Bus Pass

By Alan Horvath

from Measured Steps 07 2006



almost spring

mt. hood
is a pale blue outline
on the horizon.
I've been following
a red toyota for miles
with no apparent
end in sight.
it's 5:10 during
a 'stop & go'
evening rush hour
on the glenn jackson
bridge; the columbia river
is the only thing successfully
moving toward its destination.

a few more miles
& many more minutes
will place me inside
my attached garage.

already the sky
is staying lighter longer
between the normally
gray clouds.


thinking about john glenn

I am flying with john glenn.
no, not in the same vehicle.
he is floating inside the space shuttle
350 miles above the lights of perth, australia
& I am crammed inside this overbooked
737 united shuttle somewhere between
san francisco & portland, oregon.

both our lives are in the hands
of younger men who we mocked or ignored
many years ago in an ohio elementary school.
our survival depends on
all those little mechanical pieces
working in divine harmony.

as this day turns into night,
our mission is clear:
to complete the distance
between this journey
& the steps which lead
to our front doors.


the window

in presideo heights,
my bedroom window
faces the outline of the
san francisco city hall.

beneath the apartment window
is the red-tiled roof
of the mayor's house.

these are two features
which attract various females
into my bedroom.

one woman will tear my life apart.
another woman will marry me
& do it later.


the apartment

her apartment is always cold.
it's a long narrow flat
in north beach
built in the days
when san francisco
was warmer with
no need for further insulation.

because the only heater is
in the rear near the kitchen,
we move her twin bed from
the front room into the dining room.

from this new location
we are forced to listen
to the incessant dripping
of a cracked roof drain.

still; the apartment is always cold,
except when we make love
beneath frozen sheets.


the encore

the moment
she comes,
she bursts
a waterfall
around me.

to whisper
& she comes


the wedding

two nights before the wedding
we nearly cancelled everything.
kathy went as far as dialing
the telephone to tell her parents
not to take the flight to
san francisco.

a few months of planning
& the consolidation of two
apartments into a rental house
took us this far.
a broken trunk key
in the car's ignition
almost wiped it away.

the next night
everyone gathered at the house.
kathy played hostess
& took the relatives to yet wah
for a massing of the tribes.
I remained behind
not completely convinced.

the day of the wedding
was perfect for a usually
cold & foggy month of may.
we posted signs reading:
"this is where the road leads"
down the driveway to stern grove,
hoping that the road actually went farther
into the future than the moment at hand.

we gathered under
the ring of tall redwoods
& said our prayers.


the lie

as soon as
you start the lie,
it consumes your life completely.
like cancer,
it grows & multiplies
until you have your friends
performing the same lie
to secure
your little secret.

to so many situations,
the first time you cross
into infidelity is the easiest:
a massive release
of tension & energy,
loving the wrong body,
feeling so good to be bad.

you keep coming back
trying to repeat this rush.
it becomes more complex
to make excuses,
to see if you can reach
a higher level
of sexual gratification
while you ignore
the collapsing world
around you.

the last time is the hardest,
attempting to end the pleasure
which has become
so much a part of you.
this is when you begin
telling the lie to yourself:

just one more time
no one will know
I can do this.


evergreen transit center

this suburban park & ride
no longer has a fleet of buses
choking the driveway.
only the 177 express stops here
to pick up passengers
in the morning
& dumps them
into their cars at night.
a 45 minute ride
(on a good day);
enough time to sleep
or read the newspaper
before bridges are crossed
& we are born unto the city
quietly kicking & screaming.


assigned seats

the seating arrangement
on the commuter bus
is defined
as if everyone raised
their tails
& sprayed the seats
with their scents.

the older ladies
sit near the front
to be close to the driver
in case of an

the middle
of the bus is a
cross-generation mixture
of america;
the fat guy always
encamps on the right,
the tai women are
chattering on the left,
row after row
of bobbing heads.

at the back
are the students
with their lip rings
& studs dotting
pubescent faces.
their howls are
chilling, but their bites
are as toothless as
the poodles in the front.

