You gotta love the bus! It’s like going to a movie, only cheaper. There are as many programs as there are seats, and with the old people, you sometimes don’t even have to be sitting near to them.
Buses provided some of the first equal opportunity stages, I think. I had a look in Wikipedia, hoping for a theatrical link, but alas, it seemed drawn to the more pragmatic aspects. It told me that ‘Bus is a clipped form of the Latin word omnibus. The first horse-drawn omnibus service was started by a businessman named Stanislas Baudry in the French city of Nantes in 1823’, and that ‘Regular intercity bus services by steam-powered buses were pioneered in England in the 1830s by Walter Hancock and by associates of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, among others, running reliable services over road conditions which were too hazardous for horse-drawn transportation.’ It doesn’t say anything about when buses became travelling entertainment salons, however. Or maybe I’m just easily amused…
For example, last week I decided to respond to a politely-worded summons from my dentist. Apparently he figured I hadn’t been around in a long time and thought his dental tech might need to do a little scraping and filing, or something. He didn’t use those words, exactly, but I’ve known him for a while and could sense his concern that my flossing might not meet current standards, nor the toothbrush they gave me last year still doing something more than merely shoving the food around. I chose to ignore his subtle but sublingual hint that my visit might also help with his vacation plans. I hoped the bus might afford me some distraction.
The bus was sparsely populated and eerily quiet when I boarded it at its terminus, so I had an unexpected mélange of seats. Much like a hockey arena, the seats on a bus can be graded. There are the rafter seats –right at the back and usually over something that vibrates and rattles worryingly. Then, of course, the midrange variety where entertainment is rife, but often cacophonous and conversation lacks the normal cohesion and sourceability that permits useful comprehension. I usually try for what would pass for the seats-behind-the-bench at a game –a few seats back from the senior’s area, but with a row of seats interposed between for the women with children… or suitcases, rickety boxes tied with strings, overstuffed shopping bags –clunky stuff that reeks of the unusual and a need to tell somebody about it.
As luck would have it, there were only two people –a middle aged man in a fedora, brown overcoat and scuffed shoes, sitting with an older woman wearing a long pink coat and a speckled grey pig tail that didn’t go at all with her age. But there were no bizarre boxes anywhere in sight in the coveted area, so I settled in for a long and disappointing ride, condemned to travel inwards, undistracted, and filled with all the anticipatory dread that only dentists and Proctologists can inspire. But it can’t always be ribbons and Disneyland, I guess.
I closed my eyes and tried to position my head in the balance position –something on which seasoned bussers pride themselves so their heads don’t end up on their laps drooling when they drift off.
“So glad I got that dental plan for Mara,” I heard the woman say as the bus started up.
My ears perked up. Maybe dental angst was more widespread than I’d thought.
“You got a dental plan for her, Lizzie?” It was the man’s voice, and he sounded surprised. “How much did that set you back?”
I imagined a shrug. “Well, she’s had bad teeth for a few years, so I figured it was worth it…”
He chuckled. “Why do you always encourage her to eat what you eat?”
“And what’s wrong with that, Jim? I’m still healthy, you know.” A defensive tone had crept into her voice.
There was a momentary hesitation before he answered, sotto voce, “You told me you have false teeth, Liz…”
“Well, that’s not why, Jimmy. And besides, she’s eaten my kind of food ever since the adoption… Never heard a complaint, either!”
Silence followed –well, the usual bus-rumble anyway- and I was just drifting off into the all-forgiving arms of Lethe, when Lizzie spoke up again. “Do you have one for Keg?”
It occurred to me that either she was a sales representative for dental plans and was trying to sell a policy to Jim for his grandson, or maybe just a well-meaning grandmother that was used to giving advice.
“Keg’s doing okay, Martha. Probably his diet though, eh?” he added with a chuckle.
“He’s, what, five now…?”
Jim didn’t answer right away. “Uhmm, yes, I guess somewhere around that…”
“Somewhere?” She sounded indignant that he wasn’t sure. “When’s his birthday?” she said, each word a needle.
It was getting interesting so I opened my eyes. She was frowning at him like a mother at her son when he comes in late on a Friday night, her mouth a serpent’s grin.
“You mean the actual date?” He looked puzzled at her distress. She nodded her head sternly and glared at him as he tried to deflect her chagrin with a boyish smile. Then he shrugged and tried to bluff it. “June… I’m sure it was in June…”
She sat back in her seat, obviously only partially mollified. “I’ll find out from Sally,” she said after shaking her head as if to say that men shouldn’t be trusted with anything important anyway. “She’ll know.”
“Yes, maybe she will… But remember, we’re just taking care of him on those days our daughter is away at school. Janice didn’t want to leave him alone in her apartment.”
Her eyes snapped towards him suddenly as if he just admitted to child abuse. “Well… he’s still going to have dental problems -if he doesn’t already. You have to start flossing him. Just being male doesn’t protect him, you know. You wait and see…” She reached back and pulled the cord for the bus to stop, and hurried out the door after telling Jim she’d be sure to phone Sally.
I could see him roll his eyes, and he noticed me watching so he shrugged again. “I’ve never heard of a cat needing a dental plan, have you,” he said, laughing at the thought.
I shook my head, but what did I know? “And Keg is…”
“My daughter’s dog… And no,” he added when he noticed the relief on my face. “I’ve never tried flossing him…”
Suddenly, my dental needs seemed to slip into a different gear.