The sun was just past zenith and sunbeams shone down heavily on the roof of Roy’s house. Only indirectly did their photons splash into the living room. He still resisted the lure of artificial illumination. Every flip of the switch could be enough to roll over another penny to Con-Ed at the end of the month.
He stood between the metal stools, pouring over a bus map he’d spread on the counter between himself and the kitchen. To the left lay his wallet, a pair of scissors, and an expired credit card cut into eight pieces. He was unsure if he was ready to simply throw it in the garbage, though he had nearly resigned to having no better option. There was this idea floating around that even when a card was expired, it was necessary to break the magnetic strip to keep thieves from stealing. He wondered if it were an old wives’ tale; why would it work for anyone? (It certainly didn’t work for me.) Could they change the data on the card? Then why would they need yours at all?
To the right lay an expired Metrocard.
The map was overwhelming with its multitude of lines covering the whole of Queens. A tangle of spaghetti. It had always been this way, he submitted. It had been an uncountable number of months since he’d used the bus map and a thought occurred – what if the routes had changed? His incomplete memory nagged him; monotone televised voices reporting the addition of this or that express route at the expense of others. This map had to be, what, five (no) ten years old? The paper was stiff and ever so slightly yellow. Maybe older.
He re-folded it and walked around the counter to the kitchen; beneath the sink was a small blue bin for recycling. He tucked the map between a cardboard roll now nude and a box decorated with oversized depictions of wheat crackers.
He entered the living room and pulled back the desk-chair. It rolled smoothly over the plastic sheeting protecting the carpet. The computer tower was to the right of his feet; he pressed the power button and the thing began to whirr to life. Further to his right, beyond the range of the desk, was the television, black and silent, and Roy felt a twinge of guilt.
The monitor flickered to bright and Roy entered the requisite character string.
Roy double-clicked a blue ‘e’ on the desktop. The OS partitioned for itself a window covering most of the screen. It was a white rectangle for just a moment before images scattered across his vision, a dozen or more celebrities begged his attention. Some of them he knew, but most of them were names that meant nothing to Roy except as an empty data file. He navigated to his ‘bookmarks’ and found the page he needed: the homepage of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The front page advertised subway service, assuming that’s what most people would want. All lines listing ‘Good Service’ or ‘Planned Work’. One set of lines had ‘Delays’ listed in dark red. But that’s not why he was here. The top bar contained a link labeled ‘Maps’.
A few clicks and he’d opened a pdf that was zoomed out to fit in his browser window. Unusable in this state, he hovered over it and his cursor turned into a magnifying glass with a ‘+’ in the center. Click. Scroll bars at the periphery indicated that the entire map was no longer in view.
The map was covered in colored lines, each color representing a different bus route. The lines snaked by each other making some roads dense with disordered rainbows. Jamaica, where he knew traffic often crawled at pedestrian pace, demanded an inset to fully represent the confluence. Flushing-Main Street, Long Island City… He thought of the narrow streets and dusty storefronts. But that wasn’t where he was headed.
He had decided, upon the desecration of his old VISA, that he should visit the airport. It had been a decade or more. (Or maybe it was just a few years ago he drove Jake and his wife to JFK…?) How many places could a man go and not be charged just to use the door?
The sky was still blue when he walked down the street. He slipped his hand inside his pocket, now full of coins he’d scavenged from the house. (All still there), he confirmed, as if the seams of his pockets could have sprung a two-inch leak in the sixty yards he’d walked.
Midday on a weekday meant the bus stop was empty. (Lucky), he thought, when a bus rolled up and stopped just a moment after he had arrived.
The bus sighed and lowered to let him on. He tried not to think about the bus driver as he stood in the passway, awkwardly depositing coins into the machine, each of them making a loud thunk and jingle as the machine accepted them. Once he had finished, the machine churned out a thin bus transfer ticket. With a bit more force than he had expected to need, Roy took the ticket from the dispenser and surveyed the available seats. The bus again sighed and resumed motion.