Friday, January 29, 2010


I am sorry there will be no post for Gum and Graffiti this week because I am having a birthday this week. I really wanted to have a guest post ready for this week but things just didn't come together. Hope you all have a great week and look for a post next week (maybe even two to make up for this).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hopeless Romanticism

In college I studied communications, because of this I am a people watcher. The bus seems to make us all people watchers, but in the most discrete way. We all sit in our seats, some with headphones in other playing games or reading, all the while watching those around us. The new and/or nervous are watching because they are not completely comfortable about traveling with strangers, seasoned and/or trusting bus riders watch with shear interest. At the same time most of us want to be ignored while traveling. Think of the time you spend traveling alone in your car, how many embarrassing things do you do? There are people who simply beat on their steering wheel to the beat on the radio, others sing along, some respond back to talk radio personalities and some people even feel comfortable picking their noses. Travelling is a private affair for most of us but the bus takes that privacy away.

One of my favorite encounters, in my private made public travels, is courtship. I am terrible at meeting anyone let alone women and being new to the Twin Cities I am always on the lookout for avenues for making connections. The bus gives me access to a population that I have very little access to otherwise so when a cute girl gets on the bus I am always interested. I would like to believe that I have the ability to read nonverbal communication well but I know that my social anxiety prevents me from communicating in this fashion. This puts me in the position of being a watcher to my own chagrin. Nothing seems creepier to me that the dude on the bus who just sits there watching you.

The scenario plays out such. A cute girl enters the bus, I then get excited at this wonderful opportunity that has set itself in front of me. This excitement then turns into anxiety and I lose just enough courage to then do nothing but try and flirt without speaking. A series of nervous looks in her direction are made along with an attempt to analyze her nonverbal behavior. This behavior is not much different from the other riders, discrete observance of the people she has been thrust into the company of and an obvious desire to keep travel private. If there is any mutual interest it is always lost to the timing of my attempts at eye contact. In the rare occurrence of connection I often fail to remember to smile and I hastily look away. In the even more infrequent situation where I keep my brain racing itself into a brick wall and can actually muster the courage to speak my topic of conversation is if at all topical a dead end. When I think of the situations that I have even made it this far I wonder what could possible happen. Having never past the point of simple small talk how would I proceed. I have the distinct feeling that the scenario would not end much differently if I was successful rather than failing.

In the end I can simply set myself a goal, make it that far. When I was a much younger man I was in the same position as I am today but earlier in the conversation. I had no clue what I could possibly do if I made eye contact with a woman, now at least I have an idea. I guess all I can do is keep trying.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Voilence and Hair Extensions

This week I am posting a story writen for my by a friend of mine who goes by the name of Alex Kurt. Enjoy!

