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 and finding that it would be best if they were to converse 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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55 Responses to “French connection”


  1. 1 kateandgracie September 22, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Since I can’t stand seeing my blog with no comments, I am commenting on my own post with something completely unrelated.

  2. 2 rose September 22, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    That is a really great little story. It actually makes me want to start riding the bus.
    Currently my husband and I ride in together though so I feel ok about driving (at least it’s one car per day vs two cars per day).
    Plus sometimes the bus can get a bit dicey here in old bmore after dark.
    That reminds me–I am always amazed at how dark it gets so quickly this time of year! It’s like–suddenly it’s the longest day of the year and now it’s dark at 6:30. I long for the days of being on the western most side of the time zone where it stays light so much later….Wisconsin is probably just like Maryland though for the most part. I do like that it’s finally getting cooler though..even 80 degrees is starting to annoy me…

  3. 3 rose September 22, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Oh–has anyone seen the new HBO show True Blood? It doesn’t look that great but I’ve thought that about other shows that turned out to be really great (Six Feet Under and Big Love) so I was wondering about this one….

  4. 4 Heather September 23, 2008 at 7:51 am

    That is a cute story, although i’m not sure if it makes me want to take the bus. I do like the french, reading and someone else driving part (and the environmental part, of course) but not so much the waiting around part. also that car totaling part didn’t sound too cool, either. but that story is awesome.

    I had a patient the other day who spoke Italian, which was pretty unique. It was a little more difficult to find an Italian interpreter than say, Spanich or Hmong.

    True blood didn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I thought I’d give it a try as I usually will suck up anything HBO produces (except for weird period ones like Carnivale and Deadwood). I watched the pilot, which was okay, but didn’t hook me (although that frequently happens with HBO shows that I later become obssessed with). I watched a few parts of another episode(s?), and each time there was some very violent sex going on involving vampires, people who like to “bang” vampires, anna paquin or sometimes anna paquin’s brother. and that didn’t really hook me either.

  5. 5 Sara H September 23, 2008 at 8:58 am

    That’s quite a lovely story – it’s so comforting to hear about not one, not two, but three total strangers all taking some time to help a guy get a bus pass and get comfortable in the city. Cheers for good peeps!

  6. 6 Kristin September 23, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Love that story. So very sweet. I have to say I tear up at least two or three time a week when I see people do nice things for each other on the subway, or even just when they get into spontaneous conversations. I feel like it happens more and more recently which is excellent. Mass transit = community bonding in my opinion. Everyone packed in so close. Sure it makes us surly sometimes, but most of the time I see the complete opposite.

    I do not think I will be able to watch True Blood as I am not a vampire type of person in the least, although I do love me some Alan Ball.

  7. 7 kateandgracie September 23, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Peeps, you are all great. True Blood sounds WEIRD — at least from what I heard from Sarayu. And I think it’s weird to make a movie that’s supposed to be about prejudice and bias and stuff and make the misunderstood/unfairly prejudiced community vampires. I mean, they’re vampires. I know there’s something maybe about how they don’t have to drink humans blood or something — but they’re vampires. It’s not like oh, maybe we shouldn’t be scared of people because they look a little different than us. They’re vampires! Aren’t we supposed to be scared of vampires?

  8. 8 Kristin September 23, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Agreed Kate. I don’t think vampires are exactly analogous to other “others” in society. I mean, they bite you and suck your blood and then cause you to want to do the same. I’m trying to think of a group that’s experienced prejudice that can be compared to that. If you meet an illegal immigrant do you suddenly lose your citizenship? If you shake hands with a gay person do you become gay? (well, I guess some people do think that, but they all go to Sarah Palin’s church)

  9. 9 kateandgracie September 23, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Look at how your avatar is different!

  10. 10 Kristin September 23, 2008 at 11:16 am

    I’m grey!! Why is my avatar (where on earth does that word come from anyway?) so schizophrenic?

  11. 11 kateandgracie September 23, 2008 at 11:27 am

    I think I just learned the word this year. And I’m not sure I really even understand it.

  12. 12 Kristin September 23, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    I know it from all the way back in my days of being addicted to the Dawson’s Creek message board. OMG – do you remember that?

  13. 13 kateandgracie September 23, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    I do remember! That was a great website. Remember how you could go from it to all different sites — like the one for the Potter B&B?

