Story Time: Public Transportation Trials and Triumphs

Riding public transit is a ritual all its own. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Riding public transit is a ritual all its own.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

Kharli Mandeville and Ryan Espinoza-Marcus are members of a class ever-shrinking among their friends — non-drivers. SPM brought the two writers together to talk of misadventures, close calls and strange friends encountered on public transit.


Kharli Mandeville: Alright, it is the day of the Super Bowl, and we're gonna talk about public transportation. So, crazy sh-t is always going down on the light rail. You guys know, going back and forth between campuses, home, to school, you encounter a lot of crazy people. I'm strictly bike, no car.

Ryan Espinoza-Marcus: I'm all bike.

KM: Who was the craziest person you ever met?

REM: I haven't met a lot of crazy people on the light rail, though I do make friends. I've met some crazy-ass people on Greyhound, though. Greyhound is like a party for crazies. I love it.

KM: Who's your favorite friend you've met there? Random connections?

REM: My favorite character encountered on a Greyhound bus was named Eloheim. I still think back to the man at times. I met him at the Compton bus station traveling from Phoenix back to my home in San Francisco. My layover in Compton was longer than expected. I wasn't particularly comfortable in the environment.  There are some tough-ass motherf-ckers in that Compton bus station, and I'm just a skinny writer. I found the toughest looking dude in the station and asked him where he was from, started conversation. He was actually pretty convivial and a well-spoken guy. He had just been released from prison and was very well read. He was far more eloquent than I was, that's for damn sure. I struck up a conversation about where we were from. I was from SF. He was from Modesto.

REM: By the end of my layover he was happy to carry my bags and talk. He had a lot of great conspiracy theories. He read a lot of strange things on UFOs in prison. He told me about area 51 and all the cover ups they used in the Nevada desert. He told me that it wasn't really a nuclear testing facility, that explosions were really played through speakers. They weren't really testing bombs. It was all a cover-up for UFOs and extra terrestrial sightings. He read all this shit in a book written by a CIA director, the tell all. UFO sightings, crash landings.

REM: I learned how to smoke a cigarette on a Greyhound bus. Here's how: take a draw and hold it in as long as possible, try and ghost the hit of the cigarette and then we opened the tiny, tiny bus windows and blew the remaining smoke through them. I'm sure the bus driver noticed, but he didn't say anything

REM: I’ve met a serious pot grower who called herself tree-sitter Sarah.  She was from Humboldt and told me she had one of the largest grow operations in the country. She said if I ever needed a quarter pound, she could help me out.

REM: Lots of good talk of prisons too. Everyone on that bus was astounded to hear that I had never been to one. I was like the bus good luck charm. They all wanted to shake my hand. They had all had trouble staying out.  They spoke about different prisons, some which are worse than others. They are ranked mostly on the quality of beds and food. They said some in the desert had nicer beds and better food.  May of he m attested to having been served worms for lunch.

REM: They talked about Animal X for a while. This is how they said KFC produced their chicken. They cloned a special bird with no brain, just a little beating heart to keep it sustained and the rest of the animal was breast. They said KFC had underground labs where they grew the animal in ectoplasmic goo.  Still to this day, I won't touch KFC because that image is burned in my brain.

KM: KFC is evil anyway.


KM: I don’t honestly even know how to use the bus. I used to ride it in Glendale. Now, I just don’t even deal with it. I will bike as far as I have to without having to take the bus. I wouldn’t even know how to put my bike on the front rack, that’s the reason that I don’t do the bus. I don’t want to be that person like, "Oh blah, blah, blah. I’ve never taken the bus."

REM: I can relate. Back in San Francisco they had bike racks that you had to pull off the bus. I always felt like I was really inconveniencing everybody. They have to wait an extra few minutes and the bus driver might have to come help you.

Public transit can be lonely or full of eccentric strangers.  Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Public transit can be lonely or full of eccentric strangers.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

KM: One time, I got offered a really nice job in the prostitution business.

REM: Really?

KM: Yeah. It didn’t come with benefits or anything, so I respectfully declined. No, but really it was like seven in the morning and I didn’t have a ticket, so when the security guards got on I got off at like 24th street and Jefferson. This big group of dudes comes up. And, it was seven in the morning, what are all these dudes doing all together just kicking it? Whatever. They asked me, “Hey yo, girl, want a job?” I said, “Oh, no thank you.” And then they were super polite about it like, “Oh OK, no worries. Have a nice day.”

REM: I’ve certainly never been approached to be a prostitute.

