The Big Cheese

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Today I was standing in line for the bus I commute on into the city. This is new for me—my third week of commuting from my new house. It has taken a new sense of optimism to undertake this task. Thankfully, I do not need to do it alone; my boyfriend is my partner in crime. We have had to learn much about this verb “to commute.” There is an entirely different culture associated with the word than either of us have experienced.

There are no signs to tell you where to stand and line up. There are no indications of into where the bus will pull. We had to learn by watching and, on occasion, asking the fellow commuters. This is a club that we are not yet invited into: “The Commuters’ Club.” They all know each other and they all have their system down pat. They didn’t necessarily treat us badly, but it was evident they were eyeing us, giving us the once over—we were interlopers on their turf. They are still holding us at arm’s length. Maybe to wait and see if we’ll stick with it, if we’ll really become one of them. I have to say, I don’t really want to become want of them. There are several things that irk me and, at the same time, make me crack up.

No one actually stands in line—a marker of some sort is placed on the ground to hold your spot in line. We saw, of course, bags placed on the ground; a newspaper didn’t seem unusual. But then there was the line that looked like Hansel and Gretel had pilfered items from an office store to lay the track to retrace their steps. There were highlighters, pens, binder clips, water bottles, a Monsters, Inc. doll (the little green one—Billy Crystal). The best one yet has been a spice jar. I think it held cinnamon.

I amuse myself by thinking of something that I could use as a placemarker. My friend came up with the idea that took the cake (mmm, a cake …). She said a small imitation Christmas tree. As yet, I haven’t marked my place with anything other than my body. And my boyfriend and I standing in line look over at all the other people who are standing mere feet from their items placed in line who are standing there looking at us. I believe I saw them laugh in our direction when we stood recently in line holding our umbrellas up to keep ourselves dry in the rain instead of placing the umbrella on the asphalt and walking inside to wait.

We may not conform to their standards of commuting, but my boyfriend and I have it all figured out. We get there early so that we are first in line for our bus. We get on the bus in the seats that we prefer—right in front. Sitting there happily, we overhear the passengers as they climb on, “If Gary wants his seat, he’d better get here early!” Assigned seats? It is just like in elementary school back home when the kids had staked out their territory and stick to the seats they’ve claimed all year. I bet if I looked back every day, I would see the same people sitting in the exact same spots. I wonder, too, how long it will take to have those seats considered “ours.” Frankly, I think these people needed their meticulously maintained world to be blown up right before their very eyes—they were getting way too comfortable and inflexible to change.

Today, while in line, my boyfriend and I were discussing our cat. We were so happy that the timed automatic feeder had done its job so well and we weren’t woken up by our hungry little guy in the wee hours of the morning. Though there was a very small adjustment period. The first time it went off and the food clattered into the bowl, our little precious couldn’t believe his eyes! He paused and then scrambled to the bowl. We think he had to take that moment to make sure he wasn’t imagining this amazing spectacle. If he could have pinched himself, I believe he would have. Now he scampered off at the sound of it, no matter where he was in the house. I was worried that he might get addicted and start squatting in front of it all the time waiting for his fix. My boyfriend told me how animals like rats can be trained to react in certain ways—they form the habit. Like us, I said. He smiled and nodded his head.

Here we are being trained to follow the pattern. The highlighters, binder clips, and spice jars were the obstacles of our maze, the coveted seats on the bus our little reward on our way to getting the prize—work and salary to keep us on track with the American dream. We do what is necessary to get the big cheese at the end of it all. We’ve got our eyes and hearts set on it and we do what we have to, adjusting our attitudes and movements along the way, all in an effort to keep the big cheese within our sight. The rat race? I guess so. But we’ve got something rats don’t: highlighters.


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