the newbie blue bus rider


Royalty Free Bus Stop Clip Art, Vector Images & Illustrations - iStock


I walked out to the edge of the sidewalk. It was the summer season and the weather was sweltering hot.  I put my hand over my eyes as I squinted to see as far as I could down the road.  There were rows upon rows of tall apartments as far as my eyes could see.  But no stores.  Not one.  Not even a corner vegetable stand.  Where were all the steamed corn on the cob sellers?

The hospital’s neighborhood was making me feel like I was in the Twilight Zone again.  It was so unlike Pops’ hometown neighborhood, where the town was so full, it was bustling into the wee hours of the night.  Mini Mom-‘n-Pop stores and fruit and vegetable stands at every corner.

I turned around to check the other side of the road.  Sigh.  It was not much different.  More high rise apartments again.

There were about 3 lanes going in each direction on the main road, but with not as much traffic as the downtown streets.  No vehicles were honking their horns like nuts.  It was so un-city-like, compared to downtown.  The vehicles ’round here stayed smoothly within their own lanes and the pedestrians were few.  The streets, sidewalks, and even the new apartment buildings were gray in color.  All was calm and a gloomy gray.

I decided to check on Mom before I made my trek.  So back into the cool air-conditioned hospital I went.

Her younger sister had come to bring her some food to eat and to help her with caring for Pops.  Pops needed a body adjustment to his layed-down position on his bed at least every hour.  Mostly though, every half-hour.

It was straining for Mom.  Her shoulders were aching from lifting him.  During the daytime hours, there were enough hospital staff going in and out of the rooms, that we could often ask one of ’em for help with lifting Pops’ body on his bed.  But during the night time hours, it seemed like 80% of the staff had departed the building.  So I send Mom to go rest at her sister’s house, as I took care of Pops during the evening hours.

It was almost time for me to temporarily leave Korea.  The sis would then fly over to help Mom care for Pops.  She was right now running our family business all by herself.  Although that was a tough thing to do, she would later come to find that taking care of Pops was an even tougher thing to do.

By the time I had returned back to Korea about 2 weeks later, both were beat.  Mom was seeing an acupuncturist for her aching shoulders and the sis was wrapping her right wrist tightly with ace bandages.  It was the first time I had seen her have dark circles under her eyes.  Considering that she had worked as a nurse on 12-hour shifts for a decade, she must have worn herself out doing all she could to make Pops comfortable as she took care of him.

As soon as I had arrived (and hadn’t even unpacked anything from my bags), the 2 of them went to go rest.  Both layed themselves down flat on the floor.  No bed or floor mattress needed.  Just a clean floor to lay down on.  And both were knocked out asleep until the following day.  Before she fell asleep, the sis said that she hadn’t had a chance to shower in 3 whole days.  That night would make it 4.  I thank God I had been able to return when I did.

With Mom’s sister there to help care for Pops with her, this was finally my chance to go outside of the hospital and into the neighborhood.  I needed to get Pops one very important thing before I had to leave in a few days: a new pair of eye glasses.  Although I was going to be back in a couple of weeks, I still wanted to get Pops his new eye glasses, in case there may be less time to do so when I returned.

I asked the other male patients in the room if they might know where the nearest shopping area was.  They told me that there was an H-Mart Department Store somewhere, but they weren’t sure where.  They had only seen it in passing.  One of them told me to look for a so-and-so district.  Can’t remember anymore what the district’s name was.  I thanked them and picked up my bag to head out.  I needed to skidaddle, so that I could get back as soon as possible, and Mom could go rest at her sister’s.

aunt: “You’re gonna go look for H-Mart?”

me: “Yeah.”

aunt: “You’re going to go by yourself?”

me: “Yup.”

Mom looked like she was half-proud and half-worried.  Considering that I only come to Korea about every 5 years or so, and mostly just stayed within Pops’ teeny-weeny, old hometown city, where there wasn’t even a running toilet (we have to use an ultra-sniffy outhouse), this was gonna be like a major scavenger hunt adventure for me.

And so, I left the room and hospital, and headed back out into the sunny and humid streets again.  I walked towards the same sidewalk edge where I had stood earlier.  I looked down the road again.  Then I looked down the other side of the road again.

The male patient fellas inside had talked about an underpass-like bridge being along the road, and that that was the one I was supposed to take.  But there was an underpass bridge on both sides of the road.  Sigh.

I looked right across the street from me.  There was a bus stop with 2 ladies sitting inside of it.  I decided to go ask if they might be able to give me some directions.

So towards the corner of the street I went, and waited for the signal to light up for me to cross.  Both ladies were happily chatting away together.  I flashed the best million-dollar smile that I could, and asked them if they might know where the closest shopping area might be.

lady 1: “Oh, there isn’t one near here!  You have to take a bus and go further into town.”

me: “How much is the bus fare?”

lady 1: “The bus fare?  Gosh, I don’t know…  Do you know how much the bus fare is?”

lady 2: “I think it’s like 1,200 or 1,500 won.”

(Korean won currency)

lady 1: “Yeah, I think it’s about 1,500 won.”

I thanked them and waited for a bus to come.  As the minutes ticked by, I decided to try to figure out the bus information signs pasted on the back wall of the bus stop they were sitting in.

lady 1: “She reminds me of when I was in high school and I had taken the bus for the very first time in my life.  I had asked the bus driver how much the bus fare was.  But when I had put my money in the box, he said that my money was short.  I was so embarrassed, that I thought I was gonna just die.”

(Note: the reason why some folks don’t actually know the cost of bus fares is because they pay for ’em by swiping their bus passes or debit/credit cards as they enter the bus, and again as they exit.  So most don’t actually put money and coins into the bus fare money box as they enter, like I needed to do.)

