malls do this on weekends – they open the doors extra early before any of the stores are even open for business, and old people flock to meander around the mall, gossiping about who died last week or whose son is definitely gay. Cute, right? Also sad.

Why sad? Can you honestly say that this is something you could look forward to doing with your retirement years? If yes... your aspirations are a little lame. 


This little old lady would usually find a seat as close to the exit as possible. She would sit with her hands crossed in her lap, and obsessively check her watch the entire ride. So, I learned that she wasn't concerned about making us late – she was concerned about missing her transfer bus to the Mall Walk. What a Selfish Old Bitch!

When we turned the corner onto the street leading up to the metro station, she would scoot to the edge of her seat and grab hold of one of the support bars. As we neared the station, she would crane her turkey neck and check her the watch on her liver-spot-covered wrist again and again – and Holy Shit - if her transfer bus to the mall was gone already... the slump in her already hunched posture and the pure disappointment on her face would crush even the most callous, hateful geriogyngist.

If her transfer bus was still there, she would look elated and speed walk off the bus and across the metro station as fast as her little osteoporosis-riddled legs could carry her. Sometimes, the driver for the transfer bus was late, and I would see her gabbing it up with her friends outside the bus, wasting their good Mall Walk gossip at the piss covered metro station.

But if the transfer bus was gone... ah shit, if the bus was gone... she would sulk down the steps, droop onto the sidewalk, and then just stand there wait for the driver to allow boarding for the return trip to our neighborhood. 

This is where her life gets so shitty, I can't even stand it.
This is definitely what probably happens.


Once back at her tiny apartment in the retirement home, she announces to the framed photograph of her dead husband that she's back early because she missed the bus again. She would take his picture in her rheumatic hands and tell him the gossip she had planned to tell her friends at the mall that day. She would call her friends just to leave them all messages so they didn't worry that she'd had a stroke. Then she'd check her own empty answering machine a few times to make sure she hit the right button each time nothing played back. Then she would sit quietly and wait for next Saturday.

I fucking cried over this old bitch on more than one occasion. Cried. I even tried to tell myself that after she checked her messages she would go to the animal shelter and adopt puppies, and take them home and drown them one by one in the kitchen sink – anything to make me not feel so sorry for this old lady. But that's just not true... her retirement home would never allow her to adopt a puppy, even if she wasn't going to drown it. 

There I go again – trying to make myself sad about this stupid old lady again... she's probably dead by now. Heart attack while running to catch the bus. (I am the meanest person alive.)

It's not over yet - There is another Mall Walker in Santa Cruz that makes me sad. So man up, wusses.
 This next guy doesn't go to the Mall Walk - This guy walks around the mall all by himself during afternoon hours. He looks so depressed, like he's just waiting for the mall to open a gun store so he can register for one, walk around the mall during the 30 day waiting period, and then when he finally gets the gun - he'll kill himself right there in the food court. He's one of the most joylesspeople I've ever seen.

One time, I saw two little girls running through the mall, holding hands and they accidentally clothes-lined him kind of Red-Rover style... he just stood there looking like he was about to cry, waiting for them to leave him alone.

His face is so sad, it looks like it's melting off. He's the personification of Droopy – the depressed cartoon dog.

My theory on this guy is that he used to come to the Mall Walks every week, but his retirement fund was running low, so he had to be transferred to another community - one that has much stricter policies about the hours residents are allowed to leave the premises. So, even though the Mall Walk every Saturday was the highlight of this guy's dying days (since his kids never come to see him and he's never met his own grandchildren) he's not allowed to leave the grounds until after noon; once all his friends have already finished their circuits at the mall. And simply because it's his only opportunity to escape the boring routine of his economically priced senior living establishment – he trudges through the mall, alone, until his catheter is too full to make it another round, and he has to go home again, to have it yanked out by a distracted nurse who lacks any sympathy for an old man's old penis.

Are you depressed enough yet? Sorry. This was supposed to be funny... see what the holidays at my job have done for me? This really passes as humor for me.

There are other people in Santa Cruz that don't make me cry. Promise. Remember Pirate Businessman? The only thing sad about him is forcing a rich guy to slum it on public transportation because he can't see how far away the stop signs are. Haha, not sad. Funny. 

As there are way too many of these stories to fit in one blog, I'm going to have to break it up. Since this installment has been predominately a big bummer... I will leave you with a funny one.

I was sitting at a bus stop one day, on one of those little benches – appropriately edged over to one side in the event that another person would want to sit down. I'm even angling my posture away from the remaining open bench, mostly because I'm looking down the road for my approaching bus, but also because at that time in my life I may have had a bit more of an intimidating appearance than I do now, and I was just allowing for an approachable place for someone to sit. (Honestly, you learn to behave this way when you've gotten your feelings hurt because some scared old lady would rather stand against her walker than sit down next to the weird chick.)

