"The People On The Bus"
Copyright 2000 by Louise Richardson
The set is a simple one: a few chairs, two by two, in two rows running diagonally downstage to upstage, with an "aisle" between the rows, suggesting the seats on a city bus. Perhaps there is a projection or a painted backdrop of the interior of a bus behind the chairs. The monologue may either be presented as a voice over, live or recorded, or it may be spoken by the actor, so long as it is obvious we are hearing her thoughts. In either case, all actions are mimed--aside from sitting and standing. A recording of children singing "The People On The Bus" may be played, fading out when the lights come up.
A bus stop in any modern city. At lights up, the set is dark except for downstage where a RIDER stands anxiously clutching her purse.
RIDER (singing to herself): The people on the bus go up and down, up and down, up and down. The people on the bus go up and down all through the town. The driver on the bus says ‘move on back, move on back, move'-- (speaking) Stupid song. It's in my head and now I can't shake it...That's me: "people on the bus." Missed my ride to work...Who needs this? Who needs this eight-hour day, forty-hour week crap. I'm an artist. I'm a writer anyway. Well, I was and I could be again. All I need to do is write something. I write, therefore I am...a writer...It only takes inspiration–or perspiration, according to Edison. What did he ever write?...No place to sit at the bus stop...Standing here with all the losers...who all have seats, thank you very much...At least I should be able to sit on the bus...Young punks! You'd think one of them could give me a seat–just out of courtesy...I guess we are "just out of courtesy" this morning. Why, in my day. Listen to me. Am I that old? My day wasn't that long ago...Wait a minute, what am I thinking? This is still my day. My day is good for years yet...This route is supposed to be the most dependable one. I never have to wait this long...Oh great. The old man offers me a seat...Punks...Make an old man offer his seat out of shame...Well, I certainly can't take it from him. Punks! Little skateboarding assholes! Look at them...They've gotta be at least twenty-five...Is that the bus down the road?... (painting the scene in the air) "The all too solid bus materialized out of the fog." "Haze?" "Smog?"...Write what you see, write what you know, they always say. But I don't see anything. And I don't know anything. At least nothing worth writing about...There...A row of yellow lights on top...of a truck. I should have known...too small for a bus, anyway...Punks! Little creeps. They'll probably hit someone with a skateboard when they get on the bus...When did those things get so big? Take off the wheels and you could really surf with them. Ah, more lights...Why don't they move? How long have I been here? (checks watch) Come on, it's been more than five minutes. (taps watch) It's ticking...Oh. The lights are a shop up there...There's the bus. It's about time...(digs in purse) Where's my bus pass? Damn! It's always right here behind my keys...Hey punks! I've been waiting here longer. You couldn't let me go ahead, could you? Little bastards...Let the people off the bus, then you can get on. What's your hurry?
The RIDER boards the bus as the lights come up on the set behind her. Her gaze follows the "punks" as they head for seats near the back of the bus.
