I've been meaning for some time to blog about my many positive experiences as a rider of public transportation in the greater Los Angeles area. Alas, it took a negative experience to get me to add the bus label to my list of topics.
At age 68, I rarely get unwelcome (or welcome!) attention from strange men, but last Monday evening was an exception. A man sat down next to me on the bus and proceeded to pop open the can of beer he was carrying in a paper bag. Judging by his aroma, this was not his first beer of the evening. I kept my eyes on my Kindle and hoped he wouldn't strike up a conversation.
Of course he turned out to be quite a talker. I think the first topic was food. He was hungry. Wanted a hamburger. I made the mistake of suggesting some places to get one, and this led him to the subject of how hamburgers had gotten so much smaller in recent years. He wanted to know why this shrinkage had happened. I mumbled something about the economy, but what I wanted to know was why he didn't get off the bus and get a hamburger. After a while he said he thought a Subway sandwich would be better, but he stayed put.
Looking at my Kindle, he asked where the earphones were. I said I didn't like to use earphones. Told him I like to read silently. Some might have taken this as a hint to pipe down, but he went on to tell me how much he liked to listen to books on his mp3 player. Now he wanted to know whether my mother ever read to me when I was a child. I said both my parents read to me when I was a child. He started talking about how great it would be to have his mother get into bed with him, hand him a glass of wine, and start reading a book. I had no comment on this.
In retrospect, I can see how the mention of being read to in bed led him to his next topic. He said he was riding the bus all the way to the beach and was going to camp there in a three-man tent. There would be plenty of room for us and our stuff, and a third person if we wanted one. Nice, huh? Given his state, I didn't take this as a proposition. I thought we were talking about camping. Silly me! My response was that I hadn't been camping since 1971 and didn't intend to go camping ever again.
"You're a cougar!" he exclaimed. Having no idea what he meant, I said something like "maybe" or "could be." At this point he mumbled more about my being a cougar and said he was 40 years old, which seemed like a total non sequitur. At the next stop, he got off the bus through the back door, got right back on again through the front door, and sat down in the seat behind me. A gentle burp was the last thing I heard from him, and my own stop came up soon.
Home at last, I googled cougar and found out he thought I was a sexual predator. It was such a tedious way to learn a new word.
I can't help thinking of my favorite lines from Tennyson's Ulysses: