October 18, 2001
Waiting For The #52

 


 
The #52 is running late.

I have no idea how late, exactly, because I don't have an AC Transit schedule handy. But I know I've been sitting at this bus stop for more than half an hour already, sweltering in the Alameda autumn sunshine. (What ever possessed me to wear a suit today, anyway? I'm not interviewing anymore. Technically I'm not employed yet. Why did I think I had to dress up to go to the MALL, forcryingoutloud?)  And since I'm pretty sure the bus rolls through this bus stop every fifteen minutes, I've got to assume that it's running late.

(Or maybe it's been hijacked! whispers the little paranoid voice: the new Muzak of my head.)

I couldn't sit around the apartment this morning. I just couldn't. I'm all keyed-up about the new job, and I had to GET OUT!  I had to GO SOMEWHERE!  I had to DO SOMETHING!  And since I will soon be at the mercy of public transportation, once again, I thought maybe this would be a good time to reacquaint myself with the rhythm and routine of bus riding. So I got dressed (in a suit, of all stoopid things), and I locked up the apartment for the day, and I headed for the nearest bus stop. No particular destination in mind, although I had sort of a vague idea that going to the mall and looking at shoes might be good. So far it's been a pretty successful little excursion, too. I didn't buy shoes, but I bought everything else that wasn't nailed down at Mervyn's. (Including another purse, which I need about as much as I need another set of engraved polo mallets.) Plus I managed to make every connection on time, produce the correct bus fare at every stop and find a decent seat on every leg of the journey. But now, as I sit here at the bus stop, bored, sweaty and footsore -- why didn't I bring something to read? or a bottle of Calistoga? or a pair of Isotoners, maybe? -- all I want to do is go home and strip out of this ridiculous suit and these stoopid shoes and lay flat on my back in front of the little electric fan for about an hour or three.

I look up and down the street again, hoping to spot the familiar green, orange and white AC bus. Nothing. Overhead, a tiny white airplane sputters noisily, directly above the bus stop. I squint into the sunlight, trying to determine whether or not anything is being sprayed from the back of the plane.

Nothing.

At that moment, an elderly couple joins me at the bus stop. I've been watching them approach for the past ten minutes or so, as they made their slow, painfully deliberate way down the sidewalk from the grocery store. When they were still five blocks away, I thought they looked incredibly tiny: an optical illusion, I figured. Now that they're actually standing here in front of me, though, they look even tinier. She's five feet tall, tops; her elaborate beehive hairdo accounts for a third of that height. He is wizened and gnarled and brown, like one of those dried apple-head dolls. As I watched them walk together down the sidewalk, I noticed that he held onto her elbow with one hand ... gingerly, carefully, tenderly, as though she were very, very delicate. Now, as they settle onto the bench next to me -- jibberjabbering at each other quietly, in couplespeak -- I see that they are holding hands.

I feel my heart squeeze with longing. That's what I want.

I want to grow old and gray and doddering with David. I want to be two old married people someday, sitting together at a bus stop (or shuffling along together in the mall, or eating pancakes together at Denny's). I want grandchildren together. I want to retire together, and spend our days riding our tandem bike through the hills of Port Townsend. I want to write books together. I want to go to Italy and eat bruschetta together. I want to shop for Polident and Geritol together. I want wedding anniversaries together: lots and LOTS of wedding anniversaries.

And I want people to look at us, someday in the comfortably-distant future, and say Isn't that cute? They're still holding hands.

Growing old is never something I've planned for or looked forward to or even thought about much, if I could possibly help it. When I was a kid, it was because I was filled with all of the safe, oblivious invincibility of youth. When I was a teenager, it was because I actually bought into all of that Hope I die before I get old/Better to burn out than to fade away silliness. When I was a young married woman, cranking out Tots every couple of years, it was because I was too damn exhausted to think about much of anything beyond diaper pails and doctor bills.

(When I was vomiting into a metal wastebasket in The Tree House, it was because I thought I already WAS old.)

But it's different now. Lately I'm viewing the whole getting-old thing in an entirely new light ... and it's not something I'm afraid of or repelled by anymore. Maybe it's because David and I found each other in mid-life, and I'm greedy for as much married time with him as we can possibly squeeze out of life, even if various body parts are dropping off or shriveling or turning funny colors in the process. Or maybe it's because recent events have reminded us all that growing old isn't a given. (It never has been, of course. But I think we're all more acutely aware of that these days.)

Whatever the reason, growing old sounds damn good to me now.

Another ten minutes later, the #52 finally comes chugging around the corner. (When I get home, later that afternoon, I check the bus schedule and see that I was wrong: this bus runs at fifty minute intervals, not fifteen. Clearly a Bus Riding Refresher Course was a good idea.) The old man boards the bus ahead of his wife, carrying their grocery bags and their personal belongings. I watch as he negotiates their fares with the driver, and as he stakes out a spot conveniently near the front and stows the grocery bags under the seat. When all of that is done, he slowly climbs back off the bus in order to help his wife board. He stands behind her, on the sidewalk, and sort of pushes her up the steps ... one hand on the small of her back, one hand on her bottom. I am amused and moved by the tenderness of the gesture, and by the trust and familiarity it implies. Once they are both safely settled into their seats, I hop up the steps and drop my $1.35 into the meter.

As I head for my usual seat, next to the back door of the bus, I can see that they are still holding hands.



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