Astounding journeys, $2.75

Guess who's fat, ugly, and poor, but now has a library card? This guy. 

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How does coffee shop wi-fi work, really? There's no posted rule, but does one so-so cup of coffee really buy the whole morning online in this uncomfortable booth, or am I supposed to also buy a sandwich or stale pastry every hour or two?


April 22, 2022

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In high school, and in life, a great many people (mostly men) love cars. They might love a specific car, but mostly they just love cars in general. Vroom, you know? They talk a lot about carburetors and chrome and fuel injection, and what feats of speed and strength a car can perform. They hate speed limits and safety belts and catalytic converters, and have grease on their knuckles, and some of them, in their heads. 

Me, I hate cars. Always have. I can change a tire or change the oil, but I don't want to, and I'd rather pay someone else to do it. To me, cars are inherently uninteresting — and terrifying.

Cars are death machines, belching deadly fumes that are strangling the world. A moment's inattention can croak the driver, passengers, and/or pedestrians.

And they're expensive. You gotta buy the car, and the license, and the insurance, and the gas, and all the worries that come with all the above, and then there's always an unexpected bill — something blows out or boils over, and blam, that'll be a thousand bucks please.

Almost every adult American has a car, so we get millions of acres of parking lots that could've been parks, entire skyscrapers only for parking, wider and wider freeways, and very often there's very nearly no other way to get from where you are to where you need to be.

Cars own the economy, too. In the strip-mall-land where I'm living, half the businesses along the road are car-related — gas stations, new and used car dealerships, Les Schwab, Goodyear, Jiffy Lube, Maaco, Aamco, Big O, O'Reilly, Midas, Meineke, Pep Bros, auto parts, auto repairs, body shops, transmission shops, brake shops, rental shops, tow companies, insurance companies — heck, even the drive-through burgers and banks and prescriptions are for cars first, people second.

When my wife & I lived in San Francisco, we didn't have, need, or want a car. It was heavenly. Anywhere we wanted to go, we went via Muni, BART, or CalTrain, and it was the best thing about living there. A car isn't a convenience in Frisco; it's just an unnecessary expense.

In Wisconsin, though, like in most of America, transit is an afterthought, so while I did ride the bus there (still have a few rides left on a Madison 10-ride card, and an un-used monthly pass, and a Milwaukee bus card, too, if anyone wants 'em) the car was necessity, and then it brought me to Seattle.

Now that I'm here, can I get around without the car? I'm not sure, but I'm trying, and I'm optimistic. Second only to Carla Gugino, getting around without a car is my main fantasy in life. It's a dream of liberation.

When I lived in Seattle in the 1970s-1990s, the bus system was decent, and since then they've added subways and streetcars. A bus stops at the corner by my boarding house, with fairly frequent service that connects to more frequent service, and takes me anywhere except to my brother's house (and that's only because he's chosen to live in an obscure, underpopulated corner of the next county).

On my first ride since returning to Seattle, the bus driver had to explain more than once where and how to tap my transit pass. After that, though, it's been easy riding. I'm learning the system, and liking it. 

After a few weeks, now I'm a veteran, answering newbies' questions at the bus stop. I can find my way on the bus to library branches in all directions, to my main grocery store, to Mrs Rigby's Diner, my sister's house, and a pretty good coffee shop, all without driving and traffic. My Chevy has been parked more and more, while I've been out gallivanting across Seattle. Yesterday I took the subway to a baseball game.

Sure, it's slower than driving, but drive everywhere and you'll be frazzled, because half an hour bumper-to-bumper is the opposite of peace within. On the bus, though, you get time to think, contemplate that sexy straphanger's navel, or simply look out the window.

A few days ago, as my bus inched along in heavy traffic, off the highway's cigarette-butted shoulder there were grassylands, flowers, trees — nature exists, despite our devilish efforts to destroy it. In the grittiest, most industrial neighborhood, there's a muddy stream beside the highway, with birds floating on the surface. Live birds, not corpses! 

