Archive for September 22nd, 2008

French connection

Like many Madisonians — though interestingly enough, no one I know — I take the bus to work in the morning and home in the early evening. From time to time, I drive, but most days, I bus. I do this for three main reasons: (1) it’s far cheaper than driving; (2) it’s far less sweaty than biking; and (3) I get to read. It’s where most of my reading gets done. Anyway, usually the bus experience is uneventful. Sometimes it’s annoying — like when the guy called me rude when I told him I was getting off at the same stop as he so he could stop trying to walk over me. Sometimes it’s super cute — like when these six or so kids get on with this guy who clearly runs his own day care and they sing The Wheels on the Bus or when the Preschool of the Arts kids are on and ask each other if they have vaginas. Sometimes it’s scary — like when my bus plowed into an oncoming car the other day, essentially totaling the car. Mostly, though, it’s pretty much a way to get from one place to another and enjoy ten pages or so of whatever book I’m reading. Today was a little different.

This morning, a fellow rider got on at the same stop as I and he had some trouble paying his fare. I thought he was just searching for his bus pass in his wallet, but it turns out he was probably more likely searching for words. I sat down — next to a totally disinterested, denim-clad butt — and watched as the scene played out. The bus driver kept telling the guy — who was probably mid to late 30s, very dark-skinned, and carrying a laptop-like bag and a lunch box-y thing — that the fare was $1.50 and that the bus couldn’t make change. The bus driver was driving the route at this point and even making other stops. The driver told the guy that it was ok this time, he could ride for a dollar, but the next time the fare would be $1.50. The guy clearly didn’t get what he was saying and continued to stand there, look like he needed help and hold on to his second dollar. Finally, the driver told him to sit down and the guy did. He sat down in the closest seat, which happened to be next to a middle aged woman with blonde hair who was traveling with several different sized bags. I thought it looked a little uncomfortable because they both had so much gear between them, but I was wrong. The woman took out her wallet — more of a South American-sewn pouch-type thing sold in the many stores that sell such things on State — and showed him two quarters and explained that this is what he needed. She then proceeded to take his dollar and give him four quarters. She asked him if he spoke English, and he said a little, but his face said he was clearly not comfortable with the language. They immediately began speaking French to one another. Yes, that’s right: French. Now, Madison may be a smallish town, but we do have a pretty major university in our midst, so this is certainly not the first time my humble self has heard a non-English tongue on my bus. In addition to the ubiquitous Spanish, I’ve heard several Asian languages bandied about and others I couldn’t tell you what they were. But this was the first time I have ever heard two strangers meeting on the near west side of Madison on a bus andĀ finding that it would be best if they were to converseĀ in French. I couldn’t hear much because of the noise of the bus, but I could hear that the woman was clearly fluent, she spoke seamlessly. And I could see that the man seemed not at all surprised by this — like, of course Wisconsinites all speak French — and asked her several questions. They made jokes that made their faces light up and when it came time to get off the bus, they got off together to head to the Union to try to get him a bus pass (I provided them with the info that he could probably buy one there — hope I didn’t mislead). While they were getting off, a young woman came up who must have heard some of what was going on and offered to take him to the union. They all three went off together, laughing as they walked down the street.

It was really kinda something.

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