Remembering that, overseas, the bus was NEVER on time, and it was quite easy to get lost on it, I asked if she knew the schedule and which routes we would be taking. I was assured that 'Here in 'Merica" the bus arrives on a dependable, consistent 15 minute interval at each stop, and the routes were clearly marked on the website.
We got to the bus station where two African American gentlemen were already waiting, smoking. "Good mornin to ya, ladies." One said as we walked up. We both said hi. "Ya'll are looking exceptionally good t'day!" we blinked and made no reply. After trying to find out where we lived and where we were going (which we gave very VAGUE answers to and I asked them the same questions to which they also gave vague responses to) my friend and I started talking about all our mission trips and various means of travel in various countries. After a while one of the guys noticed my wedding ring. "I see you are married." I smiled and nodded. "When'd you get married?" he asked. "August. So we're still newlyweds." I said, grinning extra wide and hoping he would take the hint that Kyle and I are HAPPILY married. The man nodded and made no response but a few minutes later they both got up and offered us their seats. It was very interesting, because I felt like when we first walked up we were being hit on, and they were trying to find out where we lived to find out where the party was. But once they saw that we were polite, educated ( my friend talked to me in a bit of spanish) and they found out that I was married and happily so, they started being really helpful and gentlemanly. It was kind of touching but I felt a very interesting lesson. Act like a lady and you'll earn the respect and treatment of being a lady. But most people aren't used to girls being ladies anymore, so they treat them bad. Of course that's not to say this will work always, as you'll see as I continue in our adventure.
As soon as we turned onto the street our stop was on, we both jumped up. We didn't know how to pull the bell that let the driver know we wanted off, so the whole back end of the bus started calling to the driver for us. Men with wife beater and dew rags nodded chivalrously and our friends from the stop waved like little kids as we thanked our fellow passengers and stepped off the bus ... and saw we were right in front of a men's homeless shelter. "Start walking." I said under my breath. "Where's your pepper spray?" I hissed through clenched teeth and she waved it at me and scoured her paper for what we did wrong. "OK we're on the right street, we just got off a few stops early." she finally announced. By the time we found the right stop, however, we were rather turned around, and weren't sure which side of the street to wait on... which way did we need the bus to go? She was sure we were on the right side and I thought she was right. Boy were we ever wrong! We chatted and waited for the second bus - which was also very late - and boarded and continued chatting. We even continued chatting when the bus stopped, our driver got off and a new one got on, and turned onto Dixie Highway. Now I don't know what Dixie Highway was when it originally was constructed, but what it has become is... well... if you ever read about shootings in our fair city, thats usually where they happen. That or Broadway, which was another street sign I saw whizzing past us.
"Uh... are you sure we got on the right bus?" I asked as I noticed she and I were becoming an increasingly rare minority in both the bus and the neighborhood. She pulled out her iphone and checked. 'Oh yeah we're fine, see we're here and we're supposed to be..." she kept scrolling... and scrolling... "Yeah we got on the wrong one." Ok that does it. 'We're getting off and turning around!" I said quietly. I was very quiet because you see these two dew-rag sporting, wife-beater wearing, beer-can holding hoodlums had just boarded the bus and were quite loudly describing one particular female who seemed to have perturbed one of the speakers. I was rather certain knives were going to be drawn based off the animation and volume of their speech. But then I realized that the energy was directed at the female being discussed who apparently made female dogs look attractive. I stared at my feet and tried not to burst into flame at all the profanity being used, but those were the only words I understood. Everything else was being elongated or shortened or mashed with other words until the English language I am so familiar with and love so dearly was completely unrecognizable to me. It both intrigued and terrified me at the same time. Ironically my friend's boyfriend grew up in the 'Hood of Detroit and so is fluent in such Ebonics. "Next time we're bringing him!" I declared when it was safe to talk. "Are you kidding me? He'll get us shanked for sure! He'll want to talk to EVERYONE and he'll piss them off within seconds!' Well... you have a point there....
For whatever reason at that point my friend decided to fix her hair. She let down her bun and tossed her ponytail. Suddenly we were no longer inconspicuous but were being stared at - either boldly or from under rather large expensive looking sunglasses. "Don't do that again!" I hissed and we went over to a curb. Fortunately two Somali women walked over in their brilliantly colored scarves and shawls and we were no longer the only females or the sole item of interest.