RIDER: Afraid the best garages and parking lots will already be taken? Give me a break, driver. (checks purse) I know I have my pass. Can't you wait a second? It's always behind my keys...That's not it...Here. No that's from last month...Here it is. (shows pass to driver) I knew it was right behind my keys...You'd think there would be one seat free on this bus. (holds onto strap, looks around) I'm not going back there...If I can't sit on the first four rows, forget it...I can wait...Some of these people will get off for work as soon as we reach downtown...Not this bunch...None of them smell like they've worked in months...years...Be kind. I'm lucky to have a job myself. This makes twice I've overslept this week...They're going to find out they can do the job without me–or pay a temp less to do it. The temp can have it. I don't need no stinkin' office job. I'm an artiste...I have to sit down...(looks around) All right, I'll sit back there...If you wanted that seat, why the Hell didn't you take it before?...Downtown. People are bound to get off now...What bus are they waiting for? Maybe they don't all need this bus...But they do!...Come on. Let the people off first. Hey! I can get that seat. (rushes to it, almost sits) Sorry, lady...She's awfully spry at her age...I will never, ever, be spry...She's so frail. Take some calcium, granny. It wouldn't hurt you...There's a spot...(goes to it) Move your butt, mister. You don't need to hog–oh. His girlfriend no doubt, or he's a very fast worker. By all means, sit down...you little slut. (considers the young man) Forget it. He's not my type. Too young. Too crude...Hey, get a room, you two! This is public transportation, for God's sake...I feel the need to write something...I don't know...dramatic, I guess. Maybe I should keep another journal...Nah...The last one I had was so pretentious: I did this, I did that, I thought this about that. Who cares?...Next stop...and nobody's there. Somebody's gotta get off sometime...Jerk! Why didn't you pull the damn cord earlier? You're lucky we're stuck at a red light...Get the lead out. The light is changing...Great. We have to wait for the next light. Nice going...But I'll take your seat, thank you. (sits) It's not the best seat. I like to a sit by the window–preferably near the front...That's all right. I'm sitting. I'm happy for that...I'll move up when I get the chance. It's going to be awhile. What would it hurt if I just jot down some ideas for a play?...Oh, that's right, I don't have any ideas...I've used up everything I know even peripherally. Maybe if I'm just an hour late, I'll be okay. I have a good record at this job. They'll overlook one little–There's a good one, right front by the window. (rushes to it) Beeping. What's with the beeping? (hearing the bus driver) What? I just got here. Damn. Wheelchair stop...Don't they have special buses? And this will make us even later...(stands) All right. I'm moving...(hangs onto a strap) Five minutes for the lift to be lowered, for her to wheel onto the lift, for her to make sure the chair is secure, for her to ride the lift up to the landing, for her to roll to the right front space...Good. The driver has folded up the seats already...Now she has to wheel around and back into place...And the driver has to belt the chair so it won't shift while the bus is in motion...Empathy! That's what my writing needs...Oh yeah...What writing? Finally, we can go again...And then later the whole wheelchair handling process will have to be repeated–in reverse. It's like going through the locks of the Panama Canal–or so I imagine. I hope she's headed near the end of the line...And, God, please don't let this be a two or three-wheelchair morning! Anyway, I'll just take back my old–Hey! Where'd you come from? Punk! You sneaked in the back door, didn't you? Don't give me that look...I don't care what race you are...You're a punk. I'm liberal, but I'm no hypocrite. I treat everyone the same–without exception. It's time the world moves on...I think I wrote that somewhere once...Now that man there is no punk. Why can't you be more like him, punk kid? Okay, so he's older, richer, more educated...In fact, I could go for him...Well, my folks would object...Screw them. What do they know? They're still boycotting Japanese cars after more than fifty years...When are they going to let go of the past...Lots of luck at their age...Should I tell them where their cute little fuel efficient compact was made? They think because they bought it at a Buick dealership...and their T.V. is German!...No. Their hearts couldn't take it. The other punks know this one...Apparently all three are named "Dude." (sarcastically) What are the odds? Oh yeah. One of the other punks is Hispanic. (sincere for a moment) That's nice, kids of all races and ethnicities getting along together...Well, they're still punks. They're still young. A punk is a punk is a punk. I think Gertrude Stein said that...