    Ok, this is just really funny.

  14. 14 Sarayu September 23, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    Oh dear, it took me a while to get on board, didn’t it? That story made me cry. So sweet. Kate, as you know, I have a real soft spot for those who don’t speak English fluently in this country. I just love Madison so much. I love that there was a woman on the bus speaking fluent French and helping him figure it all out. It just doesn’t happen often enough.

    As for True Blood, I think it’s really gross. It’s the best word I can use. It uses a lot of crappy gimmicks like vampires, incredibly violent sex and nudity, and grainy shooting to make it seem like it’s some sort of piece of art. The idea of vampires as a condemned race is preposterous, and lacks the originality Alan Ball is usually known for. By this point in the season, almost every character has been naked. That’s never a good sign. In fact, in the first episode alone there was a couple having sex while the woman was chained to a hook that was hanging from the season. That was the end of it for me.

  15. 15 Sarayu September 23, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    That was supposed to say “hanging from the ceiling.” Why can’t one edit these things?

  16. 16 kateandgracie September 23, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Why is Jhumpa Lahiri such a good writer?

  17. 17 Kristin September 23, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Oooh – did you/are you reading her new book? I need to read that…

  18. 18 Sara H September 23, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    I guess if I found the Tudors shocking, I probably shouldn’t watch this vampire show.

  19. 19 kateandgracie September 23, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    That’s funny, Sara. Yes, Fee, just got the new book from the library. It feels so familiar — feels like the Namesake, in a good way. I’m very early on in it, though. Right now, it feels very lonely, as well.

    Ok, I really am going to get back in the Runway game tomorrow.

  20. 20 kateandgracie September 23, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Also, my fantasty football season has been a disaster even though I had the foresight (I was so proud of myself) to swap Ben Roethlisberger for Eli Manning on Friday.

  21. 21 Stephanie September 23, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I realize I’m a little late to this party, but I love the story and I love the thought of it. Was the Frenchman cute? That’d make for a really really good story. (Although it appears I’m done with Frenchmen for a while, hopefully a long while.)

  22. 22 kateandgracie September 23, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Welcome to the party! Um, he wasn’t particularly cute but he had a cute smile. And, of course, he was speaking French, which was very cute. Steph, your avatar is COOL!

  23. 23 Sara H September 23, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Kate, it’s early in the season! But, Eli has a bye this weekend!

  24. 24 kateandgracie September 24, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Yeah, I know. I need Aaron Rodgers!

  25. 25 rose September 24, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Ok I’m convinced. I won’t be watching the show.
    I’m not so into watching violent sex—the hook story from Sarayu sealed the deal for me.

  26. 26 kateandgracie September 24, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    Sex while hanging from a hook sounds v. scary and not appropriate for my Rose to be watching! Or any of you for that matter!

  27. 27 Sarayu September 24, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I’m sorry. I realize I may have single handedly lost True Blood a host of viewers, I just couldn’t take it at all. There are those out there who are less sensitive than I, many in fact, but I just had to give you all my opinion. And yes, the hook thing was the most awful thing I’ve seen in a long time. Sometimes, the “ground-breaking” choices available to cable television are just wasted on shock value.

    I’m obsessed with “In Treatment” on the other hand. My goodness, you really have to have to some serious acting skill to pull that show off. It’s like watching a play.

    I can’t wait to get Jhumpa Lahiri’s new book. I just love her! Someday I’ll act in a movie based on one of her books. Someday…

  28. 28 rose September 24, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Don’t apologize. You saved me from having that image burned into my head.

    Speaking of being obsessed..do you guys listen to This American Life on NPR? I am totally and absolutely addicted and I think Ira Glass is truly a genius. I used to catch it in snippets on the radio, but last month I decided to subscribe to the podcast and now I don’t miss a single moment. You should check it out. It’s really really good….
    (and I can’t wait for the The Office to start back up tomorrow!!)

  29. 29 Kristin September 24, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Subscribe to the podcast?? We are the future! Ha. Kidding. I totally need to do that.

    Unfortunately I don’t watch the office, but I am (very lamely) excited about Grey’s Anatomy.

  30. 30 kateandgracie September 24, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Don’t watch the Office?!?!? That’s outrageous and you should be banned from America.

