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day one field notes

Wednesday, September 26, 2006 10:45am
from Fayette Mall to UK

I’ve been riding the bus since the beginning of the semester a month ago. I ride nearly every business day from the stop in front of Dawhares at Fayette Mall to the stop in front of the Law building at the University of Kentucky. The ride takes 15 to 20 minutes total and can be taken home from the same stop across the street (by the Lexington Theological Seminary front lawn). A bus comes every half an hour: at 14 and 44 after the hour at the mall and at 25 and 55 after the hour at the campus.

I don’t really know what I’m looking for here. I know it has something to do with communication (aside: duh). People relate strangely on the bus. In most instances we face forward, saying nothing to each other. Sometimes people ask the bus driver for information about stops and destinations. And then, sometimes, strangers get into conversations.

For now, I’ll watch. I’m mapping out the bus, too. I read ahead to the chapter on mapping. Today I’ll sketch things out, in a few days; I’ll create a bus layout in Illustrator and print out a few dozen copies.

Getting on…
It’s 10:40 a.m. One black woman gets off as four of us get on. A black male in black pants and a red lobster jacket gets on at the next stop across the street. I see him at least once a week although we have never spoken. He’ll get off at the stop by Red Lobster/K-Mart. He’s obviously on his way to his job – lunch at Red Lobster. At that stop two more get on. An Hispanic male and the white female driver, both in their 40s, exchange pleasantries. She says, “I haven’t seen you in awhile.” He says, “Well, I’m back,” with no further explanation.

At stop #4, a white male with a Cincinnati t-shirt gets on. The black male already on the bus and sitting across the row asks, “Like Cincinnati?” “Yeah,” says the boy, cool-like and coolly. “I like Pitt,” the black male states. He seems oblivious to the coolness of the white male’s answer, but he doesn’t seem to necessarily be talking to him either. It comes across as more of a statement. Silence.

[aside: Not tense silence. It’s just a bus silence, the endless moving on kind of silence, not a content-or-feel-comfortable kind of silence either. It’s the kind of silence we seem to know, it’s really just a sense of being or existing kind of silence.]

At stop #5, an older man, probably young 60s with a beard and dark hair get on. He has a hooked nose and sad-dog eyes. He is wearing a chef’s blouse and dark pants and shoes. He carries a worn leather attaché case. On the shirt is a round patch with red and blue writing. I am sitting directly across from him in the seats that face each other in the back of the bus. I am trying to read the patch. He sees me looking. I smile awkwardly and say, “I’m trying to read the insignia on your shirt. Are you a chef?” We immediately start in with a conversation that lasts the final four minutes of my ride.

He is a chef but he is retired, he takes the bus downtown where he works with small and disabled students at the Explorium or Cardinal Hill. His organization, the Bluegrass Culinary Association, has organized the partnership as part of its outreach. Today, he is on his way to teach three and four year-olds how to mix dough. I laugh and tell him I have an eight year-old that likes to make bread with her father.

As we talk, two black girls, age 20 to 25, talk right next to us at the back of the bus. I want to catch what they are saying with such attitude, they are talking about the makeshift memorial to the girls that drowned in the storm pipe. But I’m more interested in my conversation today and my stop is up very quickly. We both say something about how nice it was “to meet you” although we never exchanged names. [aside: nobody ever seems to exchange names although I have seen it on occasion].

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