Reasonably, my colleagues view the #22 bus with suspicion. It is noisy, crowded, smelly. Its route is through some of the worst sections of town.
But I love the #22.
I've ridden it in the middle of the workday when I'm leaving the office early, sick. When the riders are the gray-faced strung out; the bemused elderly; the leftover hippies, eyes following invisible spirits, hallucinatory bubbles as they rise toward the ceiling.
Early afternoon, and I'm elbowed by school kids shouting lusty from one end to the other, teeth sparking white in their greed to bite off chunks of life whole, to show us old folks their strength, their primacy. Weary-eyed teachers quiet near the front, an authoritative look from one momentarily lulls the kids.
But in the evening, oh, what a grand parade. In just a few blocks, on just one evening, I am treated to:
One cop near the front of the bus, bald as a lightbulb, talking with an elderly woman. I think she is Eastern European, possibly Baltic.
Two emaciated women, holding each other up. One white, one black. I cannot tell how old they are. They could be in their twenties or their forties, but the years have worked on them like the jaws of an animal. The white woman wears skinny jeans that nonetheless sag, fuscia thong showing above; the black woman a red leather skirt that outlines her curveless ass. Their eyes roll vaguely; I don't think they even see the cop as they sit directly across from him.
One Asian man in glasses, tall and slender as an alien, neatly dressed in buttery tweed. Matching vest buttoned top to bottom, soft gray tie like a pigeon's breast, pearl tie pin dimpling the perfect center.
At the third stop, a giant black man, head brushing the ceiling. Barbie-doll pink silk suit. Pink wingtips. Pink fedora. Pink cane. Full-length fur coat. He smiles, boarding the bus, the bald cop watching him pass, gold teeth winking.
Two lushly built black women sit together. The larger woman's jeans are laced up the side with ribbon; flawless brown flesh shining out between the laces. Over one bubbling breast is tattooed "PRINCESS". I can't read her other tattoos. The two of them are trying to offer a seat to an elderly Filipina, who shakes her bobbed hair merrily, "No, no, I'm okay." A passenger gets off, leaving the seat beside Princess empty, and the Filipina sits at last. Her eyes widen as she takes in Princess' body art.
"Oh," she says, delicately touching one tiny finger to Princess' shoulder, "You have pictures?"
"Oooooh," says Filipina, her eyes worried as she looks up at Princess, "It not hurt?"
Princess laughs. "Yeah, it hurt - but it's okay now."
I love the #22.