We talked quietly, but I felt more foreign and out of place than I ever did overseas. Then I had at least felt I could turn to a fellow bus-traveler or street walker and ask for directions. Here I felt all of my defenses at full throttle. It wasn't just for me, it was for my friend. "I have small-town written all over my face, don't I?" She giggled. "Stop looking happy!" I snapped tersely - as all of the qualifications for prime rape-targets my grandma used to email me flashed through my mind. 'She's blond, check, she's unaware, check, she's wearing a ponytail, check, she doesn't seem confident in where she's going... check - AUGH!" I clutched my umbrella and tried to look menacing, and tried to mouth 'pepper spray!' inconspicuously at her. Fortunately THIS bus respected the mandate that buses in 'Merica are to run on 15 minute intervals. The doors popped open and the driver announced that he was going to the mall within walking distance from my house! Long walking distance, but still! My neighborhood never felt more welcoming or safe. "Well see we want to go to U of L, so should we wait for the next bus?" my friend asked but I cut her off before she could finish, grabbed her backpack and dragged her on board. "It's fine. We'll figure it out. Thank you!" I said and rushed past the doors to a seat. "We are NOT waiting in this neighborhood anyMORE!" I hissed at her. "If nothing else we'll call the youth pastor and have him pick us up at the mall and when Kyle gets home we'll drive you to the University. But we are not staying here any more!" I'm sure I came across that danger was something that ran on a schedule; if you use up so many minutes of safety then eventually your Guardian Angel goes off duty and you are vulnerable to the evils of the surrounding area. But at that point I was dirty, tired, and my tummy was rumbling loudly, and I felt that even if safety minutes hadn't expired, my good-naturedness with this adventure certainly had!
But soon I calmed down and as our time on this bus was going to be longer than any of the others, I pulled out my knitting needles. Oddly enough, while we had gotten stares before I pulled them out (our cleveage wasn't showing; we had no visible tatoos; our clothes were not purposfully ripped stylistically; our hair was its natural color; we weren't carrying or smelling of cigarettes or other smoke-able products; when we walked we didn't swagger or glide in a sultry fashion... and while we laughed and were loud over the rattling and creaking of the bus, cuss words didn't pepper our conversation nor did female dogs, ex-relationships, divorces, court orders or bratty offspring. Obviously we weren't from 'round there!!) after I pulled my knitting needles out I didn't feel studied or stared at. I guess that was the final straw to convince them that we were not only furriners but weirdo's.
"Hey, U of L!" the bus driver called as we passed through downtown. We both jumped up and our seats were instantly filled by others. The bus driver asked us questions to which we weren't entirely sure of the answers to as to the location of the campus and buildings and offices we needed to get to. Finally a spry middle aged African American lady wearing a worn maroon polka dot blouse and a worn wig whose color matched the blouse made her way to us. Her words were kind and motherly, but her voice was cracked from too much smoking, she waved her arms in emphatic gesticulation and quite frankly she yelled the whole time. If I hadn't understood her words I would have been sure she was mad at us. But she was very helpful and set us and the bus driver straight. At that point my husband called and I was able to tell him where to go to pick us up on campus before a huge crowd of passengers boarded.
I could have kissed the ground as the familiar sights of the University met me. I knew where I was! I felt safe to ask directions! I could understand people again!
I turned to my friend and said, "Call your mother. Ask her for money. Buy a parking pass. Don't argue." Which she promptly did so.
While the University campus is notoriously confusing (I'm beginning to think EVERYTHING in this city is!!) and we had to stop and consult the map a few times (eliciting help from very friendly upper-classmen) it all seemed a cinch compared to the rest of the day. Her student i.d. took 10 minutes and her parking pass took the same while we joked and kidded with the attendant. Kyle was waiting for us at the McDonalds across the street and when he complained about the parking outside Qudoba being confusing we both just laughed at him. Ahh safety! How jolly you make me!
I have been close to the 'Hood or I've driven through 'Hoods, but I've never walked around and interacted with people in the 'Hood. I've walked through welfare neighborhoods and talked to people who frequent the 'Hood themselves regularly, but I wasn't there. Its definitely an experience. I noticed lots of churches and missions while there - little cracker-jack houses with curtains and brightly painted signs on plywood. You can tell they are struggling but they are there.
Traveling to the 'Hood is different from going overseas; thats when you EXPECT to feel foreign; you expect to feel out of place and not know what to do. You may even expect to sense the judgement of prejudice or the need to prove that you really aren't like all those wenches they see on American television. But feeling it in my own country - my own city! That's a feeling I wasn't expecting. But I'm very thankful for it, because it reminded me of a lot of things that had been put in the mental closet - things that needed taking out and dusting off. It made my little hoodlums of Wednesday night look like tame little kittens, and the party-animal neighbors across the street look like 1950's decent typical neighbors.
But the whole experience did make me want to call up my middle-aged African American classmate who has an inner-city church plant and ask him to teach me Ebonics. Just in case I ever need to speak it again. :-)