Thursday, 21 February 2013

my bus was literally on fire and other stories from yesterday

 This blog post has turned out to be a There and Back Again length epic tale, but I swear it's all true because why would I make up such stupid stories? And it all happened yesterday. Welcome to a day in the life of me.


Okay well to set the scene on my mental state for the day, let's begin a couple months ago when I signed myself up to work (between two jobs), thirteen days in a row. I've done this kind of thing many times before and always survived, it's not a big deal. But it is tiring.

I read recently that some brain scientist guys did a study where they could measure what part of the brain is for thinking about yourself and what part of the brain is for thinking of others. When the patients in this study were thinking about themselves in the future, the part of the brain that "lit up" was actually the "thinking of others" part. (source) Which would explain why I would do something like this to myself, or why procrastination seems like such a great idea. You're just compelled to let that other future you do it.

So the future caught up with me two weeks ago and I worked my 13 days. Like I said, it wasn't that big of a deal, except the final few days I just was not in the mood to suffer fools. I guess I get really impatient with people's eccentricities and rudeness when I'm forced to be in enclosed spaces with them hours at a time. Go figure.
 (Here's a photo of me looking like I have no patience for your shenanigans)

Yesterday was my last day. My bus ride to work wasn't all that eventful except this one man kept belching loudly, like Barney off The Simpsons loud. When people would turn and look at him he'd give them the old gangster nod, like "what are you gonna do about it homes?" Because he was nodding in a Latino drug-lord's accent for some reason? Well his pants were baggy, so.

Anyway moving on.

I was filling in for a friend in her shop yesterday. It's a really cool layout in there actually, with floor-to-ceiling windows that face onto a narrow wooden walkway, with a baby clothing shop on the other side. Not only is is pretty, it also gives you plenty of time to observe people walking by.

There's always sweethearts who talk about how much love the dresses in the windows and teenagers who laugh at the tofu socks, there are couples who window shop together holding hands and tourists who take pictures with the signs. And then the other two thirds are weirdos who have nothing better to do than be weird in public.

--- Act One: The Wheeled Suitcase Lady ---

The first weirdo of the day was a tousle-headed older woman in a rumpled suit jacket dragging a wheeled suitcase behind her. She looked like maybe she had disembarked from an airplane ... three days ago ... and had been wandering the streets ever since. I noticed her pass by the windows the first time because the wheels on her suitcase made an extraordinarily loud KATHUNK KATHUNK KATHUNK over the wooden floor. I looked up and she was passing by ever so slowly, never breaking an intense eye contact with me.

I kind of thought it was a bit strange but went back to what I was doing. But a few minutes later, KATHUNK KATHUNK KATHUNK, she was walking back the other way. Same intense eye contact, same slow walk. I tweeted about her this time because I was all alone and a bit creeped out to be honest.
You know when you're working alone and your imagination gets the better of you? It was starting to happen to me. I was bracing myself for her to come in and start being super racist or ranting about the tap water or something, but it never happened.

She did walk past FOUR more times though...

--- Act Two: The Shaver ---

Not even an hour later I got the creepy vibe again. There was a man peeking in the window to the very left side of the store. He was maybe in his 30s, kind of scruffy and dirty looking, like he missed his last two hair appointments and his last five showers. When I looked up and noticed him he started very casually walking past the shop with a particular gait I've come to associate only with crack users, giving me kind of a side eye. I was like "whatever" and started to get a large online order together.

But then he was back at the window. Holding a blue disposable razor. And dry-shaving his face with it. But he was doing it as though he was a mime and I was his audience, like he had to really get the point across to me that he was shaving.

He scraped the razor down his cheek four or five times and then walked to the side of the shop where I couldn't see him anymore for just enough time for me to let my guard down. And then he was back again, this time holding a duffel bag in his other hand, shaving more intensely and facing right into the front door of the shop. I pretended not to notice him at all, acting like I was much too busy with my computer screen for all this nonsense. The "eclipse" method of dealing with crazies, if you will. Don't look directly at it.*

Then, for whatever reason, he turned his back to the front doors, put his bag on the ground, bent over to get something out of it and just kind of stayed like that, completely bent at the waist and still shaving. His pants fell down to below his butt and he was not wearing underwear. I was sitting there, staring at a butt. It felt like he was there for hours, it was probably like ten seconds but I just couldn't believe my eyes. 

And then he stood up, fixed his pants, picked up his bag (bending at the knees this time, I might add) and walked away, razor still in hand. And five minutes later the block's security guard passed by. Good timing, buddy.

* I recently learned the term "eclipse method" from Becky, it's very apt.

So the rest of the day was pretty good other than a mild freak out over using the phone, but we can discuss that another day. The point is, I did it, I worked, I listened to Stevie Wonder for six hours straight and at the end of the day I was completely ready to listen to a lovely NPR podcast and silently ride the bus home in peace. 

--- Act Three: the bus and the fire ---

Ah, the bus. I immediately realized there was a real slim chance of any peace or any quiet at all. It was already full when it pulled up except a few seats near the back. I quickly sat down in the first available spot because I have foot problems so I cannot stand on the bus for long periods of time. 

I assessed my neighbors. In the very back bench seat were two quiet guys on the left, both listening to their headphones. On the other end were two small children who were clearly getting restless. And their guardian was the person I was sharing a sideways seat with. Why wasn't she sitting with them? Who knows. There was still room between the kids and the headphones dudes. Couldn't she see the bus was filling up? Some stranger was going to sit with her kids. I guess she didn't know any better. 

