There is nothing so oppressive as daylight. At night, there is a lot we can’t see so we get to fill in the blanks with whatever our brains can conjure. If we wanted, we could populate the unknown with friendly little spirits who just want to cuddle and tell us how swell we are. However, that is not our nature. Instead, we fill the dark spaces with ghosts and goblins, vampires and werewolves, who only want to drink our blood and get off in our ass.
This imagining is harder to do in the light of day. The sun beams down, obliterating almost every shadow with its unflattering glare. “This is how the world is. Suck it” is the undeniable message. There is nothing we can do but shrug and admit defeat. The witching hour never comes at noon.
For part of the year, I am able to enjoy the early morning that’s shrouded in darkness except for the pale glow of street lights. The day will come, as it always does, but at least I have a head start on it. When the sun peers above the East Bay hills as I’m on the freeway heading south, I’ll be on the bus sitting comfortably with a coffee in my hand. “Do your worst, asshole. I’m ready for you” I’ll say, likely just to myself lest the other passengers think I’m a psychopath.
I do not have that luxury now. When the alarm goes off, the sky already has its daybreak glow. By the time I head out the door, the sun is more or less up. It may still be blocked by a building, but not by the curvature of the Earth.
At least I still have my coffee.
People on the bus don’t talk to each other. Even if they are engaged in a conversation while waiting at the stop, that ends upon boarding. There is no official edict that lays out this rule. It simply is. Although I am not always quick to pick up on nonverbal social cues, this one I got right away. It’s probably because I found it to my liking.
With the sun up, I have the entire SF peninsula laid out for my viewing pleasure if I so choose. It’s an option I readily decline. It’s not that it’s that much of an eyesore. It’s greener than the dead hills of SoCal though the strip malls and industrial parks are just as ugly here as there. It’s just that I’ve been doing this commute for over four years and through countless casual glances, I have seen every parcel of land along the way. What was there yesterday will likely be there tomorrow and even if it isn’t, it was never that interesting to begin with.
From what I can see, few of the other passengers are paying attention to the scenery either. The real go-getters, who have the kind of ambition and drive I shall never know, have their laptops open and are in virtual meetings with people who share their disdain for work-life balance.
Most of the others are like me though, using technology simply to kill time. With our faces buried in our mobile devices, we provide excellent fodder for neo-luddite social critics who piss and moan about how we have become slaves to our screens. To them, I say you try making the long schlep down to San Jose with nothing to keep you sane but the delusion of inner peace. The smartphone is not to blame. Twenty-five years ago, I would’ve reached for a book to provide diversion. Fifty years ago, it would be a hit of acid. You do what you can in the era you are in.
The morning commute is the best time for this. The early bus has only a handful of people so the WiFi on board can easily accommodate all of us. A lot more people take the early bus to get home and they all have wireless devices hungry for bandwidth. Checking email is relatively painless as is loading a web page that is mostly text, but heaven help you if you want to stream media. Most afternoons, I rely on punk rock stored on my phone to blot out the world.
Here in the AM, I have no such restrictions. I can stream whatever I wish, even porn since I sit in the back where no one can look over my shoulder. This morning, it isn’t porn I’m interested in. It’s Nicolas Cage (and not Nicolas Cage porn, if such a thing exists).
I have to admit that I’ve missed a lot of the Cage filmography, pretty much everything between 8mm and Left Behind. I decided to watch one of his more recent films, a low budget piece of Canuck sci-fi called The Humanity Bureau.
I must say I like the way Nic Cage has aged. With his drooping jowls and thickening middle, he shows every sign of a man who has fired his personal trainer and hired a personal bartender. He spends much of the film furrowing his brow and looking defeated, which is what I expect the protagonist in a tale of dystopian near future to do.
I’m a sucker for any movie that tells me that tomorrow is going to be awful. That alone is enough to transport my mind away from this bus ride and all that unsightly daylight outside. The only thing I like more is a movie about people running for their lives. Fortunately for me, The Humanity Bureau is that kind of flick as well.
I’m not saying this is a great film. Or even a good one. Calling it mediocre might even be charitable. Also, its focal character was a child and I don’t like children very much. If I ever became a murderer, it’s a safe bet that a child would be the person I’d kill. On the other hand, I was happy to see that the main bad guy was the actor who played Joe Dick in Hard Core Logo.
The premise of the movie is that if the government deems you a drain on society, the eponymous bureau takes you away to a place called New Eden. It sounds like a lovely place, just like that farm upstate that has a welcome mat out for the aging family dog. Anyway, Nic’s a reformed bureau agent who helps a single mom and her kid flee the evil USA.
Every escape movie has a destination. In this one, it’s Canada. In the equally silly The Last Chase, it’s California. In the awesome Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, it’s Mexico. In none of these films is there a detailed explanation of what makes the destination so desirable. All we know is that it is outside the jurisdiction of the current intolerable situation.
For a lot of movie viewers, that is good enough. It certainly is for me. In a way, saying screw this and bolting like a motherfucker is my porn. It’s also my retirement plan. At some point, Becca and I are going to flee San Francisco for our designated promised land, Portland. There we’ll by a house and…well, we’re not sure exactly what we’ll do. We’ll figure it when we get there. The important thing is that it’s not SF with its skyrocketing cost of living and an increasingly douchier local populace.
Alas, it’s too soon to cut and run yet. It’s even too early to plan our escape. Nights at home with Becca are lovely, but during the day, the only thing for me to do is make money and get older. There is not a lot of excitement in sitting in the back of the bus on US 101 going to and fro five days a week, especially with the sun up and harshing my mellow. I need a vicarious cut-and-run fix so I block out everything as best I can and watch the rest of The Humanity Bureau.
The movie is over and the ending sucked. The downer elements of it didn’t bother me. I don’t need everyone to live happily ever after because the fun is in the running, not the arrival. No, what irked me was the silver lining they tacked onto it. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that in the end the greater good was served.
I do not watch these movies to root for the greater good because I do not give a flying fuck about the greater good. I want to see desperate people hauling ass after realizing that is the only sane course of action. It is the survival instinct that drives them. I can relate to such characters, even if one is an annoying child.
The bus pulls up at my stop and I exit the vehicle. There is not a cloud in the sky and I squint from the glare off the sidewalk. I walk toward my building. If there is any quickening in my step, it is because the coffee has worked its way through me and I really need to pee.