Not long after retiring from my job as a librarian at the University of Alberta, I got a contract job teaching a communications course (grammar and writing) at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).
For the most of the many years that I worked at the university, I walked the two kilometers or so to work every day and so was rarely outside my south-side Edmonton neighborhood on a weekday. To get to NAIT, I had to take the No. 9 bus through some parts of the city far removed from the south side university ambience.
Often I read during the thirty-minute trip, but more and more, I put my book aside to watch and listen to my fellow passengers. One day a matronly older woman was sitting next to me reading a magazine. The bus was packed, and new passengers were struggling to get on. A few times the bus driver asked people to move back, but nobody seemed to make the effort. All of a sudden, the matronly woman looked up from her magazine and shouted at those standing in the front, ”For Christ’s sake, move back and give the others a chance to get on!” She turned to me and asked, “Can you believe how stupid people can be?” I smiled and nodded. People immediately started to move back. She resumed her reading and didn’t say another word.
Then there was the young man who got on with what appeared to be strips of toilet paper hanging from all his pockets. He sat down next to a young Asian woman, blew his nose loudly a couple of times, turned to her, and said, “Boy, it’s allergy season for me. And what country do you hail from?” I couldn’t hear her mumbled reply, but she got off at the next stop, I imagined to wait for the next bus.
One bitterly cold winter evening, I was riding the bus home, and it was nearly empty. I was wearing a parka and my ushanka, a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap. I had the ear flaps down. The only other passengers were a young man and an older woman sitting across from me. From their conversation, I learned that they were mother and son. He had apparently just got out of prison and was assuring his mother that he planned to straighten his life out. I looked over at them and our eyes met.
Keeping his eyes on me, he said to her “I’m not going to do anything that gets me sent back to the slammer. I used to do a lot of dumb stuff, but no more. Like, look at this guy wearing that stupid hat. I would love to smack him in the face and knock that stupid hat right off his head. But I’m not going to do it. I’m just not.”
His mother laughed, and I immediately turned my eyes away and stared out the window. Their conversation continued in that vein for a few more stops, and, to my great relief, they got off.
I had always thought that the university was a hotbed of eccentricity, but it was a model of normalcy compared to the No. 9 bus.