The kindness of strangers on a bus in Queens
Living in New York City for a long time can leave you jaded and expecting the worst of humanity. Actually, living anywhere on Earth for a long time can leave you with a pretty dismal view of the world. Sometimes there are times in city life that surprise you and give you some hope for humanity.
My wife was away all day this past Saturday, leaving me alone for the first extended period of time with our three children, all of whom are under three years of age. “Three under three” is apparently a very difficult thing to do. Having three kids in this day and age, especially for employed city dwellers, is a rarity. I have a lot of friends with kids and can only think of three of them that have three. Most have one or two. Raising kids is not easy but I’ll be damned if I don’t do my part. I’m going to keep trying until I get a son or until my wife kills me in my sleep.
Anyway, I could not sit inside with my children all day. It’s important to get kids out and about to see and experience the world lest they become agoraphobic sociopaths who play video games or spend all day on social media. So I bought tickets online to see The Cat Came Back: Stories and Songs with A Jazzy Twist at Flushing Town Hall, which is about a half mile from our home.
Too far to make toddlers walk and not blessed with a large enough parking lot to make driving an option, the best method of getting there was by bus.
In New York City, bus travel is at the lowest end of the social totem pole. It’s a deal breaker for many residents, which is why apartments are still somewhat affordable in our neighborhood and why our slice of the city hasn’t been hit with the same level of gentrification as those closer to the subway. Bus travel gives you all the crowded unpleasantness of a packed subway with the lurching frustration of sitting in city traffic.
But my two two-year-olds don’t mind the bus. My older (by one minute) daughter enjoys taking the bus and is downright disappointed and angry if we drive by car. The bus is an adventure and seeing new people and things. It means not being strapped into a car seat and being able to turn around in her set and look out the window. While to most adults it’s a confining mode of transit that makes you feel like a loser, to a little kid used to the constraints of our safety-conscious society, the public bus is a respite from the constricted life.
So I put our infant daughter in a baby carrier and walked across the street from our building to wait for the bus to take us to Flushing Town Hall. After waiting a while, a Q20 arrived. We were first in line but were waiting for a Q34. I mentioned this as I waived people ahead of us, and a fellow passenger told me that the Q34 doesn’t run on the weekends.
We got on the bus and people were very deferential and offered me their seat so I could sit next to our two twin girls, who are two and a half. I preferred to stand anyway, and tried to join the girls in “The Wheels on the Bus,” but they were too interested in looking at the world outside the bus to join me in much singing.
The bus driver was very nice to us, and made sure I didn’t miss my stop. At one point he left the back door open and said, “That door is for you!” but he wasn’t talking to me, but rather a fare beater who had snuck in the back at the stop. Anyway, people on the bus moved to let me sit even though I told them I didn’t want to. As long as the girls have a place to sit I’m fine. I prefer to stand on public transportation anyway.
The concert at Flushing Town Hall was good and the girls were patient for most of the show. By the time they got really restless and needed to be taken home, the show was winding down. It was a nice time and even though a lot of the folk tales were over the girls’ heads, it’s always good to expose children to culture and the arts.
On the bus back home, people were again very generous and helpful. Even though one old lady was crabby and told a man he didn’t belong in the elderly/handicapped seat next to her, people were nice to the guy herding three kids around. I emerged from what is usually a transit hell with a sense that human beings can be decent once in a while, at least towards small children.
A Father’s Day Quest for Laziness
This Father’s Day my quest is to be as lazy as possible without appearing to be ungrateful or a bad father. If I could move my couch and laptop to the nearest White Castle and camp out for a day feasting on delicious burgers and watching hunting shows.
There were days before I had children that I enjoyed extreme forms of laziness. I have spent some days doing nothing but eating and watching ‘Law & Order’ reruns. I’m not proud of being that lazy, but sometimes you just have to be. I spend the rest of my time trying hard to achieve ambitious things, so a day here and there of intense couch warming is not out of line.
But having children means that those days of restorative sloth are behind me for the time being. If you are the father of small children you have some kind of work to do just to make sure your children don’t wander into traffic and get themselves killed. Children have to be fed every day, and if you don’t change their diapers with regularity they begin to smell bad and behave strangely.
This coming Father’s Day I will relax as much as possible and I plan to travel with my family to Staten Island to the Punk Island festival. This will be the first time in several years that our band Blackout Shoppers is not playing the all-day FREE festival (our guitar player will be out of the country). I’m eager to be able to go and enjoy it without having to worry about bringing equipment or being ready to play. My wife and I plan to bring ear protection for the girls and they can walk now so it may be a chore keeping them out of the mosh pits because they love to dance when they hear music. But any stress will be well worth it.
I am very lucky to have the father I have. He raised me with a good sense of right and wrong and a love of reading and the arts. Not everyone is so lucky, but having a good father is not a prerequisite for being one. I’ve discovered that fatherhood is a lot like hunting. If you have good instincts and are willing to put in the time, you’re chances of success will be much greater.
At the end of the day Sunday I will have relaxed as much as I can and my children will have survived my indulgent slacking off.
Of course I’d like to do better than having children that merely survive. I want my daughters to be willful and strong, and smart enough not to be subservient to the societal groupthink that is slowly choking the life out of the American intellect. I want my girls to be able to be legendary warrior-poets and forge their poetic souls to the cause of their people and be among the elite of their future world. But I’ve got to get them potty trained first.