Jammed up everywhere, damned fools honk as if that's going to help, when the only thing that will help is more people getting out of their cars and onto the bus.

You're thinking, there are scumbags and stoners and sleepers and psychos on public transit, and of course there are. They're only a small percentage of the passengers, though. Most of us are ordinary folks, just riding from Point A to Point B.

And anyway, the lowlife element can be amusing, when they're not dangerous (and usually they're not dangerous). Yesterday my bus was tootling along through a wasteland of litter and rot on a wide street without even a sidewalk, but there was a bus stop along the asphalt, and two bums were waiting.

Bum is an impolite word, yeah, but accuracy is more important than manners, and bums is what they were — lost men wearing rags, stained and ripped and greyed by the city's soot.

The bus pulled over and the bums clamored on, but they didn't pay and the driver didn't ask them to. What would be the point of asking? These guys didn't have $2.75 each, and if they did they had a better purpose for their very limited funds. The buses ought to be free anyway.

One of the bums was wearing a mask, and I could smell him through mine as he walked past me, toward the rear of the bus.

The other derelict sat in an empty sideways seat at the front, directly in my view, so as he closed his eyes I studied his face — stubble and blood and weather, with a scar across his left cheek. He was holding a big plastic bag full of smaller plastic bags, and probably also full of his stuff.

He was maskless, and masks are required but America's America, and required doesn't really mean required. On Seattle's buses, most people wear a mask, and the ones who don't are usually troublemakers in other ways.

After a couple of blocks riding free and maskless, this bum let out three ferocious coughs, but he covered his mouth and then wiped his hand on his pants.

Then he said, "Oh shit," got up while the bus was turning a corner so he almost toppled, but he stayed mostly vertical and reached for a mask from the ever-present supply in a box mounted to the bus's wall.

"'Scuse me," he said, as he slipped a covering over his face, properly aligned to shield mouth and nostrils, and took his seat again.

See, the bums aren't animals. They're people. They're among us because they're us. They're in our parks, on our benches and sidewalks because they're theirs, and on our buses because they're their buses. With an unkind roll of dice you know are loaded, any of us could be any of them. I wondered where that guy was going with his plastic bag of bags, glad and lucky I was going someplace different, but I wished him well. Without actually saying it, though.

Another day, I was waiting at a bus stop in a dicey neighborhood, and noticed bums coming from several directions, one or two at a time, walking toward and through a door into a parking garage. I'd been waiting ten minutes, and seen ten bums go through that door. I wondered, was there was a bums' seminar in the parking garage that morning?

The next bum came toward me, because I was near the door, and we made momentary eye contact. He said to me, "Would you like a sandwich?"

Usually they're asking, not offering, so I smiled and said something like, "Look at me, I'm fat. I'd always like a sandwich, but my bus is coming."

He smiled back and said, "Some other Thursday then. They got good sandwiches inside." So I guess there are free sandwiches on Thursdays, inside the parking garage at 2nd and Burnett. And also, I guess, I give off homeless and hungry vibes.

So I studied my reflection in an abandoned shop's window across the street, and saw a gray-bearded man with disheveled hair (I'd combed it, but there'd been a strong wind that morning) and wearing a ratty windbreaker and sweat pants and — yeah, I could get a free sandwich, definitely. Some other Thursday, maybe. Meanwhile, I need some new britches before I go job-hunting.

The bum went inside for his sandwich, I got on my bus, and on that ride someone was ringing the bell for every stop. The bell is the signal that someone wants off at the next stop, so the driver pulled over and waited for someone to exit, but — nope. He merged the bus back into traffic, and the bell dinged again, and we pulled over at the next stop, but again nobody got off. Seven straight stops.

I couldn't see who was ringing the bell, and the driver didn't know who to yell at, so he yelled at nobody, just kept stopping at every stop. "I can do this all morning," he finally said, his tone of voice simply a shrug. After that the dings stopped and the stops rolled by.

