Sunday, March 1, 2009

Another One Rides the Bus

As promised, here's my tale of riding the aiga buses two weeks ago.

It was Saturday, and I had but three things to do: Get a haircut, pick up my meds from the hospital pharmacy, and run down to the station to see if we were still getting the Armed Forces Network feed so that I can go there the next day and watch the Daytona 500. If there's time, I'd also like to see about joining the paddling club.

It seemed so simple. I should be back in just a few hours.

Looking back on it, I haven't felt so naive since, going into my freshman year in college, I expected my the alcohol-free suite that I signed up to live in to actually be remotely alcohol-free.

By the way, the buses here are no ordinary buses. They're aiga buses, and they're made out of modified pickup trucks.

As you can see here, "aiga" is Samoan for "freak of nature." OK, not really. "Aiga" (pronounced "ah-ING-gah") is Samoan for the entire extended family. I'm guessing that the idea with the bus is that it's big enough to carry around the entire aiga in.

Anyhow, I walked about 3/4 of a mile to the bus stop, not too far. A bus was already there and waited an extra minute or two for me to get on. This guy must be really smart and nice, right?

Again, may I refer you to the story about when I first signed up for housing my freshman year.

The bus was pretty full, maybe about 80% of it's relatively few seats taken. I got my own seat, but pretty soon I found myself thinking of the old Weird Al Yankovic song "Another One Rides the Bus." It's a parody of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and a lot of the music sounds the same, but it's done with an accordion:

Riding in the bus down the boulevard
And the place was pretty packed (Yeah!)
Couldn't find a seat so I had to stand
With the perverts in the back.
It was smelling like a locker room
There was junk all over the floor.
We're already packed in like sardines
But we're stopping to pick up more, look out!

The bus pulls in at another one of the stops and it looks like there is about one seat left for every three people waiting to get on. Miraculously, only about half of the people get on, and the rest are content to keep sitting on the concrete bench. What they're waiting on, I have no idea. The bus continues on, it's plastic half-windows rattling and it's more-expensive-than-the-vehicle stereo blaring island music covers of hip-hop songs. Most of the stops have only a few people getting on or off, luckily enough.

Another one rides the bus.
Another one rides the bus.
Another comes on and another comes on.
Another one rides the bus.
Hey, who's gonna sit by you?
Another one rides the bus.

As anyone who has ridden these buses before knows, the way to make them stop is by knocking on the window or wall when you're almost at the spot where you want to get off. When we were nearly at the place where I was getting my hair cut, I knocked on the window.

No response.

I knock on it again. The bass of the island hip-hop music keeps thudding away. The driver has to be completely deaf by now. A bird could nest in his ear and he wouldn't hear it. It's a good thing that there are no railroad crossings on the island. Oh well, on to the next errand. About ten blocks past my stop, the woman behind me knocks as well. Nothing. We keep rolling down the highway.

The window doesn't open and the fan is broke
And my face is turning blue (Yeah!)
I haven't been in a crowd like this
Since I went to see the Who
Well I should've got off a couple miles ago
But I couldn't get to the door.
There isn't any room for me to breathe
And now we're gonna pick up more! Yeaaah!

We come to the intersection nearest the hospital, and I bang on the wooden wall like mad. It's a lot louder than the windows. The guy actually stops and lets me off! I am amazed and pick up my meds from the hospital. Only problem is that I'm carrying $200 worth of drugs around for the rest of the day, which ends up not being a problem. A half hour or so later, I get ready to ride back and take another stab at getting my hair cut (probably a bad choice of words on this island).

I walk to the nearest bus stop. A high school-aged girl is waiting there as well. She gives up and walks to the village that she's going to. I decide to wait for a bus. I learn that she was probably right. A bus comes up and stops. I get on. The driver is trying to ask me something, but his English isn't very good. He keeps asking me which way I'm going, and finally one of the passengers fills me in that he's turning the bus around here. I get off and wait again.

After quite a bit more waiting, another bus comes by and I get on. I ride it back to the palace where I was supposed to get my hair cut. I knock on the wall again.


I keep knocking furiously on the wall. I'm seconds from jumping up and yelling "STOP THE DAMN BUS!" Finally, I luck out and my metal watch bangs against the wall in the right way and the driver stops, only a quarter mile from where I wanted to get off. I walk down to the haircut place.

