Sunday, January 31, 2010

Adventures in Mass Transit

Because of car problems, two weeks ago I began taking the bus to work. Despite the inconvenience of not having a functional car, I feel real pleasure in knowing that I am doing my part for the environment.

On my first day back in the mass transit groove, the bus is late. It finally arrives and as soon as I get on I can tell this driver is going to be trouble.
"So, did you watch the game yesterday?" she asks in a voice that can only be described as "chipper."
I am of the belief that chipper is for chipper/shredders, not for human beings.
I am a morning person. Shoot me, but I am. Still, I don't want to make small talk with strangers in the morning and I sure as heck don't want to talk about a subject I know nothing about whether it is the gross domestic product of East Timor or, as in this situation, "the game."
"No," came my miserable reply.

Not content to leave well enough alone, the bus driver responds as if I had just confessed that I have learned to move about my day without breathing oxygen:
She just can't believe her ears!

From my vantage point, I can see there is a little sign admonishing the bus driver not to talk on a cell phone while driving.
There is no little sign warning the driver not to eat grits while driving which may explain why my bus driver is, indeed, going ahead and having herself some grits while she is manipulating that big steering wheel.
The little bowl has a Krystal logo on it. Uh huh.

That would explain why the bus was late. The game obsessed blond lady made a stop at the Krystal before swinging the bus back toward town and my stop. Service at Krystal is abominable, but I guess when a gal needs her grits things like adhering to an established and widely published bus schedule just goes right out the window.
At the next stop, as the grits lady slows down to admit an older gentleman decked out in attire celebrating the Florida Gators, she says, "I bet he watched the game!"
The man navigates the bus steps carefully, as he is walking with a cane. He is wearing a cap with a cross on it that reads "From the Manger to the Cross."
He is also wearing an iPod, so he does not hear her when she says, "Did you watch the game?" He sits down without acknowledging the driver's query and opens up a book entitled "Strengthening the Inner Man."
The driver's desperate need to talk about this "game" as she calls it, is getting a little sad.

"Someone please talk to this woman about the game!" I scream silently, but no one seems to hear.
It is a silent scream, after all.
At the next intersection the bus driver tosses the empty little Styrofoam grits bowl into the trash receptacle next to the fare box, stops the bus and asks out loud,
"Do I turn here?"
"I don't know," I reply. "I have never ridden this bus before."

I am sure by now she must think me a total waste of human flesh:
Didn't watch the game.
Doesn't know the bus route!
Why doesn't this guy just die?

A woman with a foreign accent pipes up, "Next corner. Turn at the next corner."
It is about this time a curious phenomenon begins. The bus is apparently rigged with some sort of talking GPS unit, so that a prerecorded announcement plays when the bus is reaching certain destination points.
"Now approaching San Marco and Mary Street," a cheerful woman's voice announces. The only problem is, we are by no stretch of the imagination at that particular intersection. We have miles to go before that will happen.

While she is driving, the driver who can find no one to discuss football with her, continues to study a typewritten page of what I can only assume are directions for this bus route.
"Now approaching Rosa L. Parks FCCJ Station," says the cheerful GPS voice, erroneously announcing the end of the line. Fortunately none of the passengers are listening, or someone might have tried to get off and change buses in the middle of the onramp to 95.

Bus riding: Day 2
This morning the bus driver is an African American male. He looks a little sullen and that is a good thing because sullen people rarely try to make conversation.
Oddly, I notice that every time the bus makes a left turn, the horn gives out a little blast.
The canned announcements regarding upcoming destination points is apparently disabled.
Maybe someone figured out the disembodied voices were hopelessly lost and merely confusing the passengers and therefore no help at all.
However, just before the turn that would take me to my stop, while the bus waits at a red light, the disembodied voices begin speaking again. This time they aren't giving false geographical information. Instead it is like a little radio skit with appropriate bus behavior as the theme.
"Hey, you can't open that here."
*Sound of soda can being opened.*
"What? Why not?"
"There's no eating, drinking or smoking allowed on JTA."
Quickly, it goes into a second scenario:
"Hey, stop disrespecting us with your foul language!"
"What? I'm sorry. I didn't know I was offending anyone."
"You know there's no swearing allowed JTA."