    I don’t listen to This American Life as much as I used to, but I used to be really obsessed with it, too. You can listen to old episodes online and from time to time I listen to my favorite ever, which is an episode about fiascos. I highly highly highly recommend it.

  31. 31 Kristin September 24, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    🙂 Sorry.

  32. 32 kateandgracie September 25, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Kenley is outrageouly outrageous.

  33. 33 Kristin September 25, 2008 at 10:13 am

    OMG. OMG!!! She’s nuts. Those pants were awful! And then she tries to blame it on Leeanne. Ugh.

    Sweet Suede. I ended up loving him. Not for his fashion so much, but for his heart. 🙂

  34. 34 Sara H September 25, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I seriously, seriously cannot believe the judges sent Suede home last night instead of Kenley. She not only completely missed the point of the challenge (on purpose!) but her attitude is beyond horrible and they know it. Poor Suede, who was trying so hard to step up his game. She’d better get the boot next week.

    Kenley did, I must say, look a lot like a brunette Britney last night. I don’t know if it was the makeup or what, but she was like a doppelganger.

  35. 35 kateandgracie September 25, 2008 at 11:20 am

    I know. He is so sweet. Kenley is RIDIC. Blaming Leanne was the most awful thing ever. Do you think she knows she’s an ass? I suspect not. I think she’s one of those peeps that blames everyone else — for example, Tim. And next week, Heidi.

  36. 36 Kristin September 25, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I can’t believe I even used to like her. I feel so duped. How someone could be rude to Tim is completely beyond the scope of my imagination.

  37. 37 rose September 25, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    I know! Everytime Tim comes over to her, she just says “you don’t understand my outfit” and then they cut to her talking to the camera. She says the same thing every week “I don’t care what Tim says. I think my outfit is great and I’m not changing it”. The best was when Tim was like–You act like I’m trying to be snarky. 🙂
    He’s the best!

  38. 38 kateandgracie September 25, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Tim for President! The thing is, why are people so dumb? Even if Kenley has never seen an earlier season of PR, does she not realize that everything that Tim tells her or anyone else — whether she agrees with it or not — is almost without fail expressed by the judges on the runway? You’re just being stupid not to listen to what he says. You can disagree with him all you want, but you’re going home.

  39. 39 Kristin September 25, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Jerrell, Korto and Leeanne in the final three. I think Kenley should suspend her campaign for Bryant Park due to: she’s a dumbass.

  40. 40 kateandgracie September 26, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Definitely should suspend her campaign.

    Did peeps see the Katie Couric interviews with the Guv? Oh boy.

  41. 41 Kristin September 26, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Oh boy oh boy, did I ever. I can not wait for that VP debate.

  42. 42 kateandgracie September 26, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Going to be really interesting. I don’t know how Biden is going to come off not like a pompous ass because I think I would come off as one if I were talking to her and I’m not Joe Biden. Or am I? No, I don’t think I am.

    I saw Tell No One last night and thought it was pretty good. The only thing I’m not a huge fan of is having to wrap up thriller/suspense movies with long monologues of exposition. Seems like it’s sort of a cop out.

    Also, Lahiri’s new book is short stories and they’re way amazing.

  43. 43 Kristin September 26, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Oh, I’m definitely a bit worried about Joe Biden (whom you are not). But if he can find it in himself to just sit back and let her tank, that would be very awesome.

  44. 44 rose September 26, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Oh my gosh. Her interview with Katie Couric was RIDIC (as Kate likes to say :)).
    She never actually says anything. I don’t know if she is getting away with it or not with the regular public but good lord…it’s bad.
    Joe Biden will definitely have his hands full but I think the strategy should certainly be to concentrate on his own ideas and not even worry about her at all. I think people will be able to see for themselves that she really has no substance.
    I hear McCain is actually going to show up tonight!

  45. 45 kateandgracie September 26, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Tonight should be interesting. I wonder how they’re prepping McCain. He has got to look alive out there. I mean, he doesn’t HAVE to, but really, his convention speech was the pits.