My favorite ride is a ride where nothing happens, and that's most bus rides, honest. There are scumbags, though, and so far my favorite scumbags were on the F line a week ago.

It was 4ish on a weekday when I got on and (foolishly) took a seat toward the back. Experienced riders know to generally avoid the back, but I wanted a window seat so I plunked myself down in the bus's next-to-last row.

A bald, black, and illegally unmasked man was asleep two seats ahead of me. Across the aisle two men, one black, one white, were seated side-by-side, both wearing masks and also orange safety vests, like they'd come from a day's construction work.

After a bumpy bit, one vested guy elbowed his friend and offered a swig of Jack Daniels from his jacket. Sharing from the bottle meant they were both now maskless, so — "Safety last," as Harold Lloyd silently said — I switched seats, which put me in the very back row.

Pretty soon, a black man, a white man, and a black woman, all masked and in their 20s, got on the bus together, and made their way back, looking for a seat. The white man stopped and poked at the sleeping man, who woke instantly and said, "Wha—?" I thought maybe there'd be a fight (extra entertainment for my fare) but instead the fresh-awakened man said, "Buddy?"

And Buddy said, "I thought it was you, fucker!" They punched at each other playfully, and launched into a long and profoundly stupid conversation about the party that Buddy and his buddy had attended last weekend or whenever. "I was so stoned," one of them said, "I don't even remember being there."

To which I thought but didn't say, if you don't remember being there, were you really there? Legally, yeah, but you might as well have stayed home, same as the tree that fell in the forest. Obviously, though, I do not fully appreciate the finer philosophy of stonerdom.

While Buddy explained what had happened at the party, the two friends who'd boarded with him — young black man and woman — ignored the conversation. Instead they talked dirty at each other through their masks, and loudly, then unmasked and kissed and became increasingly handsy. Within a mile he was squeezing her boobies and she was rubbing his crotch. Then, damn it, Buddy rang the bell and all of them — he and she, and the buddies, and the two construction workers — stumbled off the bus together. Maybe they were all going to the same party. 

And you don't ride the bus? Well, how often do you get to watch a live softcore porn show while you're driving a damned car? For that, you gotta ride public transit.

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And now, my internet history from so far today…  

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End "Not In My Back Yard" 

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Ancient Italians liked their porn 

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One-word newscast, because it's the same news every time...

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So long as health care is about giant corporations making a profit, it's never going to be about health care.

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The End
Marvin Chomsky
Bilquis Edhi
Rosario Ibarra
uosʇɹǝqoꓤ ǝpǝᗡ
Art Rupe

Cranky Old Man is annoyed and complains and very occasionally offers a kindness, along with anything off the internet that's made me smile or snarl. All opinions fresh from my ass. Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.
Tip 'o the hat to All Hat No Cattle, Linden Arden, ye olde AVA, BoingBoing, Breakfast at Ralf's, Captain Hampockets, CaptCreate's Log, John the Basket, LiarTownUSA, Meme City, National Zero, Ran Prieur, Voenix Rising, and anyone else whose work I've stolen without saying thanks.
Extra special thanks to Becky Jo, Name Withheld, Dave S., and always Stephanie...

Cranky Old Man
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  1. >How does coffee shop wi-fi work, really?

    The universal rule applies, I think. Don't be an asshole. Buy a cup, spend a few hours, you're fine. Bus your own table, if it DOES get busy and people need to sit, maybe buy another cup or a croissant, or GTFO. And tip. You don't have to tip like a movie star. But a buck when you buy the cup, and maybe a buck in the jar when you leave - making sure the barista notices - is cool.


    >These guys didn't have $2.75 each,

    Is that what a bus ride costs? Fuck me sideways, holy cow! I just checked SF, and it's 3 bucks cash. I left 8 years ago, and I fuckin' swear it was $1.25. MAYBE $1.50. But I always got a pass. A Fastpass / whatever it's called is 81 bucks. It was half that 8 years ago. God damn.

