Carolyn Nakagawa, unofficial transit advocate
“Saturday night Safeway run,” a poem by Carolyn Nakagawa, appeared in The Puritan Issue 29. As part of The Town Crier’s Author Notes series, Carolyn Nakagawa gave us some insight into the inspiration and composition of her poem.
The idea behind “Saturday night Safeway run” came from riding the bus at night. At the time I was living on campus at the University of British Columbia, which is located on the westernmost edge of land technically outside of the city of Vancouver. A roughly forty-minute solitary bus ride nearly always formed an epilogue to my nights out.
Most of the time, these rides were quiet. I was used to a driver sitting at a stop for a few minutes to keep from running ahead of schedule. There was little to no traffic and few people got on or off, especially the further west we went as more people reached their destinations. The exceptions were usually Friday and Saturday nights. When I headed home at nine or ten at night (as I did frequently, hoping to get into bed at a relatively decent hour to get a full day of schoolwork and whatever other obligations in on the weekend), the extra crowd on the weekend was just going out. We rode the same bus, going to the same place: the end of the line, UBC.
I people-watch on the bus, especially when I’m on my way home, done with whatever I had set out to do and headed back towards my own space. The best way is at night, when you can watch their reflections while pretending to look out the window. On Fridays and Saturdays, not everyone is as subdued and reserved as I am—there’s usually a few who are behaving very differently. While I quietly mull over what happened at dinner or the play or the party, whatever I’m coming back from, they’re with their friends, just getting ready for things to happen.
The other quiet people on the bus interest me too, but they’re the ones it’s hardest to learn about. If they’re alone, they have no reason to demonstrate themselves beyond what it says that they’re dressed the way they are, on a particular bus heading west, alone at a certain time of night. They’re probably going home, too, but I can’t really know any of this about anyone on the bus.
There’s a Safeway along the 99 route, about two-thirds of the way to UBC. One Friday night, watching the lights shine out from the windows as we passed it, I thought it was the only place I could imagine myself going other than home that night, after leaving where I had been. I could have gotten off there and grabbed some milk. I couldn’t imagine going to a frat party, or anywhere else on the dark, empty campus except my silent dorm room. There were people on the bus doing just that, I’m sure, and they were students too, like me, just living that life a little bit reversed—heading from their homes to campus to forget about their responsibilities for a night, while I was heading to my home on campus to sleep early and remember mine.
When I was a student, I surrounded myself with peers who were in various ways like-minded—usually oriented towards academics, literature, and the arts. Brushes like these with other subcultures in the student body were, to me, bewildering glimpses into an entirely different way of life. These glimpses made me keenly conscious of the choices that made me into a certain, very different type of person—and yet to someone else watching on the bus until the end of the line, we could all be wrapped up in a single phrase. The boundaries that I lived my life by were at once invisibly absolute and completely soluble: I could have been someone completely different, without even changing how I rode the bus.
Carolyn Nakagawa is a Vancouver-based poet and playwright whose poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Qwerty,, Ricepaper, and The Allegheny Review. She is a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia with a major in English literature and a minor in Asian Canadian studies.