    Palin never says anything because, it seems to me, she knows next to nothing. Maybe she knows Alaska, but this seems so fish out of water for her. I can’t tell if she realizes it or not. And I don’t have any clue why she has to keep staying “on message” on this dumb because Alaska is close to Russia thing, it means she has foreign policy experience. She simply doesn’t have it and she shouldn’t be faking it. Why can’t folks just admit when they don’t know things? Why can’t she say, “You know what, it’s true. I’m a governor, I don’t really know as much as I’d like about world affairs. But I know about executive responsibilities…” Or something. It’d be so much easier to respect her and the campaign they’re running. As it is, I’m just baffled.

  46. 46 Sara H September 29, 2008 at 9:13 am

    I admit, I was initially excited about this Palin business, but I agree, the way they’ve tried to spin this is wildy dumb, and they should have pointed out strengths, not magnified weaknesses by painting her into a corner of riduculousness. I have a bad feeling about the debate this week, and then I wonder what will happen. If she tanks, he can’t keep her on the ticket.

    And I half wonder if this is all some grand plan by McCain to create a total disaster so he can have the person he really wants – Lieberman. Crazy like an old, wily, political fox?

  47. 47 G September 29, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    OMG the SNL take on Palin was BRILL! I of course had to watch it late, but… man– I wonder what is going to happen to health care now that we have no bailout package!

    BTW- Love the story– so sweet. I think you should include it in your own book o’ short stories.

  48. 48 kateandgracie September 30, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    I really think the Katie Couric interview was the tipping point. I’ve read some “conservative” writers and analysts now saying that — like Sara — they initially saw it as a bold and savvy move to put her on the ticket, but now see her as completely out of her league. Couric really came off great, I thought — calm, patient, giving Palin the op to set the record straight, non-aggresive. And Palin just tanked. Biden has to do his best this week to mimic Couric in his patience, try so hard to tone down the arrogance and stick to his own record. Hers and her lack of knowledge will speak for themselves.

  49. 49 Kristin September 30, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    Did anyone see McCain and Palin together on Couric last night??

  50. 50 kateandgracie September 30, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    No!!! How was it?

  51. 51 kateandgracie September 30, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Just watched it on You Tube. Well, she was better — I mean, at least someone told her to highlight the things that she has done, as opposed to making up reasons she has experience that she doesn’t have. But there was a certain, um, how do you say, paternalistic quality to McCain sitting there and interrupting and telling Katie how proud he was of his little one?

  52. 52 Kristin September 30, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    I didn’t think she was better. I just didn’t. Because he made her look even worse. (Did you know she was not only ready, but willing and able?) And in this particular situation, she didn’t have to look so bad. She answered a question posed by a voter – and she actually addressed the question being asked, which is a plus for her lately – and there was some flack b/c of his comments in the debate Friday on the same subject. OK, so therein follows the media totally obsessing on the fact that they had a contradictory statement, obviously due in part to all the negative attention she is getting anyway lately. Press is thinking, why not pile it on, fun fun fun. I understand that’s probably frustrating to JMac.

    But to have the audacity to go out there and shield her like she is a child? Not let her answer for herself? Accuse the press of “gotcha” journalism when this is nothing but a routine turn in the news cycle? He has really lost it. And she sits there looking like the child, soaking it up. “Yes, yes Daddy. They yelled at me in the pizza place. I couldn’t even hear!” Makes me sick. They both make me shudder.

    OK, I’ll be back in a little while to tell you how I really feel. I just needed to get that out. 🙂

  53. 53 kateandgracie September 30, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Ha! Well, I agree that he made her look worse. I just think she sounded better — she didn’t stumble over every thought that came out of her mouth and she actually — instead of emphasizing Alaska’s proximity to Russia — mentioned her executive experience. He’s lost his marbles. He’s so arrogant. He clearly thinks that this is his time and that he deserves the presidency (not that Obamamama doesn’t think he does, but he doesn’t come off as if he thinks he’s entitled to it) and that all of this other stuff is just getting in the way. So, to counter that, he’s going to go on Katie Couric and take the reins. Backfire!!

  54. 54 Kristin September 30, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Totally agreed. That she was much more together in this one. And I think she’ll be a bit more together Thursday. Maybe.

  55. 55 kateandgracie September 30, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Oh man, Thursday. We have book club — such a &^%$#@&(* conflict. I really hope we can watch it there. Because I don’t want to miss given Unaccustomed Things is the BBE.


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