Riding and Reading; The Safe Way to Commute

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Five days a week I, like most other people, go to work. There are potentially dozens of ways for me to get to work: car, bike, segway, helicopter, skate board, or hitch hiking; the options are potentially endless. I have chosen to go the traditional route and commute via the bus. On my way to work I take a TriMet bus (#44, #54, or #56) from stop #925 to stop #7803; on my way home I take a bus from stop #7586 to stop #955. The ride to work takes 13.5 minutes. The ride home takes either 15 or 21 minutes depending on which bus I catch. During this time I read. During most other times I like to babble. This blog combines all three: books, buses and babble.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

consequential strangers

Book: The White Tiger

Bus: 6:02; #56

Pages read: 0

He's becoming too friendly. This is a bad thing. There is this guy that takes the bus in the morning. I used to call him "Construction guy with ear buds and coffee," now I call him Eric. See what I mean; problem. I know Eric is a construction supervisor for the city of Portland. I know he has children. I know he has air conditioning in his house. I know he has been to the Grand Canyon. I know TOO much! I see this guy pretty much every morning. Interacting with him is something I try to avoid. I walk slowly to the bus stop hoping the bus will come by the time I reach it, or if I am there and see him walking up, I will start digging through my bag as if I am desperately trying to find something. But sometimes I am sitting duck. Usually the weather is the topic of "conversation." We live in Portland for Christ's sake, how many different ways can you talk about how badly rain sucks? I do not want to talk about the rain. I do not want to talk about anything. It violates the rules.

Bus stop etiquette is simple: greet each other with a nod and/or a smile. The number one rule (second being don't look them in the eyes) is never ask names. Once you know a rider's name there is a level of intimacy that cannot be undone. You are then obligated to greet and talk to this person. Don't get me wrong, I like consequential strangers, they do provide a sense of comfort and community, I just like mine to be silent.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Groin scratching

Book: The White Tiger
Bus: #56; 6:04 a.m.
Pages read: 115 - 127

More on driving in India:

"Every now and then, the various horns, each with its own pitch, blended into one continuous wail that sounded like a calf taken from its mother [awesome simile]. Fumes filled the air. Wisps of blue exhaust glowed in front of every headlight; the exhaust grew so fat and thick it could not rise or escape, but spread horizontally, sluggish and glossy, making a kind of fog around us." pg 115. Add to this coughed up phlegm splattering window and you have a traffic jam in India. I'm packing my bags for India right now.

Balram, while in the comfort of an air-conditioned automobile, looks at the poor lining the roads as they spend their days like all others; waiting for ??? In these blank, dirty faces he sees his father's eyes looking back at him. Balram feels a kinship to the squatters. The difference? While those people are living in the Darkness, Balram's Darkness is now merely the shadows of his masters amid the surrounding light.

Still, Balram complains. "The worst part of being a driver is that you have hours to yourself while waiting for your employer. You can spend this time chitchatting and scratching your groin." pg 126 Now come on, sure waiting around tapping your toes is a bit frustrating, but you get to scratch your groin. How bad can it really be? A few disinfectant wipes in the glove box to wipe the steering wheel every now and then and life's good. Much better than cleaning the red paan spit from the spittoon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I must Look Like a Compass

Book: The White Tiger
Bus: 44; 2:58 p.m.
Pages read: 107 - 115

This is beyond coincidence. While waiting for the bus an Asian woman asked me for directions to a bus stop. Well, "ask" is a generous, it was more like "charadeded" me the question. I spent several minutes directing (charading again: pointing and motioning) to a bus stop about 3 blocks away. She is probably still wandering around Portland.

Then, once I was on the bus, this elderly woman was hovering next to me looking a bit perplexed. She kept looking at me as if ready to ask a question. Taking the cue, I asked her if she needed help and it turns out she did. She wanted to know if she was on the right bus to take her to the Jewish center. I was proud of myself for knowing where the Center was, b/c it is next to the eye-catching store "Everything Jewish," so I was able to confidently confirm she was on the right bus.

While not nearly as inept as the direction-givers in Delhi, I hate giving directions. First, I kind of panic when someone asks me. I feel like I am on Jeopardy and have to hit the buzzer and answer immediately. It's too much pressure. As a result I end up giving directions and then ralizing after the unknowing lost soul is gone and I take 30 seconds to actually think about it,that I gave the wrong name of a street or something. I then feel completely responsible for this person and blame myself for their future misfortunes (divorce, failing out of college, etc.).

Any way...

Balram explains that "Servants need to abuse other servants. It's been bred into us, the way Alsatian dogs are bred to attack strangers. We attack anyone who's familiar." pg 109. So much for sticking together. Sounds like a fraternity at hazing time.

When Ashok and Pinky Tuscadaro move to Delhi they take an apartment in a large building. Balram's new home is the basement of the building with the other chauffeurs. He is on call 24 hours a day and shares a room with audibly-chewing cockroaches that spend the night leaping onto his mosquito net. Good thing he has that khaki uniform or he might start to question his improved status in the world.

And...Ashok and the Mongoose start their descent into the world of political bribery which it's pretty clear will not end well.