There, I find that there are a lot more people waiting than the last time I was there. They give me a number. It's actually a page from a 2008 Chinese daily calendar, but at any rate, it's number 16, and they're currently serving number 4. All I can think about is the waiting room scene in Beetlejuice. And how I'm getting hungry. And how I'm so glad that the TV is showing a cool H-O-R-S-E basketball tournament, instead of the Hannah Montana marathon I had to watch while getting my prescription renewed two weeks ago.

About two and a half hours later, the ladies cutting the hair tell me that I'm second-to-next. Hooray, I'm almost out of here!

Again, did I tell you about how I expected to live in an alcohol-free dorm my Freshman year?

Suddenly, both of the hair-cutting ladies stop everything and eat lunch. At the same time. And of course, all I can think about is how badly I want lunch. There's a laundromat in the same building with a mini-store inside. I run in for a quick snack. I spend quite a bit of time figuring out what I want and can afford on the little bit of cash I have on me. Finally, I decide I want popcorn, which they have a sign for. The guy behind the counter laughs and tells me that they don't have any. In fact, they don't have much of what I want at all. I finally decide on some chips and go back to waiting next door.

Finally, I get my hair cut and out of there. Still hungry, I get on the bus and ride it to my weekly Laufou Shopping Center (where several people will inevitably get off), use the ATM there, and then walk about a half mile to my weekly free meal at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue (my bosses are the owners), because I'm not about to get on another bus if I don't have to.

Lunch is good, except that they're working on a water main across the street, and the soda fountain runs out of water. So all the soda that it dispenses is pure syrup. Which is actually a pretty good thing. I thank them for my free food and a receipt for $0.00 (which I think is awesome) and move on. I later learn that the water main was supposed to take 30 minutes to fix, and was currently in it's third hour, leaving the village with no water until they fixed it late that night.

With an attitude of "God help us all" I board a bus to take me down to the TV station in town to see if I'll be able to watch the race. The driver asks me which way I'm going. I start to freak out for a second, but he's actually going the right way and I get to tell him in advance where to drop me off. The rest of the trip is pretty smooth, except when we had another "bus is nearly full and there's a dozen people about to get on" situations."

There's a suitcase poking me in the ribs
There's an elbow in my ear.
There's a smelly old bum standing next to me
Hasn't showered in a year.
I think I'm missing a contact lens,
I think my wallet's gone!
And I think this bus is stopping again
To let a couple more freaks get on. Look out!

People start to pour in. One of them is an especially obvious fa'afafine, or traditional Samoan transvestite. I get kind of uncomfortable because I have one of the only empty seats left and well, I'm really not used to that kind of thing yet, particularly if I don't know the person. Luckily for me, she moves on and sits in the back.

I ride on to the station and discover that a) we don't use the air conditioning on the weekends when no one is there and b) we no longer have the AFN feed. I walk back to the nearest bus stop, a nice, brand new one, and sit on the covered concrete bench.

A bus passes by without stopping. He didn't have any passengers. Maybe he was done for the day? Another one passes, with a few passengers. I'm now standing out on the curb and waving at the drivers. One more passes by without passengers. Screw this, I'm walking to the Yacht Club to see about paddling. Even if it's three miles. I walk there and take a lot of good pictures along the way, and discover lots of little things that I never saw while driving. The Fono (territorial Congressional building) still has it's Christmas lights up. One store has a sign up advertising the New Coke, and I don't mean that it has an old sign. I later went in that store trying to find it, but that's another story for part of another entry.

Eventually, I make my way to the Yacht Club. It's pretty cool there. I learn when the Paddling Club meets and make up my mind to join. I hang out for a while and have a water before taking one more bus home. about 90% of the way back, and then having to walk the last half-mile. Not a big deal.

Another one rides the bus

Another one rides the bus ow
Another one rides the bus hey hey
Another one rides the bus hey-ey-ey-ey ey ey eyyyyyy


EDIT: OK, apparently someone who doesn't understand context noticed that this rather long entry contains the word "freaks" once in the middle of one of the song lyric quotes and interpreted that to mean that I think Samoans are freaks. That could not be more wrong
. I left the line in because, well, it didn't even occur to me that someone would make that leap in logic. I used this song because it's a song I like about a weird experience on a bus, which was appropriate to this entry. I didn't go through the meaning of every single word it contained with a fine-tooth comb looking for possible alternate meanings and neither should you.
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