Are you f*ing kidding me?

If they are going to do radio plays, I'd like it better if they offered something with a little more zip to it.
How about something like:
"Hey! You can't smoke that here!"
"What the f*k?!"
"You know there's no crack, meth or pot smoking allowed on JTA---Wait! What are you doing? You know there's no knives or guns allowed on JTA!"
*Sound of crack pipe being lit followed by the sound of someone exhaling*
Now that's good radio theater.

Bus Riding: Day 3
There is a woman situated in the sideways seat across from me. She puts on glasses, pulls a small Bible from her purse, squinches up her mouth in a dead on imitation of Ernestine the Operator, and peruses the tiny Bible. I expect at any moment she will start snorting and reading aloud from the Bible, "Gracious hello…For God so loved the world (snort, snort!)"

Bus Riding: Day 4
Oh my God, there is a genuine gypsy woman on this bus. I know it is not politically correct to call people gypsies, but I swear she looks like she stepped out of a Wolf Man movie, except she is carrying a chartreuse purse. I bet there's wolf bane in that purse.

I glance around and take in my fellow bus riders. None of them looks very happy.
There's the ruggedly attractive man with the tattoo of a snake wrapping around his right arm. He has tattooed barbed wire wrapped around his neck and has a teardrop tattooed at the corner of his right eye.
What must life have thrown your way to make you decide that you require a permanent teardrop placed on your face?
On his left ring finger there is a tattoo of a black widow spider. Makes you contemplate what this fellow thinks about the institution of marriage…
This tattooed guy, who is wearing a "Git Er Done" cap and a scowl, doesn't look like he is happy to be riding the bus at all. I doubt the environment figured into his decision to take mass transit. Not even a little bit. I think maybe his pickup truck is broken down, or maybe he has a DUI and a suspended license…I am almost certain he never saw "An Inconvenient Truth" nor would he be caught dead driving a Prius.

The gypsy woman doesn't look happy either. In fact, she looks like she might be planning to put a curse on someone any minute now. She clutches her purse and frowns.

Even Ernestine the Operator, engrossed in the Holy Bible, looks a little miserable.

I am getting the impression that the gypsy lady's purse is the greenest thing about this bus ride---and it is chartreuse. I am pretty sure all of my fellow mass transit riders are on the bus, not to save the planet, but because they have no other choice.

I am pretty sure I'll keep riding the bus even when I get a new set of wheels.
It's the green thing to do. Maybe I'll even start riding my bike to work…
My love for the planet swells in my heart…

Then my mind wanders, as it always does.
I notice an advertisement above the tattooed man's head:
"Using a condom is something everyone can live with" and there are two men pictured in the ad.

Are you allowed to consider the possibility of man on man sex while riding JTA?

"Now approaching..." The disembodied voices are back and they are no longer lost.
This is my stop…

Monday, January 25, 2010

Depression City, Girly Town

Recently my hometown, Jacksonville, FL, received the dubious honor of being named one of Business Week's 10 Unhappiest cities in the U.S. We ranked at number 6. That means only 5 cities are sadder than ours.

You have to wonder, just how jacked up does a town have to be to make this unhappy list? From the Business Week article:

These were the cities that saw the highest depression and suicide rates even while the Dow Jones was climbing to 14,000 and Countrywide Financial was considered a respected mortgage lender. Why? Blame a variety of reasons, from divorce and crime to lousy weather and job loss.

According to this article, Jacksonville has a Depression rank of 2. Or, as I prefer to put it, we are #2 on the Depression-o-meter. We are number 9 (number 9, number 9, number 9) for suicide and number 7 for divorce rate. (As if divorce is automatically an unhappy thing!)

