March 2006 (v8 i5)
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The 26 Riverside
by Todd Nienkerk, Editor Emeritus

The worst part about the 26 Riverside/5 Woodrow route is the Woman in the Motorized Wheelchair.

It’s clockwork: Every day, 5:30 pm, on Guadalupe just past 15th Street. The driver clears the entire front section of the bus — both sides — folds up the benches, and buckles her in like an overloaded, strap-winched bed of a Ford Ranger.

Okay, so she’s not the worst part. It’s not her fault. She’s gotta use the bus to get home from work. The worst part is the agonizing awkwardness of watching all the other passengers stifle eye-rolls as the driver shoos them: “Okay, people. Clear out!” Then they shuffle around in tiny circles, jostling for a sliver of personal space in the aisles of the crowded bus. The Woman in the Motorized Wheelchair is the privileged elite. She’s a vassal lord saddled across a mechanical stallion, reining it herky-jerky through the almost-too-narrow folding doors. She’s come to evict the serfs.

Wait — I take it back. There’s something even worse about the 26/5: The Obligatory Homeless. If you ride it for at least half an hour, you’ll see one or two. They board the bus discreetly, heads hung low, and make open-palmed gestures to the driver under muttered breath. The driver listens patiently for a moment, then waves them on without having paid. They thank him and call him “Brother.”

The Obligatory Homeless come in three varieties, each distinguishable by their unique scent: Beer-Drunk, Liquor-Drunk, and Sober-Stink. Of the three, Beer-Drunk is the least offensive. He emits a vague, malt-like aroma that, if one concentrates hard enough, can be mistaken for the pleasant odor of freshly baked bread. Liquor-Drunk is much more difficult to ignore. The harsh vapors of $2 vodka waft from every pore of his body. His hair, tucked into a once-black baseball cap bleached gray with sweat and sun, smells of cheap cigarettes. While Beer-Drunk keeps to himself, Liquor-Drunk is bold enough to start a rambling conversation with anybody who acknowledges his presence. Occasionally, one of them boards the bus smelling like pot, and all the cool people share a guarded smile. (You are cool, right?)

But Sober-Stink outdoes them all. He — I’ll use the male pronoun exclusively, as even the most belligerent womyn shouldn’t be offended by exclusion — breeds the toe-curling stench of taint after a week of rustic camping next to a sulfur vent. He is the Phil Spector of fetor: A pioneer of the Wall of Stink.

It’s a bit tragic, as he’s actually the nicest of the bunch. He keeps to himself and never rides the bus drunk. Sober-Stink is doing his damnedest to get straight, find a job, and climb out of poverty. But he reeks to high hell and fouls up the entire ride with his epic body odor, which sticks to the seats like hot, wet chewing gum.

(How do Beer-Drunk and Liquor-Drunk remain relatively inoffensive while Sober-Stink induces dozens to breathe through their mouths? Does the liquor they imbibe disinfect them? Or does the sun’s UV rays naturally destroy odor-producing bacteria as they wallow on the steps of churches too Christian to kick them out? Such are the unfathomable mysterious of Science. And God. But mostly Science.)

Wait (again)! There’s something more awkward than Motorized Woman, something more odious than the Obligatory Homeless: People Who Talk About CSI.

Yup, they’re the worst.

When the world is destroyed by nuclear war, only two things will survive: cockroaches and CSI franchises. Thankfully, everyone who’d wanna watch CSI: Peoria or CSI: Asteroid X847-B was consumed by radioactive hellfire that melted their flesh like the Nazis’ in Raiders. Remember when they opened the Ark of the Covenant and that one Nazi dude’s face melted? Indiana Jones was all like, Hey, don’t look! and what’s-her-name was like, Why? but she trusted him and did it anyway and it saved her life? That was cool.
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