b Papa Dog's Blog: White Morning, Silver Bus

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Saturday, February 26, 2005

White Morning, Silver Bus

There’s an image that’s been locked in my head more than twenty years now, of a bus coming out of the fog on a very cold winter morning. This would have been somewhere in the winter of 1982-1983, the year I pretended to go to college. I was standing at a bus stop in Millwoods, which was the outermost burb of Edmonton. It’s the place the suburbs went to die and get frozen in amber.* I was waiting for the bus to take me to the early chem class I wasn’t attending, and I was eager to get to campus so I could have a little nap on one of the high-backed chairs in the library. The buses came infrequently to those outer reaches, and on a cold morning a late bus could be a matter of great concern. This was a very cold morning, the kind where it way past too cold to snow. If you hail from temperate southern climes such as Montana or Vermont, you probably don’t have much experience with such days, so take it from me, they’re cold.

I was standing there in my parka,** watching my breath, looking at the fog bank that was cutting off the street the bus would come up. I could see for two blocks with crisp, startling clarity, then nothing. The world disappeared into whiteness. I was the only person out at that hour, and the burbs were eerily quiet. Everything was white, or seemed like it.

The bus came out of that fog like it had been conjured. It glided towards me, silver on white. In my memory now it’s something like a fish in Arctic water, smooth, somehow silent, curving gracefully through the blue-white dawn. There’s something about very cold air that gives the objects with in it a hyper-real focus. The bus seemed otherworldly. I was, for a split second, frightened of it. Then it pulled up to my stop and I saw that like any other bus in Edmonton, it was driven by a lumpy old man dreaming of coffee and donuts at the Red Rooster, and I got in.

I’ve wanted ever since to write something about that bus. At first – because that’s the sort of thing I was into at the time and because of my strangely unsettled reaction to the sight, I assumed it had to be a horror story. Thank god I never wrote that. I’m still not sure why that image has lingered in my head for all these years. In Citizen Kane, Bernstein had his ferry girl. I have my ETS bus trailing barely visible exhaust in a strange little pocket of cold clarity. If I was going to invest the bus with more literary meaning than it merits and myself with more self-knowledge than I possessed, I’d say I took it as some sort of omen, some sort of spirit of Christmas yet to come offering up a silent rebuke of the pointlessness of my little scholastic charade. But no, it was just a bus, and I was just a kid who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life but didn’t know what he didn’t want to do with it either, and the rest of that pretend year went on by smoothly, like the empty bus I rode out of the suburbs.
*Ignore that if you’re a relative of mine who still lives there. I’m sure I was just a bitter young malcontent at the time and it’s very nice now.

**I had an argument once with a guy from San Diego who talked about the scooter mods there wearing their parkas. I pointed out to him that if anybody ever wore a parka in San Diego, it would kill them. It was a word-borrowing problem. “Parka” has a very specific definition, involving a fur-lined hood and enough insulating animal by-product to keep you alive while ice-fishing on Baffin Island. The garment that San Diego guy was talking about was something like this. That’s not a parka. That’s a jacket. That’s a windbreaker for posing and riding around on your little scooter. This is a parka.


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