We were on the 16, going east on University, when the fists came out.
The bus had passed Dale and neared the capitol when I felt the first nudge of a fully-flung elbow at the very edge of its swing brush against my cheekbone. Having been placed the luckiest number of millimeters away from the appendage as it hinged about, I mistook it for an innocent swipe; the result of an a bodily adjustment, perhaps, and hardly meriting an acknowledgment, much less an apology.
Nonetheless, I turned to my left, curiously, instinctively, and was met by the sight of several adolescent girls beating the living hell out of each other. It appeared more a clash of factions than a free-for-all; the girl next to me, seated on the aisle, was joined in the struggle by at least one ally from the front, while two or three flung themselves from the back seats onto the pile, fists and arms and elbows and pink hair extensions a-flurry.
My iPod remains frozen on the song I was about to select.
The group had spelled trouble from the moment they boarded at the Snelling stop. They floated through the door and into the aisle amidst a loud barrage of cursing, bobbing swagger, swaying index fingers, and self-effacing racial epithets; seven or eight in number, aged eight to 14, they were led by a young adult woman (it might be a jump to suggest that she was anyone’s mother) dragging an empty stroller, upside down, and leading the foul-mouthed charge. It was clear some of them were angry at someone, or something, but what or who (or whether their pariah was on the bus) was unclear, as is often the case when preteen girls express angst.
As betting men might predict, the newest patrons of this University Avenue bus at four in the afternoon were African-American. Since my Republican father and his friends will invariably but indirectly attribute their behavior to their race by “just pointing out” a pattern of behavior – an attribution whose application here would be owed to bitterness toward Democratic-leaning populations – it behooves me to point out that a group of seven or eight girls, also African-American and aged eight to 12 or so, boarded the bus two stops later, led by a young adult woman with a right-side-up stroller, and none of them swore, at least loud enough for me to hear. Granted, I had put on my headphones two stops earlier. It was funny in a wow-I’m-out-of-touch-for-finding-this-funny…but-at-least-I-recognize-I’m-out-of-touch sort of way.
The second group of girls (this is also “funny”) appeared the most traumatized at the sudden and virulent outburst of violence a few stops later; many cowered and shielded their younger counterparts as the aisle became a spinning-turbine propeller engine room full of elbows, pumping, rotating, spinning fast against a backdrop of other spinning elbows. It became a veritable whirlwind as the engine overheated, spewing hair extensions and diapers and baby bottles and purses about the quarters; the squealing of the malfunctioning machine grew louder and more hate-filled.
Though it occupies a great proportion of space in my mind, the climactic piece of the ordeal lasted only seconds before being extinguished by two men who stepped in. Both men, it again merits attention, were African-American; it merits attention because despite my ideal position to restrain one of the elbow-peddlers, I simply stood up (so as to avoid an elbow with more inertia) and watched (had it been young men delving into a spat, I likely would have sought a quick exit). In so many words, I was a white kid in Frogtown, and lacked the will to convince anyone that I was a legitimate member of the north-of-94 bus-going community, or that it was my place to do anything but look on.
The bus had, by this time, stopped; the girls, clever as they were, would deceptively relax, free themselves of the restraining adults, and lunge at each other again. The shouting continued, scattered, taunting, and briefly united to yell “FUCK YOU” when the bus driver announced that he was calling the police.
All but a few of the girls got off the bus, supporting the warring factions theory. I imagined what they might have been fighting over. A boy? The first spot in line at the ice cream shoppe? Or perhaps the merits of micro-lending with flexible caps and production guidelines vs. direct mandated aide in the developing world?
Those still on board (given their indignation, they had likely advocated direct aide) continued taunting, and running toward the stairs of the side door with swinging fists: “IMMA KICK THAT DUMB BITCH’S SHIT!!” It went back and forth, the girls lurching toward the door, then reeling, until a woman in the back seats latched onto one by the collar and flung her backwards, declaring “I have to get to work, and I have to catch the next bus, so GETCHO ASS in the seat!”
Finally, peace was restored, albeit amidst a smattering of papers, trash, and – yes – pink hair extensions. The girls, now seated, shouted to each other across the rows as the bus rolled into downtown – less to communicate with each other than to inadvertently convince everyone on the bus that they were in the right and that they could, indeed, kick that bitch’s ass if they felt so inclined, but they were holding back, and she ought to be thankful. From what I gathered, the PR campaign was too little, too late, but oblivion is bliss. Just ask my Republican dad, or his friends, or white kids who volunteer in Frogtown.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Alone at a Bus Stop

This is probably the event that made me want to start this blog. To describe myself I am a white male, a little bit over weight and can be found more often listening to music made with guitars rather than drum machines. Because of this disposition I am rarely seen dancing. In the summer of 2005 I was determined to rectify this situation, and was lucky enough to be friends with a group of fellow University students who were studying musical theater performance. So I set up a secret meeting with one of them to help me learn to dance (now I know this sounds a bit like a movie at this point but I assure you it is not). This secret meeting took an awkwardly entertaining 2 hours where I leaned from a friend 3 or 4 stock dance moves to help me look less like an idiot while attempting to dance. Even after that lesson I am still intimidated by dancing in public, but find myself dancing a lot while alone and listening to hip-hop music (I still haven't figured out how to dance to rock music).

About a month after I moved to Minnesota I started attending trivia night at one of the bars in the Cities with some friends. I quickly learned that the bus is the best way to get to and from a bar in the city. My ride home often is as late as 1 o'clock in the morning. This gives me a pretty powerful experience of standing at a bus stop in a major US city and feeling completely alone. The environment at my bus stop is normally busy as its near the University of Minnesota and two major freeways, there are usually cars constantly driving in front of it and almost always people waiting for the bus. In the wee hours of the morning on a week day it is almost a ghost town. On this particular evening I had enjoyed the standard products that one buys at a bar and was feeling quite happy with myself. The weather had started to get chilly and when I arrived at my bus stop I was alone save for a car driving by about once every 5 minutes. For whatever reason I felt compelled to put on Jay-Z's the Black Album while I waited. Feeling completely, comfortably alone I started to dance to keep warm. I waited for that bus for at least 45min.

Thinking back on that evening, if I would have seen myself I would have laughed like crazy. White kid, standing at a bus stop, poorly dressed and dancing his pathetic best. What rich comedy (or possibly heartwarming delight, depending on your persona).

Things to come

First I am sorry that I have not posted for a while, I am trying to make this a weekly thing, but with the holidays my life got a little hectic.

I will try and post a new story here each week by Saturday. I am also collecting a series of guest posts from friends so keep your eyes peeled for those.

Here is to a wonderful year!