Not Sorry Bus

"Canadian bus crash"

“Canadian bus crash”

Our apologetic buses are kind of a joke. Image and text, a bus front with its route banner blank, reading simply, “SORRY”. More text, added, explaining something about Canadianness in general, politeness, deference.

That one word, sorry, has the potential to hold much deeper meaning. It can be the introduction to considering the impact of one’s actions on others, to feeling some kind of regret, to intending something better for the future. On a bus-face it’s perfunctory. It’s a pre-emptive shield against future rage. How can you be mad at me? howls a cloud of exhaust fading into the distance, I said I was sorry.

It falls out of warm lips inside buses as backpacks swing into faces, bodies wrapped in parkas squeeze together more than they all would like. It’s held out like a torch to part the crowds. Excuse me, sorry, sorry, coming through, sorry.

We speak to each other like a bus marquee. Hello. How are you. I’m good. I’m sorry. Words scroll across our faces, meaning long frozen and faded, a simple redundant sound. We mean oops, we say sorry, then we scuttle off like an empty bus.

There’s a second line not shown in this bus-borne sketch of laughable Canadiana, though, the companion to SORRY. The marquee cleans, and it reads NOT IN SERVICE, then back to SORRY, and on and on as the driver races to the beginning of the route or back to the garage for either home or dead time in the middle of an all-too-common split shift.

Maybe the second line doesn’t suit the meme-makers in its factual abruptness. It’s a sharp ending to a casual tale of apologia. I have nothing to offer you and I’m leaving, says the bus. Not the meme bus, though. Maybe the meme form wasn’t made for second lines, for nuance, for both/and.

Yesterday, as the -40 wind froze my lips, I watched a bus skate by, blaring its usual banner phrase: SORRY. But the side marquee told a different story.

In a frozen half second, a moment tinier than an ice crystal, I saw the line before the second line, before SORRY was cleared and NOT IN SERVICE took its place. Right in front of my frozen eyeballs the bus nonchalantly announced NOT SORRY, and then sped away.

Those who disregard the second line won’t care that it’s now been reclassified as third, won’t care that a middle chapter has now been etched into this mini-synopsis of Canadiana, our symbolic personality edified in photos of buses poached from news sites.

But we of the icy bus stop, of the wiggling toes and dwindling hope, we who squint into the darkness looking for that familiar constellation of lights that we recognize as warmth and mobility, we care about the new second line.

Even if it’s the most short-lived of all bus announcements, it’s the truest message I’ve ever seen transmitted from public service to public.

And so I present to you the modified mantra of the frozen, passengerless, Winnipeg Transit bus:





Hermit Girl Leaves the House

Is it the sudden darkness of an 7 pm that feels like the dead of night, or the weather, or the never-ending list of tasks, or a sudden turn towards introspection that inspired this longer-than-expected run of hermit-dom?

All of the above, maybe. But today, hermit girl has left the house, and not just in the daytime. Daytime and nighttime. She’s going to see a show, missing her brother who was going to be here with her, but is somewhere awesome instead. Off traveling and adventuring. So instead of brother, hermit girl is sitting next to her friendly backpack, early because the bus said so, waiting for the first band.

She’s wondering, as she’s heard many friends wonder for years, when she got so old and everybody else got so young. She thought they were joking, the friends. They didn’t seem that old, and everyone else (which, at that time, probably included her) didn’t seem so young. She hopes that if she said this out loud, someone would laugh at her like she laughed at her older friends when she was so young. She looks up and around, there are no faces she knows who would laugh.

Not yet, at least. Maybe they will show up.

Hermit girl looks around and tries not to judge. It’s a defensive reflex, a conditioned social reaction to the awkwardness of being alone, this sniping at others. It’s not really all that fun, but there ARE so many beards, does every guy wear a beard these days? Whatever. Live and let live. Ignore the beards, hermit girl. Alone is not so bad.

She turns back to her phone, pulls her jacket in from the aisle a bit, takes a deep breath, looks around. That girl over there is yawning, at least it’s not unusual to be tired this early.

It’s almost time for the first band. Maybe it’s time for a soda. Or maybe it’s time to find a new place to hermit down for the night, a little nook among the crush of bodies where somehow, in the midst of all these people, she can be comfortably alone.

So much brighter

Mom was the first person to say something positive about our sudden descent into deep November.

“At least the snow is here. It’s so much brighter”.

It took me by surprise a little bit. That first coating of snow is the winter primer, the foundational layer that coats sidewalks and roads and blows in drifts, borne across roads, faces, and windshields in 70 km/h gusts and whisking itself into small mounds that will later grow into snowy mountains, that first snow that isn’t really enough snow to make the world snowy but just enough to be a pain in the ass is not usually greeted – by anyone I know, at least – with glee.

I like having the snow once it’s stuck around a bit. When I can ski on it, or the river freezes and I can skate, and when it’s frozen enough that I can just shake off my boots and not be both cold and wet. But the first snow, the acclimatizing snow, is more like a rite of passage. Boots and brushes come out. Everything moves slower, every bus is late.

There are moments of wonder with the first fluffy bright flakes, sparkling under streetlights, filling the air. Their very presence reveals the hidden vastness of the space around us, around buildings and streets and the things we take for granted as being permanent. When the air is filled with flakes, you can look up and see, really see, all of the space between and around us that is usually empty, taken for granted. It’s full. It’s impossible to ignore.