I can be found
in the last seat across
from the rear exit
awaiting my release.


why some men ride the bus

the bus is packed
with women,
mostly married
or beyond hope.
they dominate
the interior landscape.

even the
driver is female.

the few men act
as accent colors —
not a threat to anyone.
these are the males
who have lost their ambition,
feeble men willing
to stay the course
& not make waves.

here are the old
or impaired.

we ask for nothing
& receive even less.


the blanchet house of hospitality

over the steel bridge
the bus enters the city
in an area not touched
by urban renewal.

outside the soup
kitchen is a long line
of humanity waiting
for their morning meals.

all different ages
pushing shopping carts
or carrying their possessions
in garbage bags.

most of the men
are bitter about
their ex-wives.
most of the women
are with the men
who put them here.

as they file from the exit,
the homeless seem
reinforced & ready
to face the day.
a group gathers
on a stoop,
lights cigarettes
& shares their leftovers
with the pigeons.

on the bus,
our lives are quickly
in a few stops,
we will be locked
away in our cubicles
pondering our own


big jake & the lady

big jake looked
like he was a former
military man.
maybe a pilot in vietnam;
he had that look about him —
the way he wore his sunglasses.

he wouldn't talk to anyone
except when he shared a smoke
with the driver before
the express bus left the lot.

in the first week of spring,
an older woman
started riding the bus.
this lady had a certain class
which usually disappears
after a woman reaches
the other side of 50:
tailored clothes
nice hair
pleasant smile.

big jake sunk his frame
into the seat next to her
& began talking.
before you knew it,
every morning big jake & she
arrived in his old buick,
walked hand-in-hand
across the parking lot
& sat in the
middle of the bus
like the ordinary crowd.

month after month
new riders appeared
& vanished,
but this unlikely couple
never missed a day.

on a crisp autumn monday,
the lady stood alone
& disheveled in
the boarding line.
then the next day
she was so late,
she barely made
the bus.
& the day after that,
she forever lost her glow.

big jake was never seen again.

either that old buick
was caught parking
in the wrong garage
or had thrown a rod
& wasn't good enough
for spare parts.


the reason behind everything

the transit system
adopted a new policy.
instead of arriving early
at the park-n-ride,
the buses would appear
moments before their scheduled

some pencil-necked bureaucrat
thought that this procedure
would be a good way to avoid
idling the buses & squandering gas.

as a consequence,
everyone is forced
to form a line 20 minutes
before the bus enters the lot.

getting on the
bus is not the issue;
wanting a window seat
is the reason these people
stand in line against
the wind, rain & snow.

being next to the window
means more than looking
at mount hood or
the murky brown rivers.

if you sit at the window,
you can plant both butt cheeks
on the seat for the duration
of the trip.

those riders,
who are unfortunate
to sit on the aisle,
can only firmly deposit
one cheek on the seat
while the other one
hangs over the edge,
hoping for no sudden moves.


only in black

she always wears black.
fine lines under her eyes
reveal that other
colors are dyed.

someone at a party
told her
that she looked good
in black

          & she never changed.


holiday cheer

jeff introduces himself
as our Christmas relief
bus driver.
he bends over backwards
to be friendly
with the normal crowd;
he wants to fit in,
although a large
black man
in a sea of whiteness
floats like a body
in the columbia river.

jeff talks
to the passengers
while he drives.
no one answers.
we are not
the kind of people
who respond to outside

the week before christmas,
jeff tells us that
he is going to lead the bus
in singing
"the 12 days of christmas."

the next week
the bus is nearly empty.
most of the usual
riders stay home,
not to spend time
with their families,
but to avoid
the confrontation.


defensive maneuvers

in a sewer
of bad aftershave
& outdated perfume,
most people try hard
not to communicate
on this crowded bus.

some commuters are
wired to headphones.
they pretend to be in
a soundproof booth,
waiting for a chance
to answer a $64,000
if their response is correct,
they will never be forced
to ride the bus & face
public humiliation

other people read
worn paperback novels,
espousing tales
of romance or war.
only a major diversion
(like a traffic accident)
could force these people
from a secret rendezvous
or propel them out
of their foxholes.

my strategy is
to stick to the basics:
I close my eyes
& hold on to something secure.


last rites

the bus deposits
me on 6th avenue
& I walk the block
along sw clay
like a condemned
man on his way
to the gas chamber.

I lean against
a column
across the street
from my office.

these are the last breaths
before I enter the building,
ride the elevator to the 9th floor
& bury myself into my cubicle
for another day without purpose.

I let the traffic light
cycle green yellow red
a few times
before I find the courage
to take the first step
onto 5th avenue
& another step toward
my destiny.


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