Valley Girls

One of the most fucked up crowds I’ve ever seen in my life was the one arrayed around the Fresno courthouse this morning. That’s where the city buses board, and that’s a good portion of who’s on the bus throughout the system. If FAX has trouble attracting normal riders, it’s no wonder. It shuts down awfully early for a primary transit system serving a metropolitan area of over half a million: 10:00 pm on weeknights and 7:00, if memory serves, on weekends. It has one of the clunkiest, dingiest fleets I’ve ever ridden. My trip up Blackstone this morning was slow, even by the standards of local bus transit. With temperatures heading for the low eighties, the air conditioning was either off or broken, and the driver told me that the maintenance shop was still waiting on a replacement part that it needed to repair the front signboard.

But the fucking passengers. It’s hard to know where to begin in describing them, or even coming across the faintest idea of what the hell is wrong with them. A good half of the ones I saw south of the Manchester transit center today had painfully visible metabolic problems, manifested either as extreme obesity or unhealthy gauntness. The fat were easy enough to understand, although not always to believe; I had to squeeze myself up against a wall to give a morbidly obese guy–pants waist of at least sixty inches, probably 350 or 400 pounds, gut spilling everywhere–space to roll by on his power scooter. Every tenth or even fifth person I encountered around the courthouse bus shelters seemed to be on a scooter.

The skinny ones were harder to figure out. Maybe I just don’t spend enough time around the malnourished poor. Intellectually, it seemed that they should have looked healthier than the heavy rollers, but they didn’t, and it took me a while to process what I was seeing. Specifically, most of them had terrible muscle tone, even accounting for age and discernible drug use. Some of them looked to have been tweaking, but they didn’t all. There was also a smorgasbord of unidentifiable but discernible skin problems, which on closer examination probably would have been hellscapes of dermatology deferred. It didn’t help that most of the passengers were sporting certifiable Okie haberdashery and many of them were carrying plastic bags from corner bodegas and similarly cheap (if not necessarily inexpensive) retailers.

One lady on the bus, who had a bad case of meth skin and meth mouth but could pass for sober, minus the silly walks that had presumably started as a symptom of meth use but since become a habit, was sucking on a lollypop a couple of seats ahead of me. I didn’t notice this until she handed the lollypop to a fellow who I’d assumed was too well put together to be with her. He was merely badly dressed, gaunt, and haggard as all hell–that is, high-class for the near northside, from what I could tell. Homegirl sucked on the lollypop for a while, then handed it across the aisle to this fellow, and he took a suck. They were probably in their forties (I was initially thinking fifties, but this crowd ages hard and fast). Let us put aside childish things, or not.

These two were of average intelligence under the prevailing community standards. It would have been a bit more excusable had they been visibly retarded. Instead, they were just low-class and dirty. The only obviously retarded passenger I encountered waved what I took to be a token at me from a distance of several yards (and from her scooter, of course) and hollered some gibberish at me about how maybe I needed one. I couldn’t make out a word that she said to me on its own and had to infer everything from context. FAX costs $1.25 a trip (at least it’s a cheap date), so no way in hell was I going to inquire about discount fares with someone that insufferably stupid.

I still enjoy bus travel for the most part, but let’s not kid ourselves: what I wandered into this morning was the chariots of the damned. The only people who jumped out to me as outwardly normal were a couple of Asians (Cambodians, probably) and a young Mexican woman with an infant and a toddler. The Asians and especially the Mexican lady had a foreign bearing, specifically of the dignified, broad middle-class sort indicating that they hadn’t yet spent enough time in Fresno to go native. Should we build a wall to keep the worst of Mexico at bay? Maybe. Should we let people like that woman through at the gates? Absolutely. With an unlimited-entry visa, no expiration date specified, whether they asked for one or not; stop by the nearest US port of entry if you ever need a replacement.

Fresno may be underbussed, but it’s overpoliced. I’ve rarely seen a city so thick with cops. They’re sparser today than sometimes, but they’re still thicker than public safety considerations dictate. The sidewalks around the bus shelters on the southeastern face of the courthouse square are truncated by a lawn and a wall in a couple of places–the sort of thing normally to be expected of boneheaded urban planning by bourgeois supremacist motorheads in the New Jersey suburbs–but in this case it’s to accommodate two-lane entry and exit portals to a sunken sheriff’s sallyport. At least I didn’t have to take that ride. I do, however, think I came across some of the crossover ridership that has used both bus services.

But yes, of course all the precious bourgeois shit in my Facebook feed is entirely relevant to my life and not at all annoying or indicative of a hardness of heart towards the left behind. You have to move from one house to another because you got a new job? It must be difficult sleeping in a house instead of a car. My condolences.


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