My earliest memories of answering “What do you want to be when you grow up?” involved moving vehicles. Train Conductors were always getting off train cars just before they stopped or just after they started moving again, which I thought was so cool. The Garbage Man had such a great job: he hung off the back of the truck with one hand, then got to smash all that stuff into little bits by pulling on that little lever. I imagined Firefighters, especially those who held onto the back of the engine, were always having the greatest time on their rides.
Memories of these dream jobs came back to me last week as I stood in the open doorway of a local bus in route 1 outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand. This green machine, perhaps 40 years old and at eight-fifths capacity, had no other sitting or standing room for passengers. I held onto the back of the seat in front of me with my right hand, the handle on the outside of the bus door with my left hand, and hugged the retracted according glass door, lashed open with bungee cords. I peeked my head out of doorway as we motored down the highway, taking in the unique and the ordinary along the side of the road. It was thrilling.
My grandparents had an RV camping trailer that they used on their road trips (I love, by the way, that my grandparents, who were both born before 1920, crushed the #camplife meme two generations before Instagram made it hip). They parked the 30 foot trailer in their driveway, and I spent hours playing on the step outside one of the doors. There was a retractable metal step, which when extended into the locked step position, felt a lot like the moveable stairs that the Amtrak conductors unfurled when coming to a station. My grandfather also owned a conductors metal step stool, which was legendary by itself (his father had been an actual Union Pacific Conductor in Wyoming and Utah in the early 1900s). I had my routine for approaching the imaginary station set: I opened the door to the trailer, pulled the steel step out, and, holding onto the handle on the outside of the door frame, leaned away from my train car and towards the platform in that iconic conductor pose. I practiced grabbing the step stool from inside and smoothly putting it into position below the step on the ground. After my imaginary passengers boarded, I gave an “all aboard” call and reversed the process.
These memories were visceral — a few minutes standing in the open doorway of an old bus and I was right back in that driveway.