The Blog

The Only White Man on the Bus

One ageing Asperger on his way into downtown Orlando, not on Route 66 but rather Link 36 of the local Lynx bus system...

I'm through the worst of the shock of the new, although the fear ghosts through my own system's vitals like an avatar of evil before losing itself in the sluices of the bile ducts, festering like a cut from Lilith's fangs, biding its time and waiting for its chance to come again.

And that will be tomorrow or another day, but here and at this very hour stands the devil in denim and khaki, looking for his day trip into town.

I'm biding my time by the John Young Parkway, observing an elevated interstate held aloft on concrete legs shaped, it seems, like great big thighbones, spanning (perhaps) the Eastern seaboard and host to monster Mack trucks and the occasional Megabus.

In contrast, a sedate parade of sedan and school bus slides sleek and smooth along John Young's parkway, an antidote to the pell-mell of Bluestone tyre on strung-out flat-top. The veins and venules of America's economy wedded to the arteries of the road and imperatives of business.

Unless, of course, there's another traffic jam on I-4, as visitors by the score make for Disney World - Winnie the Pooh, Kanga, Eeyore...

The bus rolls up and I find I am indeed the only white man on board. I'm not surprised by this, nor am I perturbed. It's not Montgomery during the struggle for civil rights. I'm not a lone caucasian face in Maycomb's fictional courthouse watching Atticus Finch pass. A black man, now in his second term, is president of the United States; and though there are few white picket fences surrounding the bungalows in suburbs we pass through, their walls are cool clean yellows and the gardens neat.

This, though, is not quite yet the Elysium of Martin Luther King's dreams. Security bars can still be seen on a fair few window frames and bail bonds offices circle the nearby jail, while Sunoco gas stations and Family Dollar discount stores fill gaps between signs selling ways and means of Fighting Foreclosure.

I transit through Lynx Central Station. Downtown's few tall towers cluster loose and lazy round Orlando's hub and the station's blue steel awnings shush the sun away.

But the ghetto and the 'hood lie east of Central, and between me and the Greyhound terminal to which I must go to book a bus to New Orleans.

I'm dropped off directly at Greyhound, hang around while staff come back late to the counter and, once ticketed, decide to take a calculated risk - walking one mile back to Central from Greyhound's sloppy station. It's near enough noon and the odds are good.

Seeming clichés abound in the 'hood, though. Youths playing in a roadside basketball court, stripped to the waist and abdomens ribbed with muscle. The family sunning themselves on the first floor landing of the steel exterior stairwell of a piece of project housing while Dad plays catch with his daughter on the steps of the fire escape. The prayer meeting congregating round by the back of the corner store and a cat on the porch of an old pink house.

Some subtle sense tells me photographing these people might not be a bright idea, but I doubt the cat will mind too much.

I'm judging angles when a lady with stained and braced teeth rides up blithely on a bicycle and cheerfully confirms there are indeed those in the 'hood who are not always "welcoming," and that my wary old instincts were dead right and on the money.

Sunnydale without Buffy.

Nice and friendly by day.

But don't go out at night.

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.