Buses remain America’s strongest link to the past. Sure, technology has dragged them forward some distance: you can pay for a bus ticket with a credit card, many buses offer seat-back outlets and WiFi, etc. But you can still show up at a bus terminal fifteen minutes before departure, buy a ticket, board the coach, and arrive in a new city four hours later. Try doing that at an airport. In a few years, it’ll be impossible to do that at a train station. But buses remain proletarian.
A stocky young man in line ahead of me crooned Italian opera while we waited. He was either singing into his Bluetooth headset – soothing an abandoned child back to sleep, perhaps – or keeping in practice. He spoke in a thick New York accent, however. “You dropped something,” he said to the man behind me – a man of sagging face and faded jacket, seventy at least, fumbling through his wallet. A folded scrap of looseleaf with a name and a 212 phone number had fallen out. “You dropped something,” the tenor repeated. I stooped, picked it up, and handed it back to the old man. He nodded his thanks. He would drop this scrap of paper at least once more while we waited in line.
(You wouldn’t think opera singers need to take the bus. But I know at least one soprano, and the money’s not great)
Greyhound and Peter Pan have merged services. Peter Pan buses have outlets; Greyhound buses don’t. I got a Greyhound bus, luck of the draw, so I only had as long as the laptop’s battery to work on my writing during the ride. I spent the rest of the time watching TV shows on my iPod (more on those later) and reading. The bus stopped at a Roy Rogers in northern Connecticut. The bus driver got out to negotiate with the manager, pointing at his coach and indicating the number of people aboard. They reached a compact, as the driver returned and told us we had fifteen minutes. I bought a sausage egg and cheese sandwich, which came with a “homestyle” biscuit, and a bottle of water. Carbo-loaded, I dozed until we rolled into Harlem.
Our sister dojo in Manhattan sits underneath the corner of Broadway and Bond in NoHo. There’s an expansive open mat where students practice American jiu-jitsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, plus a studio off to the side where more esoteric arts are taught. There’s a counter where you can buy bottled water or an official dojo T-shirt. There are locker rooms with showers and an on-site laundry service. There’s air-conditioning. I wandered around, introducing myself to the other instructors and marveling at their Manhattan opulence, until the time came for the test.
Michelle, one of our students in Boston, trained to brown belt in New York before moving. She returned to New York to test for her black belt promotion. I’m proud that the Boston dojo sent about a dozen members to watch Michelle’s test and support her. I’m also proud of how Michelle performed, demonstrating her techniques with confidence, skill and intensity*. And, on a personal note, I was proud to stand and watch the test with the other instructors. I never forget that I’m a black belt, but it’s only when I stand up there with O’Sensei Joe Puleio that I remember that I’m representing a tradition that’s bigger and older than I am. These other people with black belts, whom I’ve never met, all took the same journey that I did.
And now Sensei Michelle’s one of us.
* Even after she broke her foot near the end of the test. Fortunately, the only things she had left were groundfighting and ki demonstrations.