I believe in the Number 23 bus.
When I was a kid, fresh from the Carolina country, my mother moved the two of us to what we could afford on her teacher’s salary, a four room walk up in eastern Baltimore county. From the end of the line in Middle River, for a mere 35 cents, with the aid of the magic “transfer” punch, I could take the Number 23 anywhere in Baltimore.
On Saturdays, it took me to the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Charles Street, where books would silently, trenchantly call me down an aisle I had never visited, to a predetermined shelf, and to their pent up gifts inside. No greater joy did I experience than when awarded a “stack permit” after submitting too many unanswered questions to the research librarian. The stack permit let me peruse the antiquarian volumes full of original clarity, quaint prose, and hours of wonder.
On Sundays, the Number 23 took me to the Homewood Friends Meeting House here I became a witness to all that is good in humans in the heartfelt hopes, insight and good nature that accompanied the wisdom and reverence that engulfed us from the silence. While pondering the depths of my teenaged thoughts, someone would rise in the stillness with a voice of purpose and inspiration. I learned the irrefutable strength of ideas against the tyranny beyond the doors.
The Number 23 took me to the FCC Field Office where I clamped on carbon, ill-fitting headphones and dutifully, barely copied 13 words per minute to get my license to talk unfettered to technical tinkerers like myself at hundreds of locations before unknown, spiraling out across the wonderfully cryptic annotations on the color radio map on my bedroom wall. They would purport to be in McQuarie Island, or Iran, or at the South Pole and assure me I was coming in loud and clear. No greater gift can a young man receive than reaching beyond the clouds to touch someone, with the feather of an electron beam, as long as the gods of the ether favored our connection.
Later I took the Number 23 to get my radiotelephone which prompted one desperate program director to give me an airshift on Sunday mornings playing tapes of an amazing array of religious prophets, zealots and icons, followed by the Italian hour, the Polish hour, and the irrepressible, always running long Greek hour. Before I graduated high school my arc in life was fixed. I was hooked on the magic of sending voices and music through the air, talking to people unseen, but surely there, passing their time with the companionship I was orchestrating in a little studio filled with quirky, charming analog machines, filled with little lights inside emitting their warm glow through the cloudy glass of venerable tube design.
The Number 23 taught me humility as I waited seemingly endlessly on too many days for it to appear over the asphalt horizon. It taught me the despair that accompanies the invisible ones in our world, for whom the bus passes without ever slowing down, to wait again endlessly for the next one that might pause to snatch me up and take me home. It taught me my fellow passengers seemed every bit as wretched, as elated, as solemn, or hopeful or as resigned as I was on different days in different journeys.
I believe in the Number 23 bus.
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