As several buses had passed by on the street, I noticed that there were 4 colors in all: yellow, green, red, and blue.  It was a blue one that had stopped in front of us.

When its front doors opened, I walked up to it, and asked the bus driver if she might be heading to that so-and-so city.  (Sounds like I was asking to be directed to the Yellow Brick Road.)

The bus driver leaned on her steering wheel like she was so incredibly tired, although it wasn’t even lunch time yet.  Must have been quite a long day for her already.  She looked me up and down.  Then she slowly lifted up her right hand and stuck out her thumb, pointing it towards her back.  “It’s the other way”, she calmly said.  I must have been the first Nut of the Day for her.

“Oh!”, I answered and thanked her.  How typical. I was on the wrong side of the street again.

So I crossed back to the other side of the street, where I had started from, and headed to the closest bus stop on that side.  One lady was already standing at the bus stop, as another younger lady was walking towards her.

lady 1: “Hey!  Long time no see!  Where are you going to?”

lady 2: “Oh, I’m going to H-Mart!”

My ears perked up. Needless to say, when a bus had pulled up to our stop and the H-Mart-going lady had entered, I hopped into it right along with her immediately.

I put in 1,500 won into the clear money box and paused to wait and see if the bus driver was gonna tell me to pay more.  He didn’t even look at me or say anything to me.  So I quickly sat myself down on the closest empty seat.  As soon as I had sat my butt down, that’s when I noticed all of the blue handicap stickers on the chairs.  Rats, I’m on the handicap seats.  So I grabbed the handle bars within the aisle and tried to balance myself as I tried to get my booty to an open seat in the back.

Being one with a pathetically poor memory, I had already forgotten what the lady whom I had hopped into the bus with looked like.  Sigh.  I carefully scanned the other bus riders inside of the bus, but none looked familiar to me at all.  So I didn’t know whom I was supposed to hop back out of the bus with now.  Carumba.

I then looked up at the big sticker that was stuck above my window.  It showed all of the names of the stops that this particular blue-colored bus made.  There were about 15 stops in all.  I carefully read the names, as I kept my eyes continually looking outside the window, to see if there were any shops appearing yet.

Among the stops described on the sticker, there was one that had the word “Center” on it.  It was that one that I woulda bet dough on, had I been a bettin’ chick.  Because I was hoping that the 2nd word “Center” was in reference to a particular shopping center.  From the hospital, the sticker showed that it was located at the bus’ 5th stop.  I looked outside and the neighborhood was looking fuller now, with shops coming into view and more colors painted on the buildings.  The grayness of the hospital’s town was fading away.

When the bus arrived at the 5th stop, it was there that the majority of the riders within the bus had stood up to get off.  One of them had to have been the lady whom I had followed in.  With biggie confidence, I too, got off.  The streets were colorful with murals and landscaping on the sidewalks.  I turned to look across the street.  Lo and behold, a huge building stood before me with a big sign that said: H-Mart.  Hallelujah!

It was on the 2nd floor of that building, where I had found an optical.  It was there that I had purchased 2 pairs of new eye glasses for Pops, which I needed to return in a couple of days, to pickup when they were done being made.

After paying 1,500 won for the bus fare again, I returned back to the hospital on another blue-colored bus.

{Two days later}

I went back to the bus stop outside of the hospital.  And again, I got on the next blue-colored bus that had stopped in front of me.

With my 1,500 won of coins readily prepared inside my pocket, I pulled them all out, and put them into the bus driver’s clear money box.  The coins chinked loudly as they went in.  But before the bus driver began to shift his gears and close the bus’ doors, he paused, and looked up at me.

bus driver: “How much did you put in?”

me: “Fifteen hundred won.” (with a big smile and kinda proudly too, cuz I was feelin’ like a pro bus rider now)

bus driver: “The fare is twenty-one hundred won.”

I looked at him in shock and said, “Oh!”.  Then I quickly put in a 1,000 won bill into the clear box.  Now, I was paying 400 won over.

The bus driver then closed the door and I hurried to an empty seat in the back.  The bus was almost full, so I had to really head to the back, back.  While grasping the aisle handle bars, I tried to keep my balance as the bus swerved along the road.

When I finally reached an empty seat and had put my bag on my lap, all I could do was think about one thing: about the lady at the bus stop who told her friend about the time when she hadn’t paid enough for her bus fare, and thought that she was gonna die of embarrassment that day.  Ah, well.  Now I can say about this situation too, “Been there, done that”, right?

Note: Yup, I sure did feel terrible for having paid my bus fare 600 won short, not once, but twice the other day. Oy.



artist: Lee Me Kyeoung





4 thoughts on “the newbie blue bus rider

  1. i can relate to this. i visit san francisco and mostly ride the public transportation. found it a bit confusing and after reading the info many times finally figured out it was easier to just get a clipper card (used for bart and busses) so all i had to do was pass the card over the reader. fares were a bit confusing but with the clipper card, which doesnt expire, i didnt have to worry. i did note the busses had the fare listed on the outside of the bus door. but only noted this after riding many buses. lol

  2. I really enjoyed this writeup. You have a very unique voice that comes through in the way you write. Are you still in Korea? I hope your dad is recovering. Take good care.

    1. I am so glad to hear that your dad is doing well. That’s a relief. You have a very authentic voice and I do get absorbed in your stories. My grammar isn’t great either.
      In fact, some days I find it hard to even write complete sentences. LOL. I look forward to reading more of your stories. Have a great week ahead. 🙂

shoot yo holla hea

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