A tattooer from my work, Caroline, also got on the bus and ended up sitting directly across from me beside a much larger woman. Luckily Caroline is a very tiny lady. We chatted across the bus aisle until a lady with a back pack ended up standing between us. And then, finally, I had a chance to let my face go slack and my mind drift peacefully to somewhWWWHHHAAA I WANT TO SIT WITH YOOOUUUUUUUUU IN YOUUURRR LAAAAP. 

One of the two kids finally had enough and was starting to melt down. The woman beside me let him sit on her lap, where he proceeded to kick me repeatedly in the knees, but hey. It's the bus and I always feel sorry for people who have to bring children pretty much anywhere in public. It seems horrible. The second child seemed fine, he had kind of wedged himself between the window of the bus and the seat in the back corner and was just basically narrating everything he saw out the window in a high pitched song. It was kind of cute, and some of the other passengers were looking over and smiling at his blonde little head.

We stopped at a popular mall and another bus driver got on, as well as a ton of other riders. Three men came to the very back and sat down in the remaining seats ... meaning the kid in the window had nowhere to go. Some man actually sat down in his seat, trapping him in the window and ignoring his cries of "I have no room! I can't sit here!" Who does that?

At the same time, our driver was revving the engine like crazy but we weren't moving. It sounded pretty bad, and a lot of us passengers exchanged worried glances. But then we were off, leaving a black cloud of nasty smoke behind us. 

The boy in the window was full-on sobbing after a few minutes, and the man in his seat was fastidiously staring straight ahead and ignoring this child he had trapped. The kid's mom was trying to tell him it was okay, he could fit there because he had a little bum, all that, but I had enough and told them I was just going to stand. I would have much earlier but, you know, crippled feet. And I couldn't believe the guy was just going to stay there beside a sobbing child like that and kept waiting for him to move!

Anyway it was me who stood up, and the kid got to sit in my seat. The woman said "say thank you to the lady!" and the kid turned to a construction worker guy (definitely not a lady) and said "Thank you!" 

We all had a little laugh at that, and then somehow there was suddenly room for me to sit between construction guy and one of the quiet headphone listeners. I sat. 

The bus stopped at a few more stops without a hitch, and as I was closer to Caroline now we could talk again, so we were making small talk about this or that, when we hit a red light and there was a mechanical noise in the engine (which is at the very back...where we were sitting). It sounded like ... WHoomp whOOp whOOp whOOmp...whOOmp ... whoomp. Then was quiet. 

We all went silent and the lady said to one of the kids "It sounds like this bus is going to break down, let's hope it doesn't happen with us on it." We pulled onto the highway and as we picked up speed it started to smell really bad. And then it smelled like smoke. And then a light grey smoke actually started seeping into the bus. 

Construction guy shouted "HEY DRIVER, WE'RE GETTING SMOKED OUT BACK HERE", but I guess he didn't hear, because he kept going down the highway. Someone opened a window and we all held our shirt collars or sleeves over our faces and squinted our eyes. 

Then the smoke turned black. 


He didn't stop. 

We sat in our seats, looking around at each other. I was thinking how lame it was we'd all have to get off at the next stop because clearly this bus was breaking down. I just wanted to go home, would this day never end?

My thoughts were cut off when behind me the grey and black air flashed bright orange and construction guy yelled "whoa, WHOA! FIRE!!" 

I turned around and the entire back of the bus was glowing and flickering, completely engulfed in flames. And then everyone was standing up and yelling "FIRE"

The bus pulled onto the shoulder of the busy highway and the driver shouted to us not to panic, and to get off the bus in an orderly fashion. By the time I realized I should get out of there I was already at the door. That crazy flight instinct is no joke. But when I thought about it later I realized I did this without even checking to see if the kids were ahead of me or behind me before I booked it. I probably tripped an old man and punched a baby too.

Like, I'm pretty sure this was me:

Everybody made it out fine, nobody got hurt or anything like that. Except that baby I punched. We all gathered well away from the bus at the front and just watched the show. The flames were shooting up high in the air. People on the other side of the highway across the median were stopping and taking pictures or just watching. A couple guys got their phones out and walked around the side to get some photos. I got my ipod out and got this amazing shot of ... blurry smoke, a rocky cliff and the shoulder of some guy. 

And a few minutes later it was all over. I think the driver must have used a fire extinguisher, he had stayed in the bus and called the fire department and probably his boss or something, and then marched purposefully to the back like a bamf. The leaping flames stopped shortly after.

Another bus showed up and stopped on the side of the road behind the (still flaming) one we had just abandoned and waved at us to hurry up and get on. So we did. I turned around and took this other crap photo of the huge puddle of oil on the ground and the flames that were shooting out of the pipe at the top there like they do on those drag racing cars. 

It's impossible to see but believe me, it was pretty impressive looking, because this was when it was "safe" for us to walk past. Sirens were sounding in the distance, the fire trucks were on their way. We got on the new bus and everyone was all pumped up with adrenaline, nervously laughing and still kind of going "What just happened?" 

I'm glad Caroline from my work was there with me when that happened, because I always come into work with these crazy stories and I'm starting to feel like everybody thinks I'm making some of it up. Now I have a witness at least.

One guy had made a video of the huge flames and was showing it around (I really tried finding this today, with hopes he put it on youtube or something like that, but no such luck). Other passengers complained that we smelled like burning oil. 

What a wonderful end to such a lovely day. And then I went home and got drunk. 

The end.