Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nearly an 'It Boy'

On a railway crossing near here...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Martin Buber wrote of I and Thou. Yesterday afternoon, I nearly became an 'it'.

I was riding the 273 Bus from Kyung Hee University at around 3:15, on my way to pick up my son, En-Uk, from his piano lesson, and the driver proved himself one of those 'Drivers from Hell' -- as my kids and I like to call them.

In short, a typical bus driver in Seoul -- the Polar Express engineer has nothing on these Korean Big City Drivers!

Yet . . . I no longer really notice the abrupt stops, the sudden accelerations, the unpredictable lane changes. I just brace myself, knee against the seat in front of me, and read my International Herald Tribune, experienced enough in my Han-Kookily urbanized life to ignore my surroundings and still avoid being thrown unceremoniously from my seat.

At some point, however, I became aware that we were backing up . . . s l o w l y. I looked up from my paper just as the bus's retrograde motion halted. A uniformed man was rushing across an open space toward the front of my bus, his head twisting quickly first right, then left, as he ran. Another man, also in uniform, stood beside the bus, to my right, frantically waving a red flashlight and ordering traffic behind the bus to back up.

At that moment, my eyes focused on a railway crossing's half-barrier bar, which was leaning fixed against the bus's front door. Red lights were flashing, bells were clanging, and the bus's engine portion was thrust across the subway tracks.

I'll say this for the driver -- he didn't abandon his passengers (unlike the subway train driver in the Daegu Subway Fire) but sat firmly in his seat and waited for the cars behind to back up, upon which, he did the same. Our bus had just slipped back behind the half-barrier bar, allowing it to descend completely, as the train rushed past.

My newspaper forgotten, neglected on my lap, I sat there staring at the driver's reflection in his rearview mirror, wondering if he had tried to beat the train, or if the half-barrier, flashing lights, and clanging bell had all simultaneously, if temporarily, malfunctioned.

The former seemed more likely, for after the train had safely passed, then another had rushed in the opposite direction, the bus lunged forward as the 'Driver from Hell' hurried on to meet what I took to be his urgent, pressing, schedule . . . having, apparently, learned absolutely nothing from his close encounter with nothingness.

I rode home thinking of Malcolm Pollack's own close encounter with mortality and had a cold beer to celebrate my continued subjectivity...

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At 11:47 AM, Blogger Fencerider said...

I think I would have been telling the idiot to open the back door as I and my son exit quickly. (perhaps it happened too quickly for that)
You didn't mention if any of the other passengers scolded the driver for his apparent lack of concern for his passengers. I would have had a few words for him and not many of them would have been nice.

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Fencerider, thanks for the comment.

Fortunately, I was still on my way to pick up my son, so I didn't have that to worry about.

I didn't see anyone doing any scolding, other than the subway officials who yelled at him -- and he yelled back at them!

Koreans are extraordinarily tolerant of bad driving. It's perplexing.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:47 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

I'm so glad thou art still with us, Jeffery!

At 5:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, KM. It's like that song by John Prine:

They don't know how lucky they are
they could have run into that tree...

Why I might have been killed -- or, worse, maimed for life! What if I had lost my mind? Or been frightened out of my wits? That would certainly have affected my mental abilities!

Not that Gypsy Scholar would have changed very much, but in such a case, I would be certifiably crazy and have to blog from a different sort of institution...

Jeffery Hodges

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