(her eyes follow the three as they pass her) Ow! Watch it with that thing!...Good. Off you go to punkland...And I'll strike while the iron is hot. (rushes back to one of their seats, sits down) I'm just full of cliches today...I'm going to stay put...Can't you other punks let these guys off first? Geez... Look at her there smugly sitting in her wheelchair. She never has to stand for anything...What am I thinking? Can she help it if her legs won't work?...Or will they? Maybe she just has weak ankles. Maybe she's just lazy like those women you see riding those electric things in the supermarket–and ordering their poor husbands and children around. None of them seem to have any degenerative muscle diseases. They're just lazy. I know they are...They just can't handle the gravity on this planet...Okay, so I'm not exactly weightless myself...But I can stand if I have to–and I have to a lot...You don't see me calling up some kind of welfare agency and saying, "I'd like to ride a ‘Rascal' because I just can't be standing for five minutes at a time." What am I turning into? A Republican? My grandmother? She has benefitted from one form of welfare or another all her New-Deal-Democrat-turned-Republican-traitor life. She's collected social security for years, but don't let some poor family in Harlem or Appalachia get any benefits from her taxes. That's communism! Actually, she's pretty sweet most of the time, just don't mention politics or the Civil War...(adopting a sweet elderly voice) "You know, none of our family--or anyone they knew–ever mistreated their slaves. They we're treated just like family." Yeah right. Except that we had to sell off some of the children from time to time, right Grandma? Would you listen to that discussion at the front of the bus?...I wish I could tune it out. It's some of those conspiracy nuts...Okay, so "Waco" and "Ruby Ridge" were terrible mistakes and the government needs to clean up its act when dealing with cults...Those people had stockpiles of guns, didn't they? Not just handguns, but assault rifles. Who needs assault rifles?...Anyway, I just can't believe the United Nations is trying to take over our National Parks. What are they going to do? Put racoons and squirrels in charge of Wyoming? Maybe there's a musical in that...I don't know. Just a few more stops to go...Naturally, it's time for the wheelchair woman to get off...Geez, the driver is having trouble unbuckling her...Okay...Look lady, can't you let him push you to the front? It will take less time...So damned independent...Well, I guess I'd want to be that way in her situation–If she is in her situation. Those legs look well-exercised to me...And tanned! Shouldn't they be covered with a blanket or something. In the old movies Lionel Barrymore always had a blanket over his legs when he was in a wheelchair–and I know he was really paralyzed. He made all his later movies in a wheelchair...Of course, I used to think Raymond Burr was paralyzed, but he was just acting–and he was large, so he didn't want to walk around everywhere...That poor servant of his... but he became a lawyer or something before the end of the series...That's what a black man had to do in those days. It wasn't easy...Where'd she go? That was fast. (looks out the window) I can see her halfway down the block. Can you do a wheely in a wheelchair? Okay the lift ramp is folded up again. Here we go. Okay, we'll wait for the traffic light. Why not? We haven't missed one yet...Some people get off, some people get on. It's back to normal...I know this guy...Or he seems to know me. He sees me...and he's coming this way. How can anyone be so sloppy drunk at eight thirty in the morning? (she nods to him and turns as he sits behind her) What is he talking about? What should I do? Write a play? Oh, that's where he knows me from. That was almost a decade ago. I haven't written a thing since...well since the faux french farce...I've threatened to write again, but my heart just hasn't been in it...What was it called? Oh yes: "Faux French Farce." I haven't written a thing since that production fell apart. So the set was going to be a tad expensive, I could have changed the script...Too bad. It would have been fun watching actors running up and down all those stairs, slamming all those doors and windows, hiding under beds, dropping into trap doors. So we only had a three hundred dollar budget, we could have mimed a lot of it. AIDS? Why does he want me to write about AIDS? What do I know about AIDS? Why does he care?...Oh, I think I see...I don't write serious stuff, anyway...He sure doesn't look it...I never would have expected he was...Actually, I've heard it's more of a promiscuity thing than a gay thing...A virus doesn't give a damn about sexual orientation...A virus is asexual or something...I think...Well, I'm not the one to write a play about AIDS. Important plays have already been written on the subject–more important than I could ever write...My stuff is light comedy. That's my bailiwick. I'd tell him but he's too drunk to listen...He's been up all night drinking...The best I can figure, he got some bad news yesterday–probably from a doctor...It's tragic, of course, but what can I do about it? Shouldn't he have been more careful? I don't know...Come on, fella. Buck up! God, he's sobbing like a baby. Breaks my heart. I'll agree to research the subject...That seems to have done it...He's satisfied. His job is done. So is mine...He's asleep, God bless him...See ya later...My stop at last! And now I have to go to work...I don't have it in me...I can't work today...This bus ride always takes it out of me...It saps all the energy and inspiration and creativity right out of me. Maybe I'll just stay on the bus and ride back home. Maybe I'll get some sleep. It will take another hour...So I'll call in sick. I overslept. I should have left it at that...If I can just get my head settled against the window here...Perhaps I could write something. I could start on something at home, anyway...Yeah right. (sings to herself) "The people on the bus go up and down, up and down, up and down..."(sleeps).