TrIP Blog Day 25: Pantoum of LYNX Route 40 by Vanessa Blakeslee #TrIP_Orlando #publictransportation

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Up until a month ago I had never ridden the bus in Orlando, the city I’ve called home since 1997. Over the past sixteen years I’ve taken public transit in Bangkok and Prague, from trams and subways to sky trains, wound above the beaches of Sydney in yes, the city buses, hopped London’s famed double-deckers—but never once stepped aboard the LYNX, the bus system servicing the Orlando metro area.

Nor had I ever given much thought to why this might be, until recently. I suppose I always had access to a car; even when mine went into the shop, somehow I got a rental or loaner. When in traffic, the LYNX struck me as lumbering and slow, an impediment to reaching my destination; an encumbrance to skirt around, the bus stops no more than a curiosity to zip past. At a quick glance, the passengers milling underneath the paw-printed signs appeared beaten down —not scary, exactly, but certainly not an uplifting demographic to find oneself among, either.

Quick glances are often not close glances, however.

The morning of Tuesday, November 26th, I met filmmaker Woodruff Laputka in the Bank of America parking garage down the street from the LYNX main terminal. It was shortly after six a.m., the city beautiful just waking up. Buses pulled in and idled at the curb; the men who sleepily streamed out sported hoodies and lunchboxes, just coming off a night shift or headed to construction sites. The majority were dark-skinned, all of them quiet and weary-faced. A few slumped in seats, donned sunglasses under the bright interior lights. Alone in the back, one man emphatically wept. Those nearby ignored him. Each face bore a story.

We boarded, our lives and perspectives of Orlando and its inhabitants about to be changed forever.

The following is the first in what I hope will be a series of poems inspired by the experience.

Pantoum of LYNX Route 40

Headed for the Holy Land Experience?
Daybreak, too early for sunglasses and questions.
The man dressed like a Mormon parks next to us,
lights up talking: cameras, yachts, Miami.

Daybreak, too early for sunglasses and questions.
The cleaning lady, donut box on lap, is from Johannesburg,
lights up talking: cameras, yachts, Miami?
My life’s worse than the movie Precious.

The cleaning lady, donut box on lap, is from Johannesburg.
Knife bags, work clogs, chef pants crowd the aisle.
My life’s worse than the movie Precious.
The young woman in a headscarf yawns.

Knife bags, work clogs, chef pants crowd the aisle.
Didn’t get home ‘til midnight,
the young woman in a headscarf yawns.
Time to go run Cat in the Hat.

Didn’t get home ‘til midnight,
‘cause if you miss this bus, you gotta wait an hour.
Time to go run Cat in the Hat.
She gets off at Universal, flashes striped Seuss-wear.

‘Cause if you miss this bus, you gotta wait an hour.
Charlie from Miami totes a French press thermos in his backpack.
She gets off at Universal, flashes striped Seuss-wear,
rushes escalators to beat theme-park throngs.

Charlie from Miami totes a French press thermos in his backpack.
He’ll ride the #40 to Millennia, he says, buy a bow-tie at the Mall,
rushes escalators to beat theme-park throngs.
You tell everyone you meet you’re from Vancouver.

He’ll ride the #40 to Millennia, he says, buy a bow-tie at the Mall.
Islands of Adventure means shorts in November.
You tell everyone you meet you’re from Vancouver,
why go to Portofino when Portofino can be built here?

The man dressed like a Mormon parks next to us.
Along Americana Boulevard LYNX #40 lurches and squeals,
headed for the Holy Land Experience.
Rows of shining SUVs halo the Mall.

Blakeslee was recently interviewed by the Atticus Review where she talked about her new book Train Shots as well as participating in TrIP.

JI: Do you write in other genres? What else are you at work on now? More stories? Nonfiction? A novel?

VB: While I’m married to fiction, I’m afraid I’m not a very faithful spouse. Recently I participated in the Transit Interpretation Project based in Orlando, where artists from all different mediums each signed up for a route on the city’s bus service, LYNX, then rode all day. 30 days after the ride, each participant turned in an artistic response to his or her experience—sort of an ethnographic project. I thought I’d write flash fiction inspired by my TrIP, but when I sat down I ended up composing a pantoum, a ghazal, and a poem in free verse. So I think of myself as an occasional poet. As far as nonfiction goes, I’ve become a fairly regular book reviewer for the Kenyon Review Online, and hope to keep up that gig for the time being; I enjoy the task and find immense pleasure in seeing a thoughtful, thorough review essay of mine finding its way into the world, and hopefully shining a light on a deserving book. And I love guest blogging and writing more journalistic pieces from time to time, for places like The Paris Review Daily. But all of this is a procrastination of the fiction, which I find to be as mentally and emotionally exhausting to draft as it is thrilling and satisfying. So I’m a productive procrastinator, I suppose!

Vanessa Blakeslee’s debut story collection, Train Shots, is forthcoming from Burrow Press in early 2014. Her writing has appeared in The Southern Review, The Paris Review Daily, The Globe and Mail, and Kenyon Review Online, among many others. She has been awarded grants and residencies from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Banff Centre, Ledig House, and in 2013 received the Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, she is a longtime resident of Maitland, Florida. Find her online at http://www.vanessablakeslee.com.

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