Posted by: The Amoeba | September 9, 2007

The Buses of Paradise

Manoa Valley, Honolulu. 6:57 PM, Friday. The scientist should have left the laboratory more than two hours ago, but a deadline is approaching, and there are people who need what he was hired to provide, and soon. Some lab staff are on hand to help, so he takes advantage, and works late. He finally packs up and heads to the bus stop on the other side of the university campus. He has taken the bus to work so that his partner can have their one car, and after all, he is a scientist, a marine biologist / oceanographer no less, and if anyone should be limiting his driving in response to all the current scientific evidence about global warming, he should be. If all goes well, the bus will bring him home to the Makaha Valley before 9 o’clock.

University Avenue, Honolulu. 7:37 PM. Things have not gone well. Only one bus route will take the scientist from the university to the place in downtown Honolulu where he can catch the express to the leeward side of O’ahu. After more than half an hour, no bus on that route has appeared. Few buses on any route have appeared. A man in a white shirt and tie, who might once have called New Delhi home, complains that all the bus routes have been unreliable lately. Except, of course, the ones to the Waikiki luxury hotels. And, he sniffs, the express routes to the leeward side. The scientist is far happier about the leeward buses than his acquaintance – if he can only get to the shopping center downtown from which they depart.

A bus finally appears. It is not the one that the scientist wants, it’s going to Waikiki. Most of the people waiting at this stop are happy to see it. A minute or so after it has come and gone, a tall thin man of middle age appears and asks whether that was the Waikiki bus that just left the stop. Upon learning that it was, he sighs. He had decided it wasn’t arriving anytime soon, so it was safe to use the rest room in the eatery a block away. He winds up happy, however, as a second Waikiki bus pulls into the stop just a minute or so later. It will be another ten minutes before the bus that the scientist is looking for shows itself. He will be fortunate to get home before 10 PM.

King Street, Honolulu. 7:40 PM. The bus takes on a group of a dozen people, university students apparently. There’s a tentative couple or two, but most members of the group are uncommitted, at least to each other. They are bright of skin, bright of clothes, and they are headed for the joys of downtown. Though there are plenty of seats elsewhere, they plunk themselves in the front of the bus, in the places reserved for elderly and handicapped passengers. They are perfect for a group of tweenagers to sit and socialize together, and there are just enough seats for them all.

Naturally, at each of the next three stops, a person with the infirmities of age or ill health boards the bus. Most of the tweeners remain seated, looking offended. One or two of the males attempt to offer their places, but in such a manner that it’s a miracle the older, doddering folks are not knocked over. One older woman accepts a place, and for the next ten minutes rides on the edge of her seat, which is half occupied by the tweener next to her, and is miserable. The others return the compliment with their faces and make their way, somehow, to the “regular” seats.

Ala Moana Shopping Center, Honolulu. 8:04 PM. It is not only the bus passengers who are heading en masse to downtown. It has taken the bus more than 20 minutes to get the mile from campus to the shopping center because, it seems, every car on the island is trying to get there as well. It’s as if rush hour had never ended on this Friday night in Paradise.

The shopping center is the transfer point for the leeward buses. The scientist leaves the university bus and walks to the stop where he expects to catch the express. He suspects that the tweeners were looking for the same stop, but they haven’t been paying attention, even though the bus driver’s been directing some pointed comments at them. The scientist reckons they’ll get where they’re going, eventually.

As he walks towards his stop, he passes the place from which the buses depart for Waikiki’s hotels and beach. There is almost never a wait for a bus. The people there are white and bright and glitter as they walk. They are on perpetual holiday, and want to make sure you know it.

Then he arrives at the leeward depot. There is no difference in furniture or lighting between this bus stop and the one for Waikiki. But that’s not the way it feels. The people waiting here have, from the looks of them, been waiting for awhile. Their clothes are dark, their skin is dark, their postures are dark. There is no malice in them, despite the occasional tattoo, backwards cap, or hip-hop T-shirt slogan, but neither is there any party in them. The best they can say of the glitter of downtown Honolulu is that they’ve spent all day picking up after it. They are tired people who just want to go home.

Mercifully, the express bus arrives only a minute or two after the scientist settles down at the stop. The tired people get up, and, for the most part soundlessly, board the double-length, articulated, stiff-shocked, noisy diesel. None of them happen to be infirm; none of them sit in the seats reserved for the infirm. They scatter themselves throughout the bus and settle in for the long trip to the west coast.