  2. Yeah, the bus fare is bonkers. It *ought* to be very very cheap, or better yet free, to make driving seem more like the expensive luxury it is.

    Thanks for the coffee shop help. "Making sure the barista notices" hadn't occurred to me, but duh.

  3. Thanks for the Art Rupe obit. One of my pastimes is reading about and listening to American vernacular music and its history.

    One reason this music got attention during the Great Depression and through and after WWII is that most radio stations wouldn't play it. Oddly, that created business opportunities for entrepreneurs, because established labels, recording companies and promoters didn't think there was enough money there to bother with. Of course, Jimmie Rodgers, then Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, and thousands to come showed Big Music that, by ignoring poor singers of vernacular music, they had missed most of the boat. Columbia found Bob Dylan by accident but they and other large music companies missed the inventor of Rock "n" Roll ten years earlier.

    Sure, Little Richard was Black, poor and gay, but Art Rupe, when he heard “a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom” knew he was hearing America sing. He went on to produce much of the "race music" that ultimately created the "British Sound" that invaded America in 1963.

    Oddly, through race music, Mr Rupe had a chance to sign the Beatles when they didn't have a label and passed. They weren't Black.

    Nonetheless, by finding business opportunities where virtually nobody else was looking, he ultimately helped changed the voice of America and the world. Good Golly.


    1. I don't think I'd ever even heard of Mr Rupe until his obituary. It fascinates me to think how some gent whose name and existence I'd never known was busy making the world better, making my life better, without me knowing or even suspecting.

  4. Thanks also for the blackbird reference. I must have published this without permission at an earlier date, but I lost my memory along the way and forgot to drop breadcrumbs.


    Among twenty snowy mountains,
    The only moving thing
    Was the eye of the blackbird.

    I was of three minds,
    Like a tree
    In which there are three blackbirds.

    The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
    It was a small part of the pantomime.

    A man and a woman
    Are one.
    A man and a woman and a blackbird
    Are one.

    I do not know which to prefer,
    The beauty of inflections
    Or the beauty of innuendoes,
    The blackbird whistling
    Or just after.

    Icicles filled the long window
    With barbaric glass.
    The shadow of the blackbird
    Crossed it, to and fro.
    The mood
    Traced in the shadow
    An indecipherable cause.

    O thin men of Haddam,
    Why do you imagine golden birds?
    Do you not see how the blackbird
    Walks around the feet
    Of the women about you?

    I know noble accents
    And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
    But I know, too,
    That the blackbird is involved
    In what I know.

    When the blackbird flew out of sight,
    It marked the edge
    Of one of many circles.

    At the sight of blackbirds
    Flying in a green light,
    Even the bawds of euphony
    Would cry out sharply.

    He rode over Connecticut
    In a glass coach.
    Once, a fear pierced him,
    In that he mistook
    The shadow of his equipage
    For blackbirds.

    The river is moving.
    The blackbird must be flying.

    It was evening all afternoon.
    It was snowing
    And it was going to snow.
    The blackbird sat
    In the cedar-limbs.

  5. I want to hear this in a hazy bar, with occasional piano accompaniment, and a quiet drummer...

    1. Throw in a standup bass and I'm right there with you. Cigarettes are very bad for people, but the atmosphere they create in the atmosphere, accompanied by brushes on a snare is delicious and nutritious to the soul.


    2. Yeah, that's it, snare brushes. In these scenes in my mind, there's a drummer but he hardly ever drums, he brushes the snare.

  6. Not what I was expecting. It starts as a rant, which I appreciate since I agree with most of it, and I was relieved at the bum stuff, where you said something sweet instead of the kick-the-bums line I hear so often. Then it Segways into several amusing anecdotes, which is what I come here for more than the rants. Quite good all the way through. Applause.

    1. Hold the applause, just send tips.

      I got a lot of sympathy for bums, and not much patience for people who complain about bums and think the answer is arresting them.


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