I drove a limo for a maniacal man
Make a little bread was the general plan
Where you headed was the question I asked most?
When someone asked me back I was gone like a ghost
I drove to Vegas met an old woman there
Her eyes were wild she had perfect hair
She cried unhook me from this laughing machine
‘Gotta tell my grand-kids that I lost everything’
I need a hit of the good life, baby
Looking for that good, good life
Just give me some good life.
Back in 1996, as a fairly new and responsible family man with no technical skills or higher education, one of the first “real” non-musically-related jobs I had was driving a bus. Not a city bus, but one about half that size with a shorter, more suburban route. They called them Circulators. And that’s what we did for four to six hours a day: drive around in circles, starting and ending at the same local mall. It was a great job for a writer. Ideas circling, spinning ’round and ’round, re-write ‘round.’ When you’re driving there is plenty of time to think, create, daydream … but then of course there are the customers. I’m not much for socializing and at first I thought of them as interruptions to my creative process, but then I would overhear their conversations or sometimes just one person was on board and they would start talking to me. I came to realize that these were my stories, real stories. I called these snippets of dialogue “Circulating Tales.” They actually took my mind off my own worries. Like this one New Year’s Eve, (the perfect day to think about how I got nothing accomplished in 365 days) which ended up being one hell of an inspiring day starting with my first customer.
He said, “Hello,” and then being quiet for a couple minutes, continued: “I think I’ll lay low again this year. I rented the video of the last episode of The Fugitive. You know that was the most watched episode in TV history, ever? You remember David Jansen? Great actor, right?”
“Yes, I think so,” I replied.
“I have a Three Stooges video collection–I could watch that too,” he continued.
“You know I went down to my real estate agent’s office and he had this huge Stooges poster on his wall.”
I figured he meant the Three Stooges again & not the Iggy Pop band.
“His wife wouldn’t let him hang it up at home. I told him about my collection & he said he’d love to see it sometime.”
Time, I thought, like Iggy it takes a self inflicted licking and keeps on ticking.
“That’s my stop up ahead,” said the fugitive guy.
I knew where his stop was but he liked to tell me every time anyway just to make sure. A lot of customers did that. For some it was just a force of habit but for others it’s because they think if you’re driving a bus for a living you’re probably not that bright & need to be reminded again & again.
On his way out the door, the Jansen wannabe said, “Yep, I think I’ll lay low again.”
“Thank you, have a nice a day,” I said, which is what I always said unless it was Friday and I remembered it was Friday; then I’d say, “Have a nice weekend.”
Just as I was about to close the door he turned and said, “See you next year.”
I smiled a genuinely-phony smile as if I’d never heard that one before & drove off.
I lot of elderly people rode the Circulators during the day, mostly old ladies and they really were the greatest. In fact, I was thinking of having a whole chapter just for the senior citizens–maybe call it “Poor Circulation.” One thing I should mention here is these buses had diesel engines that were right up front next to the driver. It made it hard work to hear what people were saying. A lot of times they’d be talking away and I would just nod and hope I was nodding the right way at the right time. I know that I missed out on some great gossip about ungrateful relatives, nasty neighbors, and freaky bus drivers; but from what I did overhear, they also seemed to be obsessed with cleaning products, free-food samples & bodily functions, along with a few more meaningful things.
Like this one lady I picked up at this lower-income complex; she had missing teeth and a stocking cap. As we passed this posh retirement home just down the street, she sang in her best old-lady voice, “Those would be nice to live in, probably expensive though, everything here is so ………. nice.”
I guess we never stop dreaming?
Another very elderly lady with a walker said to me one day, “This is the first time I’ve been out of the house in years; look at how beautiful those trees are. This is the ride of my life.”
Well, you can bet I was glad to be of service. In fact, I was so inspired that later that same day I stopped the bus & Rush Limbaugh be damned, jumped out and hugged a tree.
There was this guy I never saw before who I picked up earlier that same New Year’s day just after the fourth stooge. I had picked up a few customers already and then saw him up ahead: medium height, weight, about mid-thirties with a small ponytail. As soon as he got on he started talking about comets & how they bring spirituality.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “I’m not like those Haley Bops but we are being given messages everyday & there are more coming & if we don’t listen there may not be many New Year’s left,” which at the time was fine with me but I was less overwhelmed by his talk than by the smell of spirits that were overwhelming him. I then proceeded to take a wrong turn, being in one of my daydreaming moods (probably accepting some writing award or doing another interview with Spin magazine).
Comet guy–drawled, “That’s all right man, I’m cool and collected; the only thing I could use now is some good smoke.” And that was actually the last thing he needed, for if he had been any more laid back he’d have been laying on the floor of the bus. The other customers were not as cool with my driving or with him appointing himself group spokesperson; in fact, I’m sure a couple thought we were having some kind of mutual hippie flashback and when I looked in my rear view mirror I noticed one of the elderly ladies crossing herself vigorously.
The strange thing is, before I got back on track I heard, “This is where I get off.”
Hmm, I could have sworn he already was.
On his way out the door he swaggered in his best Tom Waits growl, “Hey, man, be as cool as you can, it riles them to know you’re …” Okay, now I’m kidding (or really flash-backing). What he really said was: “Stay cool, man, be on the lookout.” As I was turning around to get back on route, I saw him standing there on the corner staring up into space. Getting ready to hitch a ride on a comet, I supposed.
Shit, and I forgot to give him a transfer.
