The Wheels on the Bus go…

Editor’s note: Dr. Lois Goodwill is a retired clinical psychologist and co-author, with the late Don Asher, of Entangled:Lois Goodwill A Chronicle of Late Love, a memoir in two voicesreleased by Heyday in July. Born in Montreal, Canada, she holds degrees from McGill University in Montrealand the Wright Institute in Berkeley. She enjoys attending theater and symphony performances and volunteer work. She is an enthusiastic hiker and walker. She is the mother of four children and grandmother of eleven. She lives in San Francisco.

I board the Parnassus # 6 bus, inbound, at the foot of my street. Looking west on Haight Street the number 6 is distinguished by the trolley poles, visible above the assortment of traffic moving east. The MUNI driver guides his vehicle to the curb. I step on and survey those seats reserved for seniors close to the front of the bus. I am seventy-four years of age, fit and agile, but I do respect the inevitable jostling of the bus; sudden starts and stops could send an old lady to the hospital and into many months of rehab with a broken hip if she foolishly didn’t insist on traveling seated. I insist!

I am traveling at mid-day to the Federal Courthouse where it has commanded the corner of Seventh and Mission, in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District since its completion in 1905. As a docent there, I give tours to groups of visitors curious about the architecture, the history and the function of the very fine beaux Arts Ninth District Courthouse.

If those seats reserved for seniors and persons with disabilities are all occupied and I can detect no signs of age or obvious need amongst the occupants, I ask politely “Is there a need for you to be in that seat?” If the response is not an offer of the seat nor a defense of the person’s right, I state quite firmly “ I would like to sit there”.  This tactic has never failed to produce either the requested seat or one adjacent.

Today there are some healthy appearing people, perhaps a couple, in front of where I grab the overhead support and make my needs known. The couple are a man and a woman, perhaps in their thirties. He offers his seat; I accept, settle myself and notice that the woman, his companion, is map reading. They are Italian, from Genoa, and on their honeymoon. Her English is quite good; he speaks no English. They have been to San Diego, Yosemite and Golden Gate Park. Now they are headed to have coffee in one of North Beach’s storied cafes. We discuss their route; I wish them all the best and disembark at Market and 7th. It is chance encounters like that one that enrich my day, make me grateful to live in a cosmopolitan city, and appreciate the fact that my silvery hair entitles me to a seat on the bus and the confidence to engage with strangers, or so I remember thinking at the moment.

Two hours later, having shared the beauties and intricacies of the Federal Courthouse with a group of fourteen visitors, I head for home, reversing my route.  Waiting at the mid-road bus shelter on Market Street, I spy those familiar trolley poles. Good! There are a few routes that will get me home but I think the #6 Parnassus is likely to be the least crowded. Right! It is almost empty, at least in the front area. I sink into one of those designated seniors seats. There is emptiness on either side of me. One stop westward  a heavily tattooed man with a shopping cart and what I would estimate to be a forty inch plasma TV struggles on board. He plants his cart in front of my knees until I point out that it is unanchored and threatening to create a problem as it rolls back and forth. He relocates the cart, seats himself in the space to my left and precariously balances the TV on his lap. He is sweating profusely, smells as would be expected, looks fierce and suddenly the charm of public transportation has diminished enormously. In fact, there is no charm at all, only incipient danger.

The fierce man with his cumbersome possessions gets off a few stops further west and a woman with a baby takes his place. The infant is about four months old; it regards me solemnly, then with curiosity, and in response to a gentle “hello, baby” from this old grandma, it works hard to produce a smile. The baby’s mom is going to pick up a first-grader from his first day at school. In a moment, my pleasure in bus travel is restored. A smile from an innocent infant and for that moment, all is well in the world.

In thirty years the baby could become the tattooed man or the honeymooning Italian. In seventy-some years he could be an old man on a bus. But for this instant that smiling infant is hope and I am content.