lunedì 16 marzo 2009

The Bus Stops Here

I’ve been working a temporary job in London, and I have a really long commute. So embarrassingly long that I am not even going to admit just how long it is. Although it eats up a good chunk of my day there are rewards.
The first being that since I am taking public transportation, I don’t have to pay attention to the road, and can relax and enjoy the countryside. The bus has electrical outlet and internet access, which like most things in life is not quite as advertised. Sometimes the electricity doesn’t work, and the internet is unavailable for a good part of the journey, usually when we are rolling through the lovely countryside. One of the funniest sights along the way are the sheep out in the fields. As you are passing in a bus they appear to be rooted, motionless little wool bushes. I had never given much consideration to the activity of sheep, but I guess grazing doesn’t require much observable movement, especially when you are passing at a good clip. Truthfully, I would probably just be sitting at home doing the same thing I am doing here (except the observing the sheep part), so I can’t complain too much.
The job itself is also rewarding. I’m working with a small group digitizing documents at an archive. It is really just data entry, but it’s well paid and somewhat interesting. I’m learning how to decipher early 19th century handwriting, discovering hitherto unknown abbreviations for male first names, and familiarizing myself with the geography of the British Isles. The project ends in a few weeks and I am already feeling a bit misty. In the few weeks I’ve been doing this, I’ve become accustomed to the people I’m working with, and the thought of not seeing them everyday is a bit sad. It has been a while since I worked a temp job, and I had forgotten about the melancholy side of the experience. At least I know the end is near. I have worked some jobs where they tell you on Wednesday that Friday will be your last day. It is always a shock to be dismissed so easily, and in such an offhand manner. It’s sort of like a casual boyfriend breaking up with you – you know there isn’t a future, but when the end comes you’re still left feeling somewhat empty.
The other reward is that people you encounter along the way. I generally don’t like talking to people on public transport. On an airplane, I usually avoid conversation until the last few minutes before we land. Sometimes you have a chatty neighbor and it is impossible not to chat, and I really don’t mind too much. However, the longer you have to talk to someone, the more likely it is that they will confess things to you that don’t want to know about, or tell you about their personal relationship with God. While I respect people’s religious convictions, I feel it is a personal relationship that you shouldn’t share with strangers. I once sat next to a fellow from Washington DC to Raleigh, North Carolina, who was eager to share his religious views with me. He was from the Caribbean, I think, and spoke to me at length about how the after-life enabled you to live forever. I was somewhat fascinated by his take on the whole process. The main gist was that you could live forever almost in a corporeal sense, not in the spiritual way that I always envisioned it. On another train ride, I had a retired man who lived in Las Vegas confess to me that he had blown his retirement funds in the casinos. Nice. I wonder how he broke it to his wife.
On my way back and forth between Oxford I’ve met some interesting people. The other day as I made my jog from the tube station to the bus stop (I decided that in order to get some “exercise” in my day I would jog the easy downhill slope to the bus stop. It’s not much, but it’s something.), I noticed a woman at my side who apparently had been running too. She was a South Asian woman in her 50’s. She looked a bit tired, but had a sweet, sympathetic smile. I guess my running might had given her the idea that there was a need to hurry. We waited several minutes for the bus to appear and after the two people in front of us got on the driver said, “we’re all full up.” He then turned his head and noticed that there were at least two seats and let us on. It turned out there were plenty of seats and the five or so people behind us in line also got on.
While were waiting for the bus, this lovely woman told me how she was going to Oxford to visit her daughter and infant granddaughter. She is a librarian and afraid of losing her job, and a mother afraid that her daughter has too much responsibility. She got a little teary talking to me about her family. When we got on the bus we had to sit in different seats, so our conversation ended there, at the door, wondering if we’d be let on the bus. When we stopped in Oxford, she got off several stops ahead of me. On her way out the door she shook my hand and said it was nice meeting me. She had soft warm hands, and it was if this gentle gesture transferred the warmth of her personality.