When you’re in your forties going on fifty, observing the elderly is like seeing your future and it can be as depressing as re-living your youth. Not too many young people rode these Circulator buses; and as I was taking a short break on this last day of another year, I was reminded of the day I was sitting in this same spot and saw this group of kids up ahead walking down a side street, five or six of them, adolescence, 14 – 16 years young, with that new old look, you know. Androgynous clothes: black layered loose freshly torn & used; hair: colored cropped braided hanging shaven perfectly disheveled; skin: pale pampered pure pimpled mixed pierced: bellybuttons ears noses lips eyes ti– wherever. WHATEVER!
It was a beautiful warm day after many months of below-freezing weather and there was that feeling of spring in the air. Maybe that’s what I felt, but I swear I felt it through them. They were spring: blooming, eternal, sprouting, pouting joyous restless seeds. Like my friends and I, these were the modern day Hinton’s outsiders. Not understood by the other kids at their school, the cliques, and so and because of -they reflect, embody intense freedom. The fierce freedom that comes with not belonging; with believing in everything/nothing; with feeling totally alone and then finding there are others who think as skewed as you, who dig the same misfit out-of-step, soul-wrenching bands and then to walk, shuffle, slide through the world together feeling huge and endless, life seems endless, though it is the beginning of the end of so much: of high school, of living with your parents (hopefully), of even talking to your parents, of deep dark friendship. The end … of forever. These young who were so brilliantly bored as they breathed in each infinite New Year while I felt dulled and beaten by a resilient repetitive fog that fades and shoves one New Year into the next.
But then I had a flash–I remembered how hard it was to be that age, the seemingly endless pain & confusion. I wouldn’t trade that for any amount of time I might gain. You see, I had discovered something that for them was still held hormonal hostage & oh, how many heartaches away? Love from within, of self, built on/from all the pain that youth creates and the peace of mind, however fleeting, that comes from understanding that it (life, love) can never be understood and never be easy but that’s all right.
My break from work and (living in) the past was over, so I continued on my route and saw another (not so) regular up ahead. This guy was a real character and I was tempted to pretend I didn’t see him or to step on the gas instead of the brake, but I put on the four-way flashers and pulled over.
“Hey, how are you doing there guy?” he said like he’d never seen me before. “Nice day, kinda cold though. I don’t know why I live here, how about you?”
“Must be a masochist,” I say, which was true since I did stop.
“Yeah, you got that right.”
I think he thought I called him a masochist; like I mentioned earlier, the engines are loud and I wasn’t in the mood to speak over them. Of course he didn’t have that problem and I’d hate to have been around him without a diesel engine close at hand.
“I worked in printing for seven years; it’s the dirtiest job there is, ink on your hands, face, eyes and ears. I’m deaf in one ear, my left.”
That might explain the yelling.
“I didn’t want to wear earplugs because I wanted to hear what was going on around me. I lost the tip of my finger not hearing what was going on around me, now I’m deaf in one ear. I worked seven days a week, ten hours a day, never knew when I was going to be done. I wish I’d never gotten into it. Yeah, printing, a dirty job. I was married but then I got a little crazy.” He laughed (a little crazy) here as if to evoke this point. “My wife said I was tired all the time. Seven days a week, of course I was, I’d come home and say, ‘I’m tired and I’m hungry.’ “
Another little laugh. “I’ll get off here.”
I’ll get off here, I thought to myself, if only it were that easy.
“I’ll get off here!” he said louder yet.
I had gotten lost in his story and didn’t realize he wanted to get off the bus. I hadn’t wanted to pick him up and now I didn’t want to let him go; he made me feel like my life wasn’t really so bad. I mean I had a family, a wife, two daughters, and two dogs who loved me and … I had my dreams; whether they bore fruit or not they were still my dreams.
On his way out he gave me a cock-eyed “not quite there” look. “Have a great New Year, guy.”
“Yeah, you too,” I said sincerely, brazenly straying from my usual line twice in one day and thinking, you know things might not be so bad after all. I was tired too; I was working lots of hours and I just looked forward to getting home, watching some TV with my family, maybe watch the aging of Mary Tyler Moore on Nick at Night. Now that’s justice. I was hungry, too; I needed to stop right away and get … I saw a couple people at the stop up ahead. Damn, why don’t they leave me alone? Now I won’t be able to eat. I’m sick of this crap. I hope they don’t start jabbering; I’m not in the mood.
“Hi, how are you doing? Happy New Year,” I said with a smile.
Mark A. Garcia is a drummer, keyboard player,song & story writer who drives vulnerable adults to work and then back home again for a living (barely). He resides in Pine City, Minnesota near the Snake River with his wife, Patty; his dog, Yuffie; his cat, Eddie; and other less-tame wildlife. They have two daughters, Jamie and Riva, who live in St. Paul and Minneapolis respectively. Mark has had his music played on local college radio and original CD write-ups in local rags; he has performed in venues and bars as a drummer/keyboardist, performed short pieces and plays of his own creation with and without his family, had a couple stories published in Whistling Shade, (found at whistlingshade.com in the back issues summer 2005 & 2206) and has written two eBooks, ‘Totally Gone West’ and ‘Idiots of Eden-Leaving Babylon’ (taking place about thirty years apart), which recall his travels out west, first as a single, stoned man in his late twenties and then as a sober-but-still-poor-and-crazy married man in his mid-fifties.
Written with humor and poignancy and recalling some of the politics of the times, what these eBooks also have in common is the spontaneous adventure of being on the road with little money, going where fate or mechanical mishaps take you, and the amazing people/characters you meet when you leave yourself open.
Both eBooks are accompanied by pictures and an original three-song mp3; they can be found at http://www.ootlooc.com. His songs and lyrics are experimental, eclectic, sarcastic, sad, lazily literate and problematically poetic; they can be found at: http://www.onetalkingshoe.com. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.