But I never noticed that it’s actually brighter when the world is filled with white. I suppose on some level I knew, but now I see the light reflected off the world shining into my window, not the same damp resolute grey light of post-fall pre-snow November. It’s colder, it’s more slippery, it’s a world that demands layers and layers of fabric heaped onto our frames, it’s more dark than light. But when it’s bright, in that short 9 hours of daylight, mom was right. It’s so much brighter.

Upright dreams

When a problem seems unsolvable, common advice is to sleep on it. Rest, let your unconscious brain wrestle it a bit. Or rest, and take a break from thinking about it. If you don’t have a solution in the morning, at least you’ll have fresh energy.

I never doubt this advice because once, it worked for me in the most extraordinary way. Asleep, I learned a new way of walking.

I was young, maybe 6 or 7 (so only a half-decade of two-footed experience under my tiny belt), and I had an obstacle I just couldn’t overcome. It was a lane half a block away from our apartment, before the neighboring apartment on the corner where the road turned left. It sloped down, towards the street. And in the winter, all winter, without fail, it was a veritable slip ‘n slide.

Crossing this lane, I would slide down down down into the street, into the path of future cars careening around the corner. To the left was a fence, to the right was a road. There was no other way. To get anywhere, I needed to cross this icy slope.

Mostly I’d just fall down and crawl dejectedly to the other side. But falling was less scary than sliding into the street with my arms flailing like a confused bird, landing flat on my back, staring up at the snowflakes and hoping for no cars. So I started to fake-fall – forward, onto my knees – sparing myself the suspense, since I was going to end up on the ground anyway.

I seriously considered just going down on my hands and knees and crawling across, but I wasn’t 4 anymore. I had some dignity. I’d just fake-fall and roll until one day I figured it out.

I wasn’t a particularly clumsy child, or unfamiliar with ice. I’d skate on the river and on rinks, but that ice was level. This was an icy hill interrupting a prairie sidewalk. And I wasn’t wearing skates.

When I wasn’t facing the lane, it didn’t vex me. I wouldn’t even think about it when leaving the apartment, and then I’d look up over my scarf and remember that I couldn’t quite take walking for granted yet. Then I’d be past it and I’d forget, like the edge of the carpet that you trip over twenty times before bending down to smooth it out, promising yourself safe passage through the room.

One night, as I slept, I found myself dreaming about the lane. I was walking up to it, preparing to “fall”, and then I heard a voice from both inside and outside of my mind – Walk like there’s no ground under you.

I took one step onto the lane, but didn’t plant the foot. I pretended there wasn’t any ground under it. What there was instead of ground, I don’t know, but I put the other foot out and down onto what I believed to be nothing, and over again until I was across the lane. Upright. I felt so proud, and then I woke up.

I knew the difference between dreams and waking life, but I couldn’t imagine that my dream-skills wouldn’t transfer to real-life walking. That day, I approached the lane without fear, knowing I’d been practicing all night.

For the first time in my (waking) life, I walked like there was no ground under me, and I crossed the lane in a straight line, upright, like a true two-footed person. My dream came true, and has served me well to this day.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

Dormant Seeding

My mom and I spent the warmest part of a day that only peaked at -5 surrounded by plants, kind of inside but not fully, kind of outside but not really. We were learning about fall seeding in a workshop presented by Sage Gardens, an all natural greenhouse at the South end of the city.

She was late and then I was late, which put us at not-making-very-good-time and hustling hard across town while trying hard not to spill coffee on ourselves. We were fine, really, and were offered warm honeyed tea in a calm, greenery-filled environment when we arrived.

It felt kind of counter-intuitive to be talking about gardening today, when I woke up to see snowflakes dancing outside the window, when I stepped outside to survey the yard and came to the same conclusive appraisal: Nothing left to do.

Well, maybe that’s not so true.

The idea of fall seeding is to get a start on the spring, to have less little indoor seedlings, and to have plants that are sturdier and more adjusted to the climate. Plants that have hardened up. But it doesn’t work for all of them.

Some seeds actually need the cold to germinate, we learned. And gardeners have tried to simulate this by keeping the seeds in the freezer, but it’s not the same. They don’t need an even, steady cold, they need a bit of fluctuation. Seeds are finicky, or perhaps more accurately, seeds are responsive.

Beyond the tricks of fall seeding, the underlying theme of today’s workshop was working with nature, taking clues from the environment, and then adapting your practices to that, rather than trying to control the vagaries of our (fairly extreme) climate. The things we can learn from watching the plants in our garden, watching the plants around us, and by talking to other people who are watching plants.

I took home seeds packets with names I’ve never heard of (and only just learned how to pronounce), some marking sticks, a little tray, and a bag of earth.

In a few days, I’ll assemble this little kit and put it outside, on the side that it prefers (not that oh-so-sunny South side, believe it or not), and prepare for growth. I’ll watch it for critters who may come to eat the seeds. Once the earth in the tray is frozen-ish, I’ll put a little blanket of leaves on it, just a thin liner before it’s covered by a welcome layer of snow (welcome to the seeds, at least.)

And then, ideally, in the spring, the seeds will know what’s up. When the conditions are right, they’ll poke their hardy heads up and look up at the window, where they’ll see a smaller variety of more tentative indoor plants, and me, with my watering can, waiting.

NaBloPoMo November 2014