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There and back again: Adventures on a Cat bus

The RTC bus is surprisingly on time as it slows to a stop at the curb on Water Street in downtown Henderson. It’s new, clean and shiny on the outside, a rolling billboard to naysayers who whine that public transportation isn’t viable here.

Inside, it’s packed and smells like a mix of booze-breath, cigarettes and patchouli oil (or stale marijuana, or both). Everyone seems tired, slumped in their seat, absent-mindedly staring out the window, reading, sleeping. That nice young woman looks like she’s in college. That guy keeps grabbing his crotch and has moved seats at least five times already. That guy’s minding his business, face in a book.

I’m on the Henderson and Downtown Express (HDX). For $2 and 50 minutes each way, I’m exploring the option of taking the bus to work to save gas money.

A homeless man boards, a snuffed-out cigarette nub dangling from his lips. He scans the seats around him for someone who will listen to him talk about some bullshit conspiracy theory. He sees me thumb-typing on my phone. “You must be smart. Hey, look up dubya-dubya-dubya-dot …” I pretend not to hear him, and he leaves me alone. As he exits, he calls me a jerk.

Trundling along Boulder Highway, past the RV parks, the boat shops, the gun stores, the pawn shops, the strip malls, the looks-abandoned-but-isn’t motels …

A guy and his much-older girlfriend get on. He pulls out his phone and blares some song I don’t know the words to. He sings along, bobbing his head to the beat. His girlfriend’s eyes roll back, she throws her head back and sings, too, seemingly unaware that a swath of her belly is peeking out between her too-tight shirt and too-tight pants.

The Cannery, Sam’s Town, Arizona Charlie’s. Five Points, where Boulder Highway meets Charleston and is now called Fremont Street. Downtown now. There’s the new City Hall. Fremont Street Experience.

We arrive at the shiny new Bonneville Transit Center — the transit hub. Posters of missing girls on the walls inside, homeless people and working folk mingling, some hurrying to catch the bus, others sitting, reading, smoking, waiting for their bus.

On the ride home, I sit in front of two elderly men — I’m guessing long-time gambling buddies and bullshit artists. They talk about the “good old days,” each trying to one-up the other’s tidbit of information. “Back when I was tall, dark and handsome, wearing crocodile boots,” jokes the guy who asserted that he never missed a Motown performance, and how the food at Wherever It Was used to be so great but now isn’t. “Las Vegas ain’t shit no more,” the other man says.

The man next to me strikes up a conversation. I can tell he really wants to talk. Had a stroke in March, aged 52. “I was hard on my body,” he says. His speech is slurred and the left side of his face sags, exposing gums where teeth used to be. His left arm and leg no longer function, and he only recently relearned how to talk.

He spent all day at the Social Services office to get his medication. He normally wears dentures, but when dealing with Social Services, “you got to look the part.” He insists he’s worked all his life, was never one for handouts.

He just moved in with his brother and sister-in-law. He can’t do anything by himself, including tie his shoes. You’d be surprised at how hard it is to tie your shoes with only one working hand.

He starts to cry as he talks about the daughter he left behind in California when she was only 2 (she’s 32 now). His niece helped him find her on Facebook — “that Facebook thing is amazing!” — so he flew his daughter and granddaughter out to visit. He vows to send her 32 birthday cards to make up for the time he missed. He cries again recalling how his granddaughter clung to him and called him “gra-pa.”

Funny thing, the stroke made him more emotional, and he assures me that he doesn’t normally cry like this. Same thing with laughter — he just can’t control his emotions anymore. Doctors say something might have happened to his brain after the stroke.

He says he’s always wanted to move out of Vegas, but is glad he’s here because it’s familiar and his family’s here. “Thank God for family.”

As we approach my stop, I shake his hand, wish him luck. As the bus churns away, I amble home, energized, uplifted, introspective, thankful.

Still, after trying the bus for two days, I begin driving to work again.