Austin’s bus system is great. Not because of their punctuality or for the cheerfulness of the drivers, but for the colorful cast of characters. Everyone from the Mister Carwash employee to the disturbed man praying in Swahili. On the bus, intellectuals sit next to the man with the pink pants/pink shirt/pink shoes with matching pink socks/pink fanny pack combo (incidentally, I ran into this man at my local grocery store and learned he drives a pink Prius – I shudder to think what the interior of his home is like).
At the same time, it is because of the wide variety of life I find on the bus that I rarely talk on the bus. When I do, conversation is something that happens to happen to me rather by me, but on this day, I decided to actually strike up a conversation.
He was about my age and build: early thirties, tall, lean, no muscle beyond that needed to walk and lift grande lattes. His beard was a half-mowed yard: patchy and irregular. He had a bit of the hipster look without all the pretentiousness. He didn’t exude confidence but had an aura of knowledge gained from years on intense study, as evidence by the wrinkles of scrutiny embedded in his forehead. And I saw myself in this man.
“So you’re a graduate student in film?” I said, quoting my previously acquired by eavesdropping.
“Yeah,” he replied with a awkward smile. He seemed surprised to be talking to someone on the bus. I was surprised to be talking myself. “My students voted on some movies,” he displayed the list as evidence.
“Cool,” I said. “So, what’s it going to be?” Having majored in film, I thought I would impress this man with my deep knowledge of historic film that only an expensive university degree could buy. I saw his brow knit and he calculated the chances my knowing the chosen film.
“Elevator to the Gallows. It’s a film by Louis Malle. Miles Davis did the soundtrack.”
“That’s cool,” I said with a non-committal nod.
“What are you studying?”
“Well,” I fumbled. “I got an undergraduate degree in film.”
“Yeah.” I shrugged. “But now I’m back in school studying geology.”
“That’s cool. You know, I always liked geology. I think that if I went into science, I’d study that.”
I smiled. We exchanged pleasantries until he got off the bus. As I watched him go, I saw another, different life path. It’s good to know that life would’ve turned out okay for me. Perhaps less rich in some areas yet richer in others. Had I turned left at that fork of life, I would have avoided several years of hotel nonsense, but I’d also have been subjected to watching and writing about black-and-white silent movies that suck but made their way into film history for one reason or another.
The bus shut the doors with a hydraulic bleach and thundered on. I rocked back and forth as the tires rolled over potholes and hidden pits in the road. With no reason to look back, I got off on my own stop and walked home.