When the instant community of a bus grinds against the intense privacy of the passengers, it can produce sparks. On the number 2, cutting through southeast Minneapolis, there's no shortage of stories. Just the other day, Carlos Espinoza watched a scene unfold.
"This um, female impersonator, he had a really bad make-up job, got on the bus and was constantly babbling incoherently, butting into people's conversations," he says.
Espinosa says he couldn't make out much, except when the guy started telling the woman next to him intimate details about his recent surgeries. TMI or too much information is a pretty common discomfort for bus riders trying to mind their own business.
Juliette, a relative newcomer to Minneapolis from Los Angeles, was happy to be riding the bus for the first time in seven years. She says the L.A. bus system was pretty traumatic. Juliette's most 'top of mind' bus story dates back to when she was eight months pregnant and was chewed out by an elderly woman when she tried to sit down.
"She's like, 'you can't sit here. This is only for old people, you can't sit here,'" says Juliette. "And I'm like huge, I'm pregnant. I'm like, 'I'm pregnant' and she says 'I don't care, you're not old.'"
And there was veteran bus rider Rett Martin's story, which has a Twin Peaks kind of edge to it. It was early in the morning when a very short man, nuzzled under his much larger girlfriends arm, started gulping pickle juice from a plastic bag.
"And I was just so disgusted," Martin says. "I couldn't think of anything worse than having pickle juice at like, 7:30 in the morning."
Even if it's healthy for you?
"It probably is," he says, "but I wouldn't recommend letting people on the bus see you do that because that's how you're going to get a bus tale written about you."
Martin would know. He's the creator of BusTales.com, a web site that collects stories about people's adventures or misadventures on the Metro Transit System.
Martin had no inclination himself to write about what he had seen and heard on the bus, but whenever he had water cooler conversations about it at work, he got the feeling others might need an outlet.
"Anytime I shared a story about riding the bus, other people had stories to share, too. And it just got to be this hilarious exchange of like crazy stuff that's happened to you, so that was kind of the inspiration for the site," he says.
Anybody with a yarn can contribute to BusTales. The content covers the bus riding waterfront, from fights and heroic acts to public drunkenness and oddball personalities. Like in this entry about the rider who was startled one day when a kid sat down next to him laughing and shouting "it's real!"
"Then I noticed the guy in front of me. He had a mouse trap on his ear! Now granted, this was no punk making a point. This was a typical working class, mesh hat octogenarian, sitting and riding the bus because he was too old or too poor to drive. He was your everyday bus companion, except that he had a mouse trap on his ear."
Rett Martin says his Web site shares a kinship with one of his favorite online haunts, Overheard in Minneapolis. Many of the posts on BusTales are about conversations passengers can't escape. One woman wrote about two teenage girls who openly and publicly coerced an older guy into buying some beer for them. They handed him the money, she writes, and he got off at the next stop.
"After the guy left one of the girls starts talking about a new bra she bought. Then the other girl interrupts her and tells her in a shocked voice that a bra was not appropriate conversation for a bus. They were silent until they got off a few blocks later. So you can't talk about a bra but committing a misdemeanor's okay?"
Martin says after being up nearly a year, BusTales.com isn't making money, but it has been fun. He would love to see it expand to other cities. So far 230 stories have been posted, generating more than 600 comments. His favorite story so far came from a Minneapolis bus driver who suddenly had a Big Mac attack.
"He stopped the bus by a McDonald's," Martin says, "jumped off the bus while all the passengers were on it, left the bus unattended, came back with a Big Mac about five minutes later, and jumped on the bus and kept going."
A little after Martin told that story, a guy sitting across from him wearing iPod earbuds, came up and asked for the address to the Web site.
"Ah bus tales, BusTales.com," Martin says.
Apparently, the guy who seemed lost in his music and not paying attention, was listening.