Tea has gone through long periods of little appreciation here. Coffee is perennially popular. And jolting. And it takes less time to brew well. Tea is popular again, now. There are black, green, oolong, red, chai, chamomile, echinacea, hibiscus, and nonspecific twig teas. But it’s only a fad, I think, and once the novelty of cardamon and rooibos wears thin, only the faithful will be left. Tea can be the connection of an isolated intellect to the realities of Eliot and English afternoons; it can exude refinement and culture if served correctly. But this is not a reflection of refinement. So there will be no tea herein, unless one counts Lipton’s artificially flavored raspberry tea.
Which is what I have for breakfast. The best thing about it is how it tastes hot pink and honestly artificial. It’s the drinkable form of a pleather jacket. Which is what I am pulling inelegantly around my shoulders while running and sloshing my plastic cup. Who but me drinks from plastic cups at home? It’s easy because I can throw them away at the bus stop and then I can pull the right sleeve of my jacket over my arm. The only thing dumber than buying a plastic coat to save cows, than contributing to landfills with plastic cups, would be walking onto the bus with a glass and nowhere to put it. Getting up ten minutes earlier to brew tea in a real mug is slightly less likely than my using a fluted champagne glass as a vessel for my fake raspberry custom. My generation doesn’t get enough sleep as it is.
Riding the bus is my favorite bit of the day.
First, there’s the driver. He is white-haired with blunt, vague features one associates with those who have endured a lifetime of boredom. I can’t say whether he was ever a child with sand-colored hair or a romantic youth. Or even someone who would talk to the street vendor he buys lunch from. This man has melded with his environment: the rumpled uniform, gut, curved back, they are mere extensions of the vinyl seat. I can’t imagine him standing upright. He is perfectly expressionless and possessed of equanimity that stoics would envy. I say hello each day in a different manner. Hello, konnitiwa, salut, buenas dias, aizu, et cetera. He blinks once at an enthusiastic greeting of ni hao, and I considered it a significant personal triumph.
Then there are the actual passengers. I’ve divided them into three groups: the brazen watchers, the surreptitious observers, and the ignorers. Both of the former watch the latter, who don’t notice and wouldn’t let on if they did (these people imply that the wide world and the passing city are less interesting than 17 Down of their crossword). Sometimes the first two watch each other and those exchanges lead to averted eyes and nervous smiles. It’s the same as when you don’t close your eyes during a church prayer and find your gaze met by someone equally sacrilegious.
I’m of the second group and I’ve watched them all, all the regulars who slump, or pretend dignity and stride, onto the bus. I’ve watched their cell phone models change and their hair colors brighten and fade in the ceaseless cycle of dye jobs. But it’s the same people, at the same stops, with the same expressions every day. And I think I love them, because no one else loves the part of them that resigns itself to dull routine. Besides, I am one of them, and I’ve heard that one must love oneself before one can be loved.
But I don’t think that I love myself at all. In school, we were all going to be successful and rich or passionate, tortured geniuses. I was going to be a writer. Instead I’ve been reduced to remembering idealism and swinging between the same two places, always, except on weekends and paid holidays. And I can’t come up with any reason why.
I’m stuck now, I think. A presque-vu, because I can almost see a way out. If only the driver would stop opening the doors every morning. That, or return a smile.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.