So, I'm looking down the road for the bus, not really paying attention to what's going on behind me, when someone sits down on the bench. Immediately, my personal bubble meter goes into red alert – the person has sat way too close to me, I can feel it. I left a lot of room on this bench, and suddenly I feel human-like warmth next to me. Picture a bench divided into fifths: there's enough room for five people - if you really squeeze - one in the middle, and two on either side. I'm sitting all the way over to one side, taking up one fifth of the bench. This person chose to sit in the 18” closest to me, rather than on any other part of the completely unoccupied bench.

I sense expectation – that feeling you get when you know a stranger wants to talk to you simply because you're near each other and alone. Jesus, I hate that. Just because we're sitting in a waiting room together, or riding an elevator, or waiting for our orders at McDonalds – we're not friends. These people act like because we are both currently involved in a similar situation (and not even an interesting one) that we are somehow kindred spirits who should make the most of our fleeting moments together. Maybe if we were being held hostage in a bank robbery, or we'd both been kidnapped and were rookies in the international sex-trade – maybe then we could chat a bit – but right now, we're just sitting at a bus stop and I'm already pulling out my cell phone to fake a call so you don't talk to me.

Anyway, I sense expectation, and start that ever-so-slow turn of the head. My eyes are aching from stretching my peripheral vision to the max because I'd rather just catch a glimpse of who is sitting so close to me, than make actual eye contact... I slowly turn my head...

The first thing I see is a pair knees belonging to the longest, tannest, hairiest legs I have ever seen in my entire life. Startled, I quickly turn to face my new friend... It's a recognizable figure in Santa Cruz – many people call him “Legs.” He's about 7 feet tall, with long sun bleached hair usually covered up by a blue knit cap pulled down to his eyelids. He wears the tiniest cut-off jean shorts seen on a man since 1976, a little tank top or miniature tee shirt, and running shoes. He always has a backpack with him, but he doesn't wear it on his back, he just clutches it to the front of his chest like a child with a teddy bear.

I've never been caught face-to-legs with him before, so I'm stunned silent. Thankfully (sarcasm) he breaks the silence with a thin, reedy, effeminate voice, “Hi.” He pretty much sounds just like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo. 

“Hi,” I say.

“What are you doing?” he asks me.

“I'm waiting for a bus to go to the mall and do a little shopping.” I'm having a conversation with this guy now. Wonderful.

“Oh, that's cool.” This guys voice is so fucking funny. It's like if Micheal Jackson was on psychedelic mushrooms and thought he was actually in the real Neverland. He's found his happy thought, and just wants to stay a little boy forever! “You want to talk for a little while?”

Oh Jesus Hallmark Christ... aren't I talking to you already? I hate needy questions like that. Are you going to ask me if I'll be your friend next? “Well, we can talk until my bus arrives. But then I'm going to the mall.”

“Oh, that's cool.”

He actually looks a lot like Janice – the Muppet. 

He opens his backpack and takes out a partially consumed 40oz bottle of King Cobra, the worst tasting piss-beer that has ever been invented. I'm pretty sure they only come in 40oz bottles, and that will run you about two whole dollars.

By now, he's almost laying across the bench, with his alarmingly bare legs stretched across the sidewalk. “Do you want to go over there?” he says pointing, “and sit under that tree with me, and share this beer?”

I have now just hit a new low point in my life. I've been asked on a bum date. This is the type of romantic gesture that bums make to their lady-bums. “Hey baby, come over to this public grass area on the edge of a parking lot, and share this warm, flat, dog piss beer with me.” Bashful she-bums probably blush, and bat their lashless eyelids, “My word, my word! Your charms have me flushed and a'flutter, sir! Oh My!” But translated from bum-speak that would be “Why the hell not? Do you have crabs?”

As hard as it was to refuse, I told him in the nicest way possible that there was absolutely no fucking chance that I would ever sit under that tree with him, let alone share that beer with him. I should rescind the part about rejecting him in the nicest way possible, because I think I actually made fun of him a little. It's not like I laughed in his cracked, leather face and said, “Are you fucking kidding me, Legs? You're a fucking bum, and I can smell human scrotum on your breath.” But I definitely called him out for not even having a whole beer to offer - which was a mistake, because I think he thought that meant I would have been interested had the beer been full.

Thankfully, the bus showed up really soon after his proposition, and he didn't get on the bus after me. Because he's a fucking bum who just spent his last two bucks on a 40oz bottle of fermented urine.

I still see him around town all the time, and any locals reading this will know exactly who I'm talking about. 


Hopefully, that lightened the mood a bit from my pathetic ruminations on old people and self-torturing hunchback grim reapers. Don't forget I gave you Pirate Businessman. 

You guys just read over 4,600 words. You should be proud of yourselves for sticking through it. I promised myself that this year I will try to write more pieces that are under 1,000 words each, and post more frequently. So look forward to that. If you know me at all... you know that I am never, ever short on words.


  1. Man, I must be really mean because I laughed my way through that entire blog. Even at he grannies. My husband got jealous.

  2. Of my laughter. The above comment was incomplete..

  3. Dude, Legs has a house on Frederick! I used to see him coming out or going in all the time when we lived at the Harbor. On second thought it could just be his meth dealers house...