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Mark works for a company called McData, and he's doing some work for Sprint. He says his wife is at home taking care of their 2-week-old baby and twin boys. He says he's a conservative but is in favor of gay marriage; he doesn't believe it's the government's business to tell people what to do. He says Kansas City seems nice.
Suddenly, three men at the bar start razzing one another. One of them, a tan, sinewy guy with a neatly trimmed goatee, says he and his companions are in town for the National Lineman's Rodeo at the Overland Park Convention Center. They're with a company that sells gloves made of a natural rubber that Kansas City Power & Light linemen wear for insulation. At the rodeo, linemen from all over the country scale 45-foot poles holding 160-pound dummies, then shimmy back down. "They have this little basket they hold in their teeth, and there's an egg in the basket, and you've gotta climb this pole and get back down with the egg intact," one explains. "Then they change out transformers and change insulators, slice ropes."
Mark leans in. "I bet being a lineman is just about the most dangerous job in the world," he says.
"Nah. We're actually behind farmers and convenience-store operators," the lineman announces cheerfully. "The number one cause of workplace fatality is homicide on the job. So we're pretty far down the list." -- Allie Johnson
112th Street and Metcalf
There's no bus stop and no sidewalk. You have to run along the gutter of the six-lane street and flag it down.
But the riders of the H bus, which blasts north from 112th and Metcalf, then east on Johnson Drive before skirting 47th and Troost, moseying through the Plaza and circuiting back, swear by this method of public transit. Even when Rhonda makes them run to catch it.
Nearly all of the dozen or so riders on this afternoon bus know Rhonda Bolden, who greets them by name as they climb aboard. She laughs loudly and never once says a bad thing about the traffic.
This is a supernaturally happy bus. Bolden scoops up Misty and Anita from their IRS jobs in Rosana Square. Misty reads a copy of Jet with singer Jill Scott on the cover. "Ooh," she says, pointing to a page. "She's getting chubby."
The people who board this northbound bus around 95th and Metcalf wear service-industry garb. They carry plastic bags as purses, wear oil-stained mechanics' gear or the dark pants and white blouses that are the base of every fast-food uniform. Susan, who says she works at the "three-in-one" -- KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut -- sits in the seat closest to Rhonda.
The bus circles around the back of the ailing Metcalf South Mall to pick up some food-court workers. A kid in a baseball cap climbs aboard and promptly passes out in a row of seats in back.
This particular run of the JO, as the bus line is nicknamed, is a raucous mobile salon for the mostly female, mostly black ridership going north and east into Kansas City, Missouri. They talk about subjects in the news, subjects out the windows, and how many days remain until Friday.
The ridership changes dramatically as it heads back south toward Metcalf, swinging first by the Plaza to pick up John, a men's hairdresser in a toupée, a yellow polo shirt, khakis and clip-on sunglasses. On Johnson Drive, it grabs Terry, from the Mission Center Dillard's, and Chet, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency. This direction is mostly male, mostly white.