Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Only the poor ride the bus, and the poor are obese.

I took the china town bus from Norfolk to New York. First of all, it is ridiculously cheap (35$). Second, I wanted to see who would take a long distance bus in a land that idolizes personal motorized transportation. This is what went down.

I got up rather early, slightly hungover thanks to a crazy (crazy, I tell you!) French professor and his Scottish lackey. I gathered up my things, had a last of the gratuitious coffees and bade the Marriot good bye.

Out of the automatic doors of the lobby, I immedeatly assumed a spreadeagled position, gasping in the wet, humid soup they laughingly call air in Virginia. Then I noticed that it had barely more than 30 degrees Celsius - it was just the contrast to the over-airconditioned lobby that made it seem unbearable. Why, americans? Why do you insist on keeping it 18*C inside?

But I digress. I took a free shuttle- bus to the main bus terminal, and waited for the right bus, the number 20. As I waited, I observed the crowd. The contrast to downtown Norfolk and the Mariott couldn't have been greater. I was the only Caucasian around. Not unexpected, if bus = poor and poor often equals black. The apparel was generally of the second-hand sort. And many of those waiting weighted in at somewhere in between the rinocerous and whale categories. 'Morbidly obese' sprang to mind. I don't mean the body shape where you think, 'oh my, that's a fat one', I mean the kind of monumental apparition which, when seen in Europe, would prompt me to follow it around for a block or two, just to make sure my eyes were not playing a trick on me.

And here I was surrounded by this. For a moment I became afraid - maybe they would eat me? - but then I realised I could always escape them by affecting a moderately fast shuffle.

I am, of course, exaggerating grossly (<- see what I did here?). But it is true that, in the western world ( and I am not excluding Europe here), obesity is perversly enough linked to poverty, and this was viscerally made clear on the bus. Upper arms the size of my thighs, I kid you not.

After asking the driver to kindly point out my stop to me, since the stops are neither indicated nor posted, I settled back and enjoyed the horror that is the suburbs between Norfolk and Virginia beach. Cars rule here, so much was evident. Perfunctory sidewalks if there were any, intersections for three lane roads without pedestrian crossings, baking asphalt as far as the eye could see. I got out at my stop and settled in to wait for the china town bus.

The china town bus was late. But, before I could get nervous, a fourteen year old Chinese girl and her seventeen year old brother turned up in a big van.

The bus was late they told me and the handful of other passengers. But no worries, they would load us in their van and get us to Newport, where another bus would pick us up. So off we went, with a slightly overloaded van, ment for 10 passengers but containing 5 men, 3 orca and 2 whales. The Chinese girl, clearly in charge, tapped away on her laptop and shouted in Chinese in her cellphone, coordinating the intricate and arcane dance of china town buses, while her brother grimly tried to kill us all by constantly overestimating the stopping power of the nearly nonexistent brakes of the van. I felt like being in an early William Gibson novel.

After an hour, which I spent mainly fending off a Chinese student who insisted on going to sleep on my shoulder and reading the much-too-near license plates of the cars in front of us, we arrived in another suburb. For a moment I was afraid we had gone in circles, for suburbs are indistinguishable for the European eye, but I should never have doubted the Chinese child goddess that had adopted us. The china town bus was indeed waiting, and only the ritual checking of our tickets stood between us and salvation.

Our driver, evidently only a lesser servant, got in a bit of an argument with one of us in the van, who had, as it turned out, no ID. This was, he argued eloquently, because he had just come out of prison, motherfucker.

Luckily for the tranquility of our journey, and the continuing health of the intrepid van driver, our goddess heard and intervened, shouting (her preferred form of communication) something in Chinese to her brother. Translated it must have meant something like 'who gives a rats-ass about his ID, oh brother mine', because the argument was settled and we could board.

The rest of the bus ride was long, uneventful and cold (@&£@ AC!), so I won't bore you with a description. I don't even have photos to gladden your eye, so I'll stop here. Also, typing long entries on the iPhone is a pain, and all errors in the above, orthographic or otherwise, are the fault of Apple Inc. That is all.

- fresh from my iPhone

Location:Between Norfolk and NYC


  1. Le sigh.

    It's sad that one's weight is still the aspect for which people are so often remembered.

    (If it makes you feel better, though it is routinely 33-38 degrees here, we keep our thermostat at 24 deg C)

    Glad the situation was resolved and gave you a story.

  2. Hey, I was going for the cheap laughs here!

    But you know, if I don't know somebody, I will remember them by their physical characteristics, since I have nothing else to go on.
    I won't judge somebody by their body-weight or -shape, though. Or at least I hope I don't.

    Still, obesity is not just a lifestyle choice, it is a serious danger to long-term health. And I do recognise that some people are more susceptible to it. But sometimes I can't help thinking, is that extra large milkshake you are guzzling really necessary?
    Don't have any solutions to offer though, so I'll shut up now.