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September 27, 2017 Fiction

The Subtle Zeitgeist of Public Transport

Grayson Elorreaga

The Subtle Zeitgeist of Public Transport photo

One summer morning, Lyle Condy was cycling down the steep, straight hill of Magdalene Road in the city of Cambridge. His bike had a bell in strict accordance with local ordinances regarding cycling. And he did not care about his job in even the slightest sense of the word “care." But humans need food to keep operating, and it's pretty hard to get free food in the current prevailing economic climate by anyone's reckoning. If you ask me, it's probably something to do with the slow death of Christian Charity in The West, but that's worth its own story and you probably aren't asking me anyway.

The sky was a pure and crystal shade of blue. And it had all the high-ceilinged firmament glory you'd demand from something as middle class as Cambridge city proper. Not even a cloud around to be seen, and the sun was beaming his socks off. The one real time that Lyle ever felt alive was when he was soaring down the hill at full speed on his bike; when he was making the world blow past him like a low-budget summer flick he felt free for those fleeting moments. He was completely reckless about it, and that was probably something to do with the zero-hours contract gig, about which he did not care, but which never-the-less comprised nearly the entirety of his waking existence.

Then, as he sped down the hill, Lyle was sucked directly under a double-decker city service bus. Perhaps in accordance with the laws of fate, it had pulled up to a very inconveniently placed bus-stop, at the exact moment that Lyle was planning to shoot right past without a care in his head. The only reason that his crushingly average existence survived that moment was down to two factors: the first being that the bus was stationary; the second factor coming in the form of a passing woman with her dolly-cart, screaming like a banshee at the sight (and quite effectively signaling the bus-driver with all the wild-scarfed madness of someone who lived well through the 1970's.)

Both his legs were mangled beyond use and it didn't seem like the little old lady and the bus driver would suffice to get him out. He and the bus and his bike formed one single, intricate system. Like some kind of twisting and welded iron rod sculpture art school project. The heat-haze from the engine and the exhaust was burning his lungs and eyes. All he could manage to do was cry out like a very scared, and very lost child. 

The sun kept on sweeping across the sky with his smile completely unfazed. Emergency services were called. The fire service arrived along with one regular sized ambulance. A crowd gathered. A particular fact is revealed in situations such as this: dormant lookey-loos actually comprise about 90% of polite society. The road was diverted, in part because the crowd itself had clogged the narrow city street. There was much metaphorical wailing and gnashing of teeth, as commuters failed to reach people and places on time. Lyle didn't worry about his job. And Beryl (the scarved and surpringly sprightly woman) lived on a perfectly adequate art-teachers pension and so had nowhere else to go and nothing more important to do than her human duty. Later she would reflect that it was nice to feel needed.

It felt like a few thousand years for Lyle, a year or two for Beryl, and just the right amount of time for the previously bored but-now-engaged onlookers before the EMTs and the Fire Service managed to use the pressure jack of life to free Lyle from what might politely be called his current pickle. There was a loud and embarassingly audible collective moan from the audience when the very ruined mess of Lyle's body was revealed and extracted.

Once the ambulance went wailing off into the midday horizon, a few people stuck around and talked with total strangers about what they had just seen. Something about dramatic collective experience (often completely at someone else's expense) brings people together in a powerful way. Beryl went along with Lyle in the ambulance. The bus driver was seen rubbing his forehead like he was covered in ants, and talking very quickly into a phone about the now serious and agonizingly concrete possibility of a lawsuit-slash-layoff. But Lyle didn't press charges. He was just happy to be alive. Later, he would remark that the experience gave him a new zest, and a new appreciation for being alive. But not in such terms.

Lyle and Beryl never spoke to each other or even met ever again once she left him in his hospital room. Everyone knows that you only meet the most significant people in your life once each. But she heard his fearful keening in her worst dreams every now and then until she departed from this mortal coil somewhere in the 2020's and at a serious vintage.

If after the events of our story someone had taken a survey of the crowd with a frequency-over-time dimension, they would have noticed a steed trend of avoidance toward taking the bus or riding their bike to work, pretty uniformly among the whole sample. The effects that this trend had on global climate via greenhouse emissions is probably negligible. And there was also a very specific trend that emerged among the local populace: even people who weren't there on the day of the event just stopped going to that particular bus stop. It got to the point where nobody was using it to catch the now terminally ill city bus service at all. So the Cambridge municipal council just tore down the stop entirely. As if they just wanted to forget what had happened. Then there was no public evidence that anything had happened at all. But it's not like that could make people start using the stop again. Maybe it's just true that we who claim to live in the pre-frontal cortex are just along for the ride, and that we're kept on staff simply to make excuses for actions after the fact.


image: Aaron Burch