Mobile Metal Churchland: Night Bus Noir

Ridership thins out after the last of the commuters. Alone with 10-15 strangers with aisles, even zones to themselves. A driver who is often a little more open feeling, more friendly, less strung out. Streets outside thinned of headlights and more room for the shadows of streetlights to play. Maybe slick the road up with slanting stars of wind blown rain. Either safely inside or darkly captured. Unsure if you’d prefer a bus going low lights to hide or skulk in or the big glow to read nakedly by, be exposed in.

The sudden pathos the late-night pedestrian acquires: ‘What is she doing out at this hour? Out here? I hope she is alright.’ As though just for being somewhat out of the norm a story more easily attaches. The same going for those window-slumped late-night riders you (now the pedestrian himself) see on the 11:04 p.m. bus? Mysterious or less familiar motives are driving them. They are doing something out of the ordinary, even intriguing if just grindingly normal like graveyarding at the mill or hitting drinks with pals.

But unmistakeably more dangerous feeling in this night bus. Fewer sanctioning eyes. More space to cover if someone is going to come to your aid. No solace of shadowless landmarks to mark the progress. An implied fatigue with the close (or culmination?) of the day contradicted by all the stopping/waiting/starting in even this slackly attended night service; a growing tension seeming more apt to snap. Snuggle into the window for comfort or shield while you watch and hide in this secreter city. You feel like your cover has been blown. Or your voyeurism is especially transparent. You are prone to look to the bottoms and corners of faces and doorways. You wonder what this city is capable of when fewer people are watching. You maybe better understand the riders who talk the drivers’ ear off from seat 1A and never look back.

Deboarding and a longer walk home than usual. You could be followed. Caught looking in on the illuminated family rooms; so warm and forbidding; unimaginably distant up a short flight of stairs. The high-rises, single-family dwellings, triple-deckers, empty lots all seem swapped out and reorganized. The city fragments and you pull the hood over your head, disappear under the umbrella, and feel a swarm of menace and intrigue in black air. Talk to yourself loudly to scare off the maniacs and ghosts. Look into another bus passing you by and catch the eye of someone staring at you talking to yourself. Think “that bus is going all the way to the tip of the peninsula” and feel yourself rising into the lower atmosphere to look down on the transit corridors spotted with lonesome looking buses keeping schedule at odd hours.

© Scott Tienken

About Scott Tienken

Scott Tienken is co-editor of The Cartophile Imprint, a publishing/music/and public arts website. His current novel, Mass Transportation, the second installment of his Portland Trilogy, takes place on the northbound 75 busline to St. Johns. He is founding member of the Pine Needles music collective. He is a certified city and public art project geek, works for the county library, and is looking for a chess partner. (Scott Tienken owns the copyright on all his contributions, please contact him for permission to republish).
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