Book Excerpt- Riding the Austin Metro bus

Previously-Airport and the Houston flight with the Professor.

The way from the airport was a bit unfamiliar as my hotel was located in the Austinarboretum, which was in North Austin. There were two cabbies waiting near the airport but coming from India puts you at an automatic disadvantage when it comes to trusting cab drivers. So I decided to tae the Austin Capital Metro bus. The charts and maps were all colorfully marked and it took my engineering brain to map out the path to my hotel and time taken to wait for it. Bus riders are mostly campus students and I ran into two Asian American (Chinese) students at the bus stop . They had not heard of the arboretum either.

The bus came with clock work precision at the time promised.I climbed the bus to await my first american surprise- a frail old looing lady driver of the bus. While bus driving in India is considered mostly a macho blue collar profession , American roads and bus technology allow even Sandra Bullock, the film star to drive a bus as she did after the movie “Speed”. I followed the lead of the American students and dutifully dropped a 1 dollar bill in the note swallowing machine – another uniquely American technology. I got a day long pass. The bus lady told me I needed to catch another bus to reach my hotel, and she promised to drop me at the station for changing buses.This came after some half an hour at the sixth street, which my friends had promised me was a great and happening place. As I took my big suitcase and latop bag down, all I could see were deserted bars in the noon sun. The weather was nice and hot , forcing me to take my sweater off.

The bus stop was surprisingly crowded, with people who looked straight out of a Hollywood movie on the old and the destitute. Mostly African American with some frail white men and ladies , and a few Hispanic looking people who clustered tightly together. I clutched my suitcase with some nervousness. This was America after all, with all that crime you see in the big movies. It seemed the nervousness was mutual. After an awkward ,long silence and staring contest – one of the bus stop people finally spoke aloud- “Is that a bomb ?” , he pointed to my suitcase. “Nopes” , I said , “no Bombs here”.

Fortunately I was rescued by the arrival of the number 3 bus, and I used my day pass to swipe in and thus avoid paying another 50 cents for a single ticket ride. The Arboretum flashed on the bus quite helpfully, and I joined a wide variety of people on the very spacious air conditioned bus. “These guys should ride in a Delhi bus” , I thought to myself. They will then truly count their blessings . To my amazement, you could even stop the bus, by pulling a chain almost like a train back home. “STOP REQUESTED” chimed a nice metallic voice. The bus was colorfully festooned with ads promoting bus usage, spaces for luggage and even a row for maps, which I dutifully took.

Staring out of the window, at the uniformly ordered rows, blocks , and front drives of Austin – I settled down in the bus nicely. After a 45 minute , uneventful drive I arrived at a place where the new driver told me to stop for the Hyatt Austin aroboretum.

Next – The first ride to the Hotel.

Excerpt from the book “Flying with the Cougars”- a fictionalized and exaggerated account of a brown boy’s travels and travails to the West. All copyrights reserved.

Author: Ajay Ohri

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