Thursday, July 19, 2007

CTA Stories: Division Bus

I've already told my three favorite Division bus stories, but there are a few left which warrant mention. In the summer of 1995, the rain stopped falling. And it got hot: very, very hot. Over 600 people died, most of them elderly, too terrified to leave their barricaded inner-city homes to seek comfort. It was insufferable, inescapable heat. The wind felt like a furnace blast, and rubber shoe soles became sticky when pressed against the broiling pavement. I had the good fortune to live in a a place with central air, albeit in East Village, a neighborhood that lacked comfort for most. Poor people in the neighborhood came up with strategies to survive: sitting in their cars with the motors idling, the air on a full blast, and of course, the open fire hydrant. So many fire hydrants were open that my landlords, living on the third floor of our building, had zero water pressure. I showered in a trickle. It only added to the stress, the feeling that something awful was about to happen.

So it was with an air of utter submission that we trooped, like cattle, on to the un-airconditioned #70 bus on a Sunday afternoon. I spotted one empty window seat--sweet! I then discovered why it was empty: the window was stuck. Looking around at the sweaty heads of my fellow passengers, all of them enjoying the roasting "breeze" coming in through the window, I decided to suck up and take a nice perspiration bath in my airless space.

I noticed that Moustache Guy was sitting in front of me. I saw him on the #70 bus all the time. He had an elaborate, waxed handlebar moustache, the ends of which projected far out from the sides of his face. I always wondered if it was some early version of a hipster ironic moustache, or perhaps a gesture of solidarity with then-Polish president Lech Walesa. A woman seated at the window in front of him was reading a book, her neck glossy with sweat. It was a nice day to enjoy a book while taking a bus ride through Hell.

The floor of the bus was wet. I wondered if some kids wearing bathing suits could have made it so. It seemed like a lot of water, some of it sloshing up and down the grooves in the rubber floor mats. The bus slowly rumbled west until it reached the outskirts of Cabrini Green, the massive high-rise housing project on the near west side. The driver stopped at the light at Larrabee. I noticed that his shoulders were shaking, as if he were laughing.

At the curb, two teenaged girls positioned themselves on either side of the bus. They had huge buckets of water which stood higher than their knees. The light turned green. "One, two, three!!!!" and they sloshed the bus on both sides at it moved forward. Behind my closed window, I could only see, not feel, the action. Inside the bus, much screaming. The woman held up her ruined book. Right in front of me, water streamed off of each side of Moustache Guy's handlebars. I noticed the bus driver's window was closed.

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