Makaha Valley, Wai’anae. 9:24 PM. The ride, on the aging, less-than-perfectly-surfaced freeways and main streets of Honolulu and leeward O’ahu, is bumpy and gritty but otherwise without incident, and is shorter than the scientist expected. He steps off the bus in front of the 7-11 at the street corner. His partner is there with the car, waiting for him. As they drive to their apartment, she tells him of the loiterers, men and women, who shared that street corner with her. She is familiar with loiterers from another place, another subculture, and she is worried.

The scientist thinks she might be right to be concerned. He tells her to keep herself safe; that, as malihini, there is much that they do not yet understand about their new home. But he thought back on his three hours riding the bus, and he found himself worried not at all about the men and women whose faces disappeared into the night. He felt far more wounded by the bright people, the ones who glittered as they walked, who were out to be seen and let you know with their eyes whether they thought you were the kind of people who should be looking.

The ones who made the old and lame sit in the back of the bus.

– O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2007 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.



  1. This reminds me of so many places in this country that I’ve been. The Florida Keys, Newark, Washington D.C., Chicago.

    You know, I always felt safest in Harlem and The Bronx, it was the suburbs that felt menacing.

    Is there a carpool available? Or is that a stupid question?

  2. I’ve noticed things along the same lines, usually regarding teenagers. The ‘bright and glittery’ ones are so into themselves, and into ‘being’ bright and glittery, that they are obtuse to their surroundings/people. Yet the teenager with the baseball cap on backwards, wearing a t-shirt with a ‘not quite popluar’ slogan, or pants that could be a little newer and a little cleaner – will hold the door open for you and look you in the eye. More of the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’.

  3. A moving post.

    I’m amazed that in part of the U.S. you can be an outsider. Almost like another country.

    I volunteer at a food pantry. The poor often help me when I’m carrying a lot of stuff. They help each other too of course.

    And yet in airports when I’ve had my husband in a wheelchair and I was struggling with luggage, etc., nicely dressed young men almost trip over me trying to get around us. They don’t look back at us, just continue talking on their phones.

  4. No carpool yet, Brian. And I think, for all my carping, the bus will wind up working better. The car will get stuck in traffic just as firmly with four people in it as with one. The bus gets its own lane …

    I think that’s why they always called it “Darkest Suburbia” …

    Lot more cover judging going on here than I thought there would be, Jackie. But there’s an extra dimension here, more obviously at work here than anywhere else I’ve lived. With enough green, any color becomes white.

    When you ain’t got nothin’, TLP (and thank you), you got nothin’ to lose. Or, to keep quoting clichés, getting and spending we lay waste our powers. I do what I can. It’s not enough, it’s never enough, but I’m far too much of a sinner ever to do or think other than I must do what I can.

    And, begging your pardon, but whaddaya mean “almost”? Hawai’i is another country. Or, at least, it was

  5. wow…that is a hell of a long ride by bus. walking teh distance sounds like it could have gone quicker 🙂

    A seriously, keep yourself safe!

  6. Penguin, there is no way I’d walk 40 miles to get to work! And you’ve got to know that after a full day’s work, walking home is out of the question. On the plus side of bus riding, OC has so much free time that Fellofatruck Publications is up and running again.

  7. I really hate to hear about people not giving up their seats. It’s the safest, most acceptable way to be kind nowadays.

  8. Well, Minka, our island’s only a tenth as big around (perimeter) as yours, so I reckon you’d know even more about long walks than we would. Of course, we don’t have to deal with arctic nights, or temperatures. On the other hand, you can go get a horse. Here on O’ahu, anybody foolish enough to ride a horse would probably get run over.

    Quilly, at the rate most of us walk, no way I could walk 40 miles to work. By the time I got there, it’d be time to turn around and come home. And you already think I don’t get enough sleep at night.

    Dawg, I agree. But there’s a problem. It’s in the verb “to give up”. Everybody’s getting on the bus with their picks and shovels. Mine!!

  9. […] did the rest of the island. And, as faithful readers may recall, when you’re speaking of the leeward side of O’ahu, “the rest of the […]

  10. […] morning? But, as I usually try to do, I went looking for evidence online that riding a bus like TheBus is much more energy efficient than a private car. To my shock, I found a 2007 report online which […]

  11. […] in the front seats (of course), the ones prominently reserved for the elderly and infirm, a pack of young people. O‘ahu’s finest. Just ask them, if you don’t mind getting your ears blistered for […]

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