While those figures kind of surprise me, the only thing surprising about our Crime (property and violent) ranking (23) is that it isn't higher.

People love to kill each other in Jacksonville, that is just an established fact.

I wager if I click on one of the local TV station's websites right this minute, I will find a headline about someone or a group of someones being murdered or beaten or, at least, robbed. Let me just see...One moment...

Wait...Teacher Sent Naked Photos to Teen...That was in St. Petersburg anyway and as much as I do not support this type of behavior, I am sure seeing his teacher naked is not going to kill this teenage boy. Of course, I haven't seen the teacher, but...What is up with these nasty teachers these days anyway?

Hmmmm...Here's a local story...some guy was arrested with 17 pot plants in the back of his pickup. He told the police he was moving them to protect the plants from burglars...See, burglars are a real problem.

I rest my case.

While I am looking for news stories about local violent crimes, what do I find but the news that Jacksonville made yet another list.

This time it is the list of America's Manliest Cities.

This designation was determined by those arbiters of all things manly, Mars Snackfood. You know, the candy people.

They looked at the 50 biggest cities in the nation to determine which is the manliest. What did they base this on? The number of professional sports teams, popularity of tools and hardware and the frequency of monster truck rallies.

Cities lose points for having too many home furnishing stores, (because real men don't furnish their homes?) high minivan sales and high numbers of beauty magazine subscriptions.

We're not really happy with our ranking on the Manliness-o-Meter. Sadly, Jacksonville only ranked 21 on the list of 50.

We're the sixth most unhappy city and only the 21st most manly. No wonder we're depressed.

Oh sure, we can take some comfort in knowing that Portland, St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit and Cleveland ranked higher as Unhappy cities and therefore suck worse than we do.

But that is small comfort when we also have to adjust to the certainty that Nashville, Charlotte, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Denver, St. Louis, Columbus, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Toledo, Memphis, Richmond, Columbia, Orlando, Dayton, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Detroit are more manly than we are.

SLC?! Are you kidding me?! Jacksonville could beat the crap out of Salt Lake City with one hand tied behind our collective back!

Nashville ranked #1 on the manly scale but they were #8 on the sadness scale. What do they have to unhappy about? Nashville is the most manly, isn't that enough?!

New York and San Francisco did not rank at all on the Unhappy list but, according to Mars Snackfoods, NY and SF are at the bottom of the manliness meter--SF is #48 and New York is at the bottom at #50.(Los Angeles is number 49.) Perhaps someone should convince the men in San Francisco, LA and New York to fiddle a bit more with some tools so they can redeem their image.

Just a suggestion.

While I like manly things as much as the next guy, (*snorts and hikes up pants a la Barney Fife*) I am really more concerned about Jacksonville ranking so highly on the Unhappy scale.(*wipes away a tear*)

To be more manly, all we have to do is buy more tools and more tickets to sporting events and monster truck rallies. (Check, check and check!)

To be more happy we have to lower unemployment, violent crime, divorce and the suicide rate. That kinda sounds like hard work to me and hard work only makes me sadder.

It's a vicious cycle, isn't it?

Why do the Mars people care which cities are the manliest anyway? They make candy bars, M&Ms, Skittles and Whiskas cat food. Those aren't exactly the most masculine products in the store, you know.

In my experience, depressed people are liable to throw back some Snickers. So, Mars should be a lot more interested in the unhappy cities than the manly ones.

Real men don't eat Skittles, but sad people eat everything!

Despite my concerns, I try not to let these lists color my thinking too much.

After all, I have to live in this miserable girly berg, so I try to make the best of it.

Even so, lately I find myself gazing out of my office window, taking in the skyline of Jacksonville and looked down on the people below.

"Oh, you sad, sad, unmanly people," I mutter, as I wrestle with a giant bag of M&Ms...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

After the fire

A few months back I encountered a house that had burned. I felt compelled to take pictures and these are some of the images I captured and manipulated.