Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stephanie Osan Mass Observations

Morning of September 2nd, my apartment to campus

Almost no one stirs as I cycle out of my apartment complex’s parking lot. Two students, walking, cross paths. The female looks up from the book she is reading. A curly haired biker passes and looks at me. He wears sunglasses but no helmet. Many of the girls wear sandals; I wonder if they are rubbing blisters. The sun is in my eyes, so I stop at the stop sign (a rare occurrence) to put on shades. There are many dog walkers out at this hour. A fellow biker carries his supplies in a backpack. Mine are in a crate over my rear wheel. Students eat breakfast as they walk—smoothies, bagels, coffee. The sun is hot on my back. The road is cracked and uneven, particularly along the curb where I ride. Pedestrians do not wait until they reach the corner of a street to cross—but do so whenever and wherever it seems safe. Soapy water trickles in the street; it is coming from Cain and Abel’s—I hope I don’t splash a girl I’m passing. A biker avoids waiting at the street light by turning up onto the sidewalk. There is no longer a bike lane when I turn onto 24th, and a car honks at me. I cannot honk back at the car. Both the biker behind me and I choose not to observe the red light as a sign applicable to us, changing our alliance from the car to the pedestrian. People cross intersections even when it is not their turn. A car does not come to a full stop at the stop sign and whips out in front of me. At a four way stop inside campus, bicycles do not stop. Neither does a skateboarder. I could not imagine walking in this heat, particularly in jeans. I am thankful for the breeze a bicycle provides. A University of Texas truck pulls up six inches away from where I am stopped (by the curb) writing. I am nervous he will try to tell me I am doing something illegal. More irritatingly, he has blocked me in, and to continue on, I have to dismount. As I approach the blockage on 24th, pedestrians seem to jump out at me from behind the parked cars lining the street. Because of the roadblock, I take the sidewalk, but I am not sure this is legal. I vaguely remember a sign about NO biking (and skateboarding) on the sidewalk. Pedestrians make for slow cycling and lots of weaving. The crossing at 24th and Speedway is chaotic, but it is not as bad now as it typically is at midday. Small electric university cars are brought into the mix of traffic—one also goes up the sidewalk on 24th? Presumably because of the blockage. There is a police officer stopping street traffic at the end of 24th, where it joins San Jacinto to allow an ambulance to turn around. Consequently, there is a back up of three miniature UT cars. As I wait for the delay to clear, I notice that many walkers wear earphones—can they hear the traffic, or do they rely on their sight to keep them safe? An SUV almost backs into me near the art building. I arrive at the bike racks at the same time a UT bus pulls up, declaring: “Route: West Campus, Please do not walk in front of the bus. Por Favor! No cruce en el frente del autobus!” And then the overpowering hum of the engine, as I lock up my bicycle.

Afternoon of September the 3rd, campus to my apartment

Waiting for the bus at the Art Building is an experience that happens in the sun. A girl shades herself with an umbrella, and inadvertently jabs a woman walking towards her—she was flirting with a boy next to her. Apparently, the umbrella-clad girl did not notice that she was blocking the whole sidewalk.

The noise of a bus is overwhelming. The girl next to me speaks on her cell phone in Spanish. Several people stand, swaying with the motions of the bus—they do not hold the canvas hanging straps; they hold the metal poles. Other women converse in Spanish. A boy studies a book. He awkwardly avoids elbowing his neighbor when he takes out a pencil to write notes. Several blondes listen to iPods and stare blankly out of the windows. A girl with a nose ring and exposed cleavage texts. Two females and a male leave without saying thank you to the driver. When the bus stops and people flood on, a girl chooses to stand rather than try to squeeze into a middle seat at the front—the seat remains vacant, even though over five people are standing. No one offers his or her seat for anyone else. A girl, bleached blonde hair, takes up two seats—one for herself, one for her bag. The entire frame of the bus shakes as the driver accelerates again. The tissue of my cheeks matches the bus’s vibrations.

I thought the girl next to me was speaking Spanish, but really she was speaking Hindi. The Spanish came from elsewhere. A boy with a white UT hat keeps his mirrored aviators on, even though the windows are tinted and it is not sunny inside.

The seats, although they appear padded, are really just carpeted. My body does not fit well in them at all, and I wonder if anyone’s body sits comfortably. People hold their bags on their laps, as there is no room for them elsewhere. An African American male doesn’t remove his bag from his back as he sits.

A man offers his seat to an art student carrying her portfolio. She politely declines. She holds her supplies between her legs as she stands.

A loud, humming noise pervades all other bus noises. It’s causing a strange vibration in my ears.

Now I am standing because I believe I am nearing my stop. Unfortunately, the pull chord is out of my reach. I either have to lean over the seated passengers to request a stop, or ask one to pull the cord for me. I lean over.

After the bus has pulled over, I exit. As the bus pulls away, I realize that I got off the bus too early. I have never taken the bus to my new apartment before now. I continue the journey on foot, as it makes more sense to walk to my fairly nearby apartment than to wait for the next West Campus bus to come. 


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