Pull Cord for next Stop
(Jale el Cordon para pedir parada)
Three pan dulces (sweet breads) in a bag, a copy of Seutonius in my pocket, and I’m ready to go to Montebello to be live-scanned for work. I’m doing an after-school program.
On the bus-
A popsicle stick black woman with hair slicked back and pulled tight has most of her hair wound up on one side like a burnt swirly cinammon bun, sunglasses propped up on her head. She’s bobbing her head up and down to music from her Walkman. Probably Mountain. Most likely Mississippi Queen. Her eyes take a queenly look at the men passing by in the aisle, evaluating, weighing and measuring their possible value.
Her stately face shows no emotion. Her large hollow gold bamboo earrings dangle in time with the tune.
A baby cries.
She bestows upon it an incredible smile with teeth of white coral and thick Queen-sized eyebrows arched in recognition. I catch her regarding a man sitting opposite holding a jug of Oceanspray cranberry juice between his legs.
Blue jeans, black socks, white laces on tennies. Mustached and goateed, hair cropped to perfection. Quite handsome.
When he’s looking away she regards him. When he’s looking she casts her gaze down demurely.
Something is going on here. It looks like eye-tag to me.
She selects a different tune from her ancient Walkman and adjusts her ear-buds. Is that what you call them?
The only buds I’m familiar with have all turned to smoke. Today it’s brownies instead. I figure it will be a hoot to be live-scanned loaded as the place is probably crawling with cops. I’m clean, got no warrants and don’t reek of smoke, so I’m cool. Right?
Queenie tilts her head back and yawns wide. A glistening strand of saliva appears between her upper and lower lips like kite-string and stretches. as she opens her mouth. Uh-oh. The illusion of beauty is going to be snapped forever.
Fortunately he isn’t looking.
At a stop Queenie prepares to get off. The man scoots up in his seat. She is in the lead and stands in front of him. And guess what? From my angle I can tell he’s evaluating her butt.
My goodness, he’s staring at it as if he’s transfixed!
They both get off and as we pull away I can see him follow after her as if she were a female dog in heat. Good luck to them both, that’s what I say.
I decide to write they got off on a street named Natchez, to prove that my artistic license is still valid.
Two teens are texting, then look out the windows for girls. So much for the teen-age human condition.
An old lady gets on with a messed-up umbrella.
Outside two men with orange helmets and sunglasses are digging a ditch near the curb. Al I can see is their shoulders and heads, yet somehow the work looks too hard.
An sad older lady with a bag marked “Food for Less” gets off. It probably wasn’t as less as she expected.
We pass the Tropicanna Bakery and Cuban Cafe. The T is made out of a palm tree. I wonder if Ricky Ricardo works there. I wonder where Lucy is too.
I eat one of my pan dulces on the corner of Whittier and Rosemead. 81 degrees of sun feel good on my face, no buildings in sight over two stories. I ponder just how many stories I’ll get out of this trip.
I arrive at the place. Like I said, it’s crawling with cops. There’s eight desks and each one is busy, each person as straight as a ruler. A class is beginning in another room where some guy is explaining how to arrest someone else. What fun! There’s holsters and gun belts and tasers and phasers. William Shatner shops here for sure. I just know it.
They have guns too, all dark and deadly. Snub-nosed 38, $450.00. Barretta, with extra clip, $350.00. They seem expensive, guns do. They must be a lot of fun.
They take my prints. The guy who does it is good at it. He has the touch.
“How long did this used to take,” I ask him, “when they were still using ink?”
“How long now?”
As I walk out the door I say to the guy who gave me my receipt, whose hair looks suspiciously like Jack Lord’s,
“You know, this was the next best thing to being on the set of Hawaii five-o.”
“Thanks,” he says, and it’s over.
Book ’em Danno.
On the way back I notice that Montebello City Hall looks like a left over set from the film Lost Horizons. It ain’t Shangrila but it’s close. I decide to spread a rumor that’s exactly what it is, a piece left over from the film that they purchased from Columbia studios at a discount back in 1937.
Perhaps my artistic license should be revoked. Perhaps I should be arrested for the things that go on in my mind. Perhaps we all should, even you.
I get off to transfer and get lost. I see a dude rolling up the street.
“Is the 60 this way?”
“Where do you want to go?”
“The city or the boulevard?”
He’s handsome, Hispanic, and middle-aged, just a touch of grey at the temples. I can’t tell how tall or how short on acounta the wheel chair. He smiles.
“It’s two lights down, that way. I used to go there all the time.”
We stroll parallel. I figure if he can wheel himself there then I can walk it no problem.
“And you were rolling!” I point out.
He spreads a little more California sunshine my way with his teeth.
“How long you been in the chair?”
“But you’re young! How can that be?”
“I got the polio when I was one.”
“I thought they cured it in the late fifties. Salk and his vaccine and all.”
“Yes, but I was born in Mexico where it was still around.”
“Oh, I see.”
At the corner we part. Me on my feet, him on his wheels.
“You must have great upper body strength!”
“Yes,” he answers, “ en me brasos!” (arms)
He wheels away and his arms are pointing up, fists clenched, and bent at the elbows. He’s flexing his muscles like Popeye.
“Muy fuerte!” (real strong!) I shout, and he’s gone.
Funny how some people emphasize their strengths. With me it’s my weaknesses. Sometimes I think something’s wrong with me.
So I walk two lights, save sixty cents, and learn something about myself in the process. That I’m too self-absorbed.
On Whittier a passing Dalmatian with black freckles pokes his head from a car window smelling what the Colonel is frying.
A young Asian fellow is sitting beside me, texting like mad with Fingers Of Fury. Bruce Lee would be proud. A young couple in love shares a hamburger on the corner at a cement table under a metal umbrella. Two straws in one Coke. That’s love for ya.
A Pico Rivera sheriff goes by in a squad car with her hair in a bun. Why is it women in authority always wear their hair in this fashion?
We zoom by seven signs that say Bank Repos. They are not good signs any way you look at them. A man with an olive-green back-pack gets on and tries to sell a pair of sunglasses to the driver for forty-two dollars.
“Fifty-five for two of them!”
The driver drives on.
“The frames themselves cost sixty-five dollars.”
The driver keeps driving
“Your insurance would charge you one hundred and fifty!”
When he gets off at the next stop the driver breaths easy.
At Paramount and Firestone we pass Norm’s restaurant. I suddenly realize I have lost my pan dulces! They’re gone. I think that I left them with the cops! OMG OMG! I have just brought the Mexican equivalent of donuts to cops! This is a complete faux pas for an ex-hippie! Perhaps I should not publish this. What if the hippie police find out! My counter-culture reputation is at stake! I don’t know what to do.
Book ’em Danno!
I decide to go back to doing what I do best. I write.
So if you see an old man scribbling on a notebook in the back of a bus, please pay him no heed. Act natural. It’s probably me.