We had tickets to the Buzz Under the Stars concert last Friday down at City Market – Cake was playing, we’ve seen them twice already and love ’em – plus I like Mumford & Sons. My rep had told me that parking was going to be a nightmare, and looking on the web site for the Market, the lots were going to cost at least $10 and no guarantee there would be enough spots. So I decided we should take the bus! James has taken the Max a couple times (jury duty, Rockfest) and always had good stories, so we headed up to the Park & Ride in Waldo, and jumped on the Max. I should point out I’m not a stranger to public transportation, as I took the bus the whole time I lived in Minneapolis, and I’ve ridden buses, subways and trains in NYC, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. I think what distinguishes this experience from those is how…interactive people are willing to get with each other.
The Max is supposed to be very timely, and all the stops have digital updates letting you know where the bus is in transit. It runs from 75th and Waldo all the way up to 3rd & Grand, north of the City Market, and back again. For a $1.50, we were pretty happy with the alternative to driving and finding parking. Our bus driver was talking to his kids on the phone and might have been a minute or two late for departure, but with all the stops that started happening, he began to fall behind schedule. The trip started to take on shades of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride when we hit the Plaza, and instead of getting into the turn lane (which had a red arrow), he got into the center lane and made a left turn around the line of cars. I couldn’t stop laughing at that point, because we were hanging on to stay in our seats as we surged forward and took hard turns. If he’d had a cow-catcher on the front of the bus, we would have left a trail of wreckage as he plowed through slow cars in the bus lane.
Now, James had told me that there’s a whole section of the route that just turns into crazy pants, with the wildest mix of people you’d ever see. He wasn’t kidding. It starts near the Plaza and continues all the way through mid-town and into downtown. This experience was heightened by the fact it was also First Friday in the Crossroads, and as we sped through the area, we saw a huge wave of…zombies. Yes, zombies. It was totally awesome, apparently there was a hunger/food drive walk and these folks were in full regalia and makeup. (I have a penchant for zombies, I’ll admit.) The crazy-highlight of the trip, though, was the older woman sitting across from me (I was on the sideways seats, James was facing forward) and she started talking to me about my purple Tom Bihn bag, and that her favorite color is purple. (Despite the heat, she was wearing a jean jacket and purple sweatpants, her face divided by oversized, octagonal glasses.) She proceeded to tell me about buying some bag she just had to have and didn’t care about the stuff that came inside it, she could have thrown that stuff away, but she had to have that bag because her favorite color is purple. I amicably nodded along for a little bit, then turned my head to look around and watch our progress as we surged down Main Street. After a pause, she started talking to me again, but I had already transformed into the blowfish, and my sunglasses helped me avoid further eye contact. Naively, I thought that would be sufficient to discourage her. Oh. No. She leaned across the aisle, pawed at my bag and said loudly, “I LIKE YOUR BAG! My favorite color is purple!”
Oh Lord. “Yes, I know, you told me.” And she proceeded to run through her purple spiel again, while I nodded and avoided eye contact with my husband.
Blessedly, she got off shortly thereafter. After she exited, James reached over and grabbed my bag and informed me purple was his favorite color, too, while we both clutched the seats as we sped off again, trying to make up lost time.
But the big adventure was on the return trip home. We missed our bus by a minute, which was discouraging, as the route runs every half-hour and it was hot, it was just before 10p, and we were ready to head home. We waited it out, got on the bus, this time moving all the way towards the back where the seats are elevated and, I was assured by James, the people-watching was MUCH better. This time, we were getting an even more interesting assortment of people. A middle-aged black man got on the bus, wearing glasses that had a set of yellow lenses clipped on over them. They were also missing one sidepiece, so they precariously perched on his nose, held in place by only one side wrapping around his ear. I’m not sure what the yellow lenses did for him, I tend to associate that shade with sharpshooters. An angry goth girl with a Jimmy John’s shirt got on as well. Subs so angry you’ll freak? A trio of French girls boarded, and sat behind us, iPods firmly in place. One man got on with a paper plate of pizza, then he got off on the next stop. (Interesting. Dining al fresco and el bus-o?) The bus started to fill up; an older, skinny black man wearing a wife beater got on, went all the way to the back, followed by another wife-beater-wearing man, head shaved and gauged ears. It took a while to determine they were actually traveling together. For several minutes, the black man boomed “WHO DAT BE? WHO DAT BE? I CAN’T SEE!” as his pal was standing up in front of him. I just kept facing forward, and noticed I could use the thick piece of plexiglass that was in front of me (between me and the back door) as a sort of mirror, since the florescent lights of the bus brightly illuminated the other side of the bus, while the ones by me were off.
I could see Shaved Head dude swiveling his head around like a parrot, looking out both windows and observing people in the bus. Then he leaned forward and pushed on the shoulder of the French girl who was sitting by herself. “What are you listening to?” he demanded. She pulled out an earbud and said “What?” He repeated the question. In heavily accented English, she answered, “Muzeek” and put her headphones back in. This seemed to anger our unstable fellow, unfortunately. He then spent the next couple of stops sneering and repeating the conversation in an increasingly louder and temper-filled solo monologue. When he and his (WHODAT?!) friend, who at least had stopped his own shouting finally exited, he expelled some extra rage by jumping up and pounding on the bus windows by the girls behind me. Ugh. A guy behind me who’d been at the concert turned and apologized to her, and when someone said he didn’t do anything, he responded with the fact he was from our country and that’s why he was extending the apology. Someone was definitely off their meds, or in desperate need of some new ones.
Meanwhile, people are still getting on and getting off, and at the Plaza, a woman with her arm in a sling boarded, and started talking to the driver, apparently trying to determine if we were the right bus for her. Sadly, her inability to use her left arm also left her unable to pull up her pants, as I did a triple-take trying to ascertain if I had, indeed, just seen a judicious helping of the crack of her ass as her sweatpants drooped badly on her hips. Oh, I had.
Really, I think riding the Max about once a month (or more, if one wanted to write a book) is something everyone should do. It reminds you that the faceless, nameless people who clean your hotel rooms and make your sandwiches and pick up their kids from daycare because they don’t have a car are working behind the scenes to keep your comfortable life comfortable. That there are a lot of colorful, crazy folks who buy bus cards and go to the library or go out for a slice of pizza and then tuck themselves back to their low-income apartment or halfway house that we don’t see because we’re driving behind our tinted windows, listening to NPR, spending the cost of a bus pass on dinner. That there are people in this city for whom English isn’t their first language, and that chivalry isn’t dead, and people are unabashedly ready to tell you their favorite color is purple. The reminder that 30 years ago, you didn’t see a tattooed and pierced man affectionately touching his equally tattooed and pierced partner on the back, just like a man might pat his wife’s back, while they waited for the door to open. That today you think nothing of it, the new normal has progressed, nobody says anything or looks around with scandal.
That no matter how far away we move to live, in homogenized suburban neighborhoods, surrounded by the sterile blandness and sameness of strip malls and chain restaurants, none of that can hold a candle to the energy of the melting pot that is Midtown Kansas City.