KM: What’s your favorite stop on the light rail? Mine is going over the bridge at Tempe Town Lake when the sun is setting.

REM: I like going across at night. I love that view of the Tempe waterpark. Everything kind of glistens off of the water, and it’s all black. My favorite part about the light rail is when it’s hot as sh-t outside and when you get inside it’s nice and cool.

KM: Or when it’s super cold outside and it’s warmer inside.

REM: Got any other stories?

KM: I get hit on a lot on the light rail. It’s just a girl thing. Girls get hit on a lot. It almost always starts off with, “You got a boyfriend?” And I always say yes, even though I do not. Usually they’re really nice about it like, “He’s a really lucky guy.” Or they’re like, “You must be in love,” and I say “Yeah, man. I’m just overcome with love.”

KM: One time this guy was being weird with me. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I just wanted to read a book. I’m pretty sure he was drunk. He kept asking to borrow my phone and I let him hold it, then he asked if I could dial for him. Then he forgot the number and asked if I knew the number. I was like, “Nah, I have no idea who you’re trying to call. No idea.” I legitimately started ignoring him. He got really annoyed and sat with the girl in front of me. I looked down for a little bit. All of the sudden I look up again and they’re making out. Five minutes later and they are hardcore making out. It worked for him. Whatever he did to get that girl to make out with him that he just met then, props. Have you ever hit on a girl on the light rail?

REM: I try not to bring girls home with me from the light rail.

KM: I’m not saying bringing girls home from the light rail, I’m saying have you ever been like, “Oh hey, how’s it going?” with the intent of getting her number?

REM: No, never. Usually I try and just like, plug in and space the f-ck out on the light rail. Light rail is my time to kind of sit and reflect a little bit — decompress, relax. I’m always down to have a good conversation with somebody, just because there are so many characters, but yeah, no. I generally don’t pick up girls on the light rail.

KM: I hate talking to people on the light rail.

REM: Why?

KM: Just ‘cause it’s like you said. I just want to sit and reflect and usually I’m stressed out. Going between school and stressed from school in general and I just want to be by myself. But usually it’s when I’m in the worst mood and so against talking to anybody that somebody really, really, really nice or really interesting will start talking to me, and then I’m not in a bad mood anymore.


Public transit: the common alternative for student transportation. Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie Public transit: the common alternative for student transportation.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie

REM: What was a life changing experience you’ve had on the light rail?

KM: Well, I’ve told you this before, but this guy gave me relationship advice once. I’m not going to say what the advice was. It just came out wrong.

REM: Well, try it again.

KM: There’s no real way to express the sincerity. He wasn’t being weird. He was just saying how women should be more like men and protect their emotions in a lot of situations because a lot of guys are just trying to have sex. Women need to understand that, basically. It was really nice. He said love is a beautiful thing, and it’s really hard to find. It was really beautiful.

KM: How many cigarettes do people ask you for?

REM: I try not to bust out cigarettes on the light rail. But I usually don’t carry cigarettes about.

KM: I learned very, very quickly that you give one out and more and more people come up to you. I’m like, man, I’m broke. I can only afford my vice. I can’t afford yours, too.

KM: Have any drunken experiences on the light rail?

REM: None that I can remember.

KM: I see what you did there. One time, everybody busted out singing on a Saturday night. It was when that song that goes “Every day I’m shufflin” was out. I hadn’t heard it yet and I was like, “No, that’s not how it goes! It’s hustlin’!” I was drunk and sort of offended about it. But then it was cool and I sang too.

REM: I’ve seen people get pulled off the light rail and that’s always interesting. One time the train stopped for a long time, and then the cops came on and pulled someone off the train. It was great, but it made me late for class. Do you have any tactics for getting on the light rail for free?

KM: Well, my thing is when the security guards get on just get off. I’m a huge advocate for the light rail, and if everybody paid their share, then it would be a better thing for the city in general. But, sometimes you’re broke and you just have to get places. You’ve got to get on. I feel bad saying this, but broke college students, you just gotta do what you gotta do. You can’t be missing class because you’re poor. It’s not an excuse.

REM: I remember freshman year we would always buy the child’s tickets and pretend we didn’t know.

[long pause]

KM: This SPM conversation brought to you by Kharli Mandeville and Ryan Espinoza-Marcus.

[the two laugh]

There are rare people with different stories who make the light rail ride an experience.  Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie There are rare people with different stories who make the light rail ride an experience.
Photo by Pauletta Tohonnie


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