Tuesday, October 30, 2007

BUS RIDIN' WITH MOZART

I've been experimenting with alternative transportation lately, such as buses and cabs. Not so much because I'm deeply concerned about petroleum and climate change, but because I need to stop driving drunk.

I tried it out a few Fridays ago. Took the bus from my house to Benaroya Hall, where I was going to see Mozart's Requiem via a last-minute invite from my friend Tara. I tried to plan my route on the Metro Transit website, but it gave me a tangled web of bus stops, numbers, and vague street intersections, and I found myself wandering back and forth across the street with a puzzled, "unfrozen-Neanderthal-lost-in-New-York" expression on my face. It makes me wonder--if I, a supposedly intelligent, semi-educated intellectual-type, am having such a hard time figuring this out, how the HELL do the inbreds, schizophrenics, and lunatic drunks that make up most of the bus ridership ever figure it out? Is bus-knowledge just naturally hardwired into those unfortunate genes collecting algae on the bottom of the pool?

So, finally, I find the right bus, and get on it. I ask the driver if this bus goes to University St. downtown, and he just stares at me with an expression that somehow makes the word "dour" seem like onomatopoeia. I shrug and climb aboard, and he hands me a piece of paper covered in columns of cryptic numbers and arcane symbols. I think it was a transfer, but it may have been a Tarot card.

I sit down, and within a couple stops, the seat next to me is filled by a cute girl listening to her iPod. Hey, this isn't so bad. A few stops later she exits, and is replaced by a catastrophically obese man whose body mass slowly squishes me against the wall as it spreads out to the sides of him like melting jello. He smells vaguely of nutmeg, which doesn't seem right, and confuses my senses. I minimize my breathing.

Eventually I reach my stop and arrive at Benaroya Hall. I realize that my previous impression of the Seattle Symphony crowd as being a fairly equal mix of formal and casual dress was slightly inaccurate, and I feel a little conspicuous. At least my hoodie is black. I meet Tara and we go inside.

The "opening act" is a frilly, bouncy little number by Mozart that brings to mind flowers, powdered wigs, and schoolgirls in petticoats fighting about limes. When that bullshit finally ends there is an intermission, and since I haven't eaten anything all day and my stomach is growling like an open-string double-bass in rondo, I decide to make a dash for it and get some food.

I'm not about to stand in line with a bunch of suit-wearing richies to pay 20$ (no joke) for a plate of Wolfgang Puck food scooped out of a cafeteria-style warming vat, so I run down the street to Quiznos. It's closed. I run down the street to a Teriyaki place. Like many small Asian restaurants they turn out to be cash-only, since Eastern peoples are not particularly adept at operating credit card swiping machines. Although I hear the more industrialized areas of Japan are starting to develop some rudimentary electronics capabilities--hopefully someday it will spread to their expatriates here in the US.

Finally I end up at a 1950's themed diner, and order a "Rocket Burger Cowboy Deluxe". Meanwhile, back at the concert hall, the 20 minute intermission is rapidly coming to an end. I get my burger and jog the whole way back while stuffing chunks of burger into my face, but I'm too late. I walk in to find the lobby empty, and the ushers frowning at me while strains of the Requiem seep through the closed doors. I ask if there's any way I can still get in somewhere, and one of the ushers sternly escorts me to a seat in the very, very, back, back, far right corner, underneath the overhanging box seats. I feel strangely singled-out, like I'm the only unshaven 25 year-old shuffling into his seat in the middle of the chorale wearing jeans, sneakers, striped pirate shirt, and a hoodie with half a bacon-and-onion-rings burger bulging out of the pocket.

So I finally settle in and enjoy the symphony. It's dark and stirring, with a massive choir belting out ominous latin verses. Apparently Mozart had some balls after all. Maybe that's why he died in the middle of composing this piece, since sex-change operations probably weren't very safe in the 18th Century.

At one point, as a movement ends a woman gets up to leave. Just as she clears the last seat she trips on something and falls flat on her face in the middle of the aisle. Instead of rushing to her feet and fleeing in embarrassment she just huddles on the floor with her arms covering her head. A man gets up to help her and she staggers to her feet, turns on him and shoves out her hand like someone warding off a vampire with a crucifix. She loudly hisses, "Stay back! Stay back!" and then runs away. Never a dull moment at the Seattle Symphony. I think she was late for a demon-summoning.

The symphony ends and I catch a ride with Tara to Easy Street Records, where I'm supposed to be going to a show where pretty much all my friends in the city are going to be. I soon learn that there are 2 Easy Street Recordses, and the correct one, which I'm not at, is faaaaaar on the other side of town. This is what I get for trying public transport. I start walking back in the general direction of my house, hoping to catch a bus heading back that way, halfheartedly holding my thumb out to the street as I walk.

At one bus stop I encounter a large man wearing a jacket covered in buttons. I ask him if he knows what bus will take me to Ballard. He turns slowly and smiles down on me beatifically. "Yes," he says, "Of course." And he begins a homily covering every glorious detail of the public transit system, in such a flood of information that I can't possibly absorb anything useful. Eventually I manage to nod and thank my way out of the conversation. Later, browsing on the internet, I discover that the man I encountered was in fact a local street celebrity, known as The Button-Wearing Bus Expert. He has his own page on Seattlenotables.com. I had no idea I was in the presence of a legend.

Finally I catch a bus to Ballard. The moment I step aboard, a scraggly old man in the front seat points at me and declares, like the prophet Elijah declaring the arrival of the Christ: "Now this looks like a young man who can take it!" (Behold!)

I sit down and look him in the eye and say, "Yes, I can take it."

The lady next to me rolls her eyes and says, "We've been 'taking it' for hours�"

Apparently the old man is quite the storyteller. He's also a close friend of President Nixon. And a member of The Who.

I love the bus system.

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