The Bus Ride
They were the same kids who got on the bus every Saturday during the summer. The drivers and passengers lost track of their faces. They became a standard set of creatures with streaked straight blonde hair and denim uniforms. Even their sound was the same: format, roaring.
Four ran to the back of the bus and threw themselves down on the seats. “Come on!” Alan shouted, pushing open the back door to let the other guys sneak in.
“Too crowded,” said Bill, from the sidewalk. “We’ll meet you there. Take the next bus.”
Judy lit a cigarette. Pam waved to a friend. Wendy kept her hands on the seat next to her, in case Ellen showed up at the last minute.
Sharon paid her fare and found a seat by a window. She wanted the view. It was a smogless day and the mountains could be seen in their true colors. From here to Westwood, she would stare at the receding shades of brown of the Santa Susanas, at the green and parched brown of the hills siding the freeway.
The bus took off with speed surprising for the load of writhing bodies it carried. Few aboard were not going to the beach.
Alan turned on his transistor. Ed slapped him with a rolled towel.
“Ah-oom,” said Alan. Judy laughed.
“It’s too hot on this bus,” said Ed.
“Yeah,” said Pam. “Some of the windows don’t open.”
“Hey, turn on the air-conditioning, man.”
“You want us to burn?”
Sharon watched the houses go by, then the hillsides with all the irrigation ditches, the sprinklers on full force. The bus was warm; well, it would all be over soon. Here was the Holiday Inn, now the Sunset exit.
In Westwood, she changed to the Wilshire bus, as did all the other suntanned passengers who wanted the beach. They pushed each other all the way from the exit door of the first bus to the entrance of the second bus.
“Does this go to the beach?” said Alan, dropping his fare into the till.
“Yes,” sighed the driver.
“Does this bus go to the beach?” said Judy.
“Does it go to Hong Kong?” said Pam.
“It goes to the beach.”
“Hey, it goes to the beach!”
Even Sharon joined in. “Does it really go to the beach?” she said but no one seemed to hear her.
She could only find an outside seat this time, next to Judy. The bus rolled. Judy lit up another cigarette.
“Please,” said Sharon. “It bothers me. Don’t smoke.”
Judy said nothing.
“You’re not supposed to smoke on the bus. There’s a sign.”
“I can’t read,” said Judy.
“Well, it says, don’t smoke.”
“No, it doesn’t” said Alan, from the other side of the bus. “It says NO SMOKING.”
“Please don’t smoke,” said Ed. “I’m dying.” He blew mock smoke at Sharon.
Sharon looked around for another seat. The bus was full.
“I have nowhere to go,” she said. “Please, I’m allergic. And you really shouldn’t smoke, anyway.”
“I don’t care,” said Judy.
“She’s immune to cancer,” said Alan.
“You really smell bad when you smoke,” said Sharon. “That’s something to think about.”
“Think about this,” said Pam. “Your hair is all greasy like you never wash it.”
“That’s not the point,” said Sharon.
“I’d rather smell bad than look ugly,” said Judy.
Sharon began to cry.
“Aw, you hurt the little girl’s feelings,” said Alan.
“Crybaby,” said Pam.
Judy blew a puff at Sharon.
“You are sick,”
"Oink, oink,” said Ed. “Hey, I smoke a pack a day. I guess I smell awful!”
They all laughed.
Sharon got off at the next stop. The sea smell was already in the air although the beach was a few blocks away. She’d walk from there. Let those kids go their own way.
“Goodbye, pig,” they cried as she got out. “Hope you get cancer.”
A back window was forced open and an empty cigarette box was hurled at Sharon as the bus began to move.
She walked to the beach, kicked sand, sat down near the remains of a sandcastle. She watched the waves come in to drench the castle walls and reduce them to shapeless mud.
She still felt the urge to cry. There were no kids at this part of the beach. No one would have to know. She could drop the tears into the ocean.
They were always capable of provoking her, those kids. Pam, Judy, Wendy, Ellen, Margie, none of the girls liked her. She couldn’t sit with them at lunch. As for the boys, well, you know how boys are, the icky things, the creeps, not grown up yet, no respect for girls.
Her day was ruined. She took no pleasure in the beach or the pier. She went home early, on another bus, the Santa Monica line. She’d get home before the kids, so as not to encounter them.
Seated by the window again, she took out her compact to cover her tear marks. She looked at her face for a long time.
Maybe it was her hair that did it—not that it was really greasy. But bangs made her look about 14. No wonder they looked down on her. The idea was to seem older, sophisticated, that was the deal, not necessarily adult, just grown up. Cigarette smoking was a ritual of initiation. Only babies didn’t smoke.
Pam and Judy, Bill and Ed and Alan, they were grown up, you see. They smoked. They were tough. Smokers ruled. A driver’s license, a surfboard, ruled. They’d always said things like that.
Had they even said those things on the bus today? Or was she just hearing the echo from high school, the same insults, greasy hair, pig, baby, crybaby.
She thought back to high school. She’d believed it would all end when she got her diploma. That would guarantee her adulthood, no more taunting by kids.
But here she was, 22 years old, and high school kids could still drag her back and make her cry.
She applied lipstick, put her hair behind her ears, resolved to cut the bangs very soon, look her age at last. She got off the bus, lifted her chin, raised herself to her full height. And she began to stroll down Ventura Boulevard, looking to the north for another glimpse of her mountains.