Venting - read if you want

Book: The White Tiger
Bus #44; 6:12 a.m.
Pages read: 95-107

I need to vent, so I am adding to my earlier post.

Erotophonophilia is the topic of the casual reading of the servants in India. Or at least that is what Adiga/Balram asserts. A very popular magazine that all chauffeurs read while waiting for their masters to return from a night of revelry is "Murder Weekly." Murder Weekly contains stories like, "A Good Body Never Goes to Waste." Balram assures that the magazine doesn't fuel any violence b/c "...the murderer in the magazine is so mentally disturbed and sexually deranged that not one reader would want to be like him...." pg. 105. Adiga adds a lighthearted funny follow up, "It's when your driver starts to read about Gandhi and Buddha that it's time to wet your pants...." pg 105 In the context of casual humor this subject makes me sick, regardless of any literary purpose. Though I don't believe that Adiga's writings will promote or condone the practice (vast numbers of "The White Tiger" readers seeking out such materials), I just think it is inappropriate. My opinion unjustified? You can probably make a very accurate rebuttal to my opinion. But I still feel a line has been crossed. The context (subtle/casual humor) of which this criminal behavior is tossed about is unsettling at best.

Perhaps I feel this way b/c I work in the field of criminal law. I read and hear accounts of unbelievably horrific crimes on a daily basis: child sexual abuse, rape, torture, murder. These things really happen to people. And I cannot read something like this without being flooded with unwanted thoughts of the real life victims; the real life individuals who perpetrate the crime; and those real life individuals who read these materials. The truth makes the depiction of it in a lighthearted manner deplorable.

Lost in Delhi

Book: The White Tiger
Bus: #44; 6:12 a.m.
Pages read: 95 - 107

Being a chauffeur in Delhi is a challenging task. If you were to enter a starting point and the destination into Google Maps you would get the directions, "Are you fucking kidding me?" This is because a blind illiterate was in charge of Delhi's civic planning. For example, in a housing colony (development) house number "A 231" is next to "F 378". When looking for "E 231" Balram tracked down (tracking as in knowing the inhabitant's scent and using a hound dog's sense of smell to locate that individual and hopefully he/she will be at the address you are looking for) "E 200" and the "E" block vanished completely and the next house was "S" something. This impossible task of navigating Delhi is compounded by the fact that "[If y]ou ask someone, "Where's Nikolai Copernicus Marg ?" And he could be a man who lived on Nikolai Copernicus Marg his whole life, and he'll open his mouth and say, "Hahn?" Or he'll say, "Straight ahead, then turn left," even though he has no idea." pg 99. Big smile for that one.

Problematic for a driver? Yes, especially when you consider the consequences for taking too long to find a location is being called an imbecile and receiving a smack in the head. If I were a driver in Delhi I would invest in a bike helmet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Eau de public bus

Book: The White Tiger
Bus: #56; 4:15 p.m.
Pages read: 0

"'A perfume hides a story,' said Laurence Fauvel, a perfumer and one of the teachers at [the Grasse Institute of Perfumery], which opened in February 2002."* If so, then a public bus has one hell of a disgusting story to tell. Just as pavlov's dogs drool at the sound of a bell, I instinctively cringe as I enter a bus knowing that there is the possibility that there will be a smell so bad that I will want to shower when I get home. Today, that smell was Goodwill. If you have ever been in a Goodwill you know the exact odor I am talking about. Every Goodwill in the country has the same floral room freshner/dirty clothes scent. Ick. But my nose must have been especially tuned in today, b/c that wasn't the only scent that penetrated my nostrils. I sat behind a small waif of a guy who had dandruff and smelled of body odor. Usually I stick it out, but it was so nauseating (even though it was more subtle than most) I discretely moved to another seat. I then found myself behind a woman smelling of cherry chapstick. If I could bottle these smells into a perfume, I don't know what story it would tell, but I know what its moral would be: at the end of the day too many humans in a confined space is not a good thing.

*from an internet article on BlogPost; "Smelling like roses...or not" by Mildrade Cherfils.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Returning a hero, leaving for good

Book: The White Tiger

Bus: #44; 6:12 a.m.
Pages read: 69-80

Balram drives Ashok and Pinky Tuscadero to his old village. He is treated "better" than the water buffalo. He is treated like the Fonz. Grandma is too intimidated of the khaki uniform to touch it, the neighbors wait for him outside their homes waiting to see the uniform. Unfortunately, the uniform does not protect against Grandma's personality. Grandma is her typical loving self, wailing into the neighbor's house that Balram is living like a king (as if she needed to tell them that -- he's wearing a khaki uniform for Christ's sake) and keeping all his hard earned money to himself. Grandma decides Balram is going to get married. "We'll fix up the wedding for later this year, okay? We've already found someone for you -- a nice plump duck. The moment she has her mestrual cycle, she can come here." pg. 73. When Balram declines this tempting offer, grandma lets him know that he will "do what we want." Wow, bad idea. Balram throws a dish, charges out of the house (?) and storms up to the fort. As he climbs, he can see himself as a little brown man in a khaki uniform shaking with anger. He leaves the village without saying goodbye to his family and proclaiming, "I am never going back there." pg 76. Good for him.