The Queen of Public Transportation

Photo by Scerinda Johnson, lettering by Marisa Sanderson

Tom and Alan Sanderson – The Queen of Public Transportation | download mp3

The Queen of Public Transportation
words and music by Alan Sanderson, arrangement by Tom and Alan Sanderson

I could be in Kansas City for all I know
You could say I’m at a loss for which way to go
And then up walks the Queen of Public Transportation
And she knows, yeah she knows

I’m not sure which bus will take me to where I go
I think maybe my bus went by here a minute ago
And then up walks the Queen of Public Transportation
And she knows, yeah she knows
She knows the schedule like it’s written on her forehead
And she knows, she always knows

She knows her latitude and longitude like her birthday
And she knows, yeah she knows

I’m not sure I’m on the right bus to take me home
It could take me some dreadful place and leave me all alone
And then up walks the Queen of Public Transportation
And she knows, yeah she knows
She’s collecting city bus schedules like they’re trading cards
And she knows, she always knows

I feel like I’m coming to a transfer point in life
Will you meet me there? Will you be my wife?
And if I paid your fare, would you come with me?
Will you be my love for eternity?

Alan Sanderson: vocals, guitars, drums, mixing, mastering
Tom Sanderson: vocals, organ, bass, electric piano, horns
Johann: vocals, recording
E-Sandy: drums

Alan’s Notes

During my first semester at the university it occurred to me that the anxieties and stresses of using public transportation made a pretty good metaphor for my life situation at the time. My commute was long and always involved at least one transfer to another bus or train. It felt like I was always nervously watching for the next thing to come, and whenever it was running late I worried that I might have missed it. When you ride on a new bus route you always worry that it won’t take you to the right place – that maybe you got on the wrong bus or that maybe even the driver is lost. Those were the days before smartphones and GPS navigation. I didn’t even have a dumbphone back then.

I knew I had to write this song when I thought of the line, “Collecting city bus schedules like they’re trading cards.”

Early in my second semester, just a few weeks after I wrote this song, I was waiting at a stop downtown for the bus that goes up to the university. It was probably January — cold, dark, and snowy. I always had a book in my coat pocket, but it was too cold to pull it out and read. Finally the bus came, and I was grateful to sit down and warm up a bit. Before I could really get stuck back in to my book I heard a voice from just in front of me. I recognized it as belonging to the man with Down syndrome who worked as a janitor on campus. He was talking with a young woman who sat near the front of the bus, and even though he wasn’t making very interesting conversation she was smiling at him and replying nicely to his statements.

“She looks like a nice girl,” I thought. “I wonder what it would be like to be married to a nice girl like that.”

No, really. I actually thought that — the first time I saw her.

Well, it turned out that she was in my first class that day, and my second, and that we were in two or three other classes together that semester. Before too long we were meeting every morning at the transfer point downtown, holding hands on the bus, and talking about our future together. We were married that August. (The cover photo was taken at that very bus stop where we used to meet.)

This winter marks the 20th anniversary of that fateful bus ride, and I figured that it was time to finally record this song and share it with the world. I made a sketch recording of this song in 2001 with Jake Bracken on bass, and me on the voice, guitar, and drums, but it was pretty rough around the edges. The only thing I have from that session is a 32 KBPS mp3. My collaboration with Tom over the past year finally gave me the confidence to revisit this composition, because he has a better skill set for this genre than I do. When I wrote the song I was listening to a lot of Aretha Franklin and Jim Croce, and this was my attempt to merge their styles using only the skills I had learned from alternative rock.

The last verse was actually written five or six years later as a sort of epilogue. The organ solo is based on a little song I used to sing to our oldest baby. If you would like to sing along, it goes like this: “Oh, Baby, you’re my squishy little squidboy, uh-huh.” Funny the pet names we call each other. I love what Tom did with the organ on this recording.

I used a new guitar technique for this recording — well, new to me anyway. Playing the bass note of a chord with your thumb frees up the left hand to play fills on the other strings. It is an old R&B technique that I first learned from John Frusciante, but it was also used by Jimi Hendrix and many other great guitarists.

My tracks were recorded using Ardour 5.12 on Linux Mint 19.3, and the song was mixed and mastered there too. In addition to my favorite FatFrog and Guitarix virtual amplifiers and cabinets, I also used the brand new GxFenderizer preamp, which has a fantastic sound. This genre called for some Dragonfly Plate Reverb on the guitars and lead vocals. There is also some Dragonfly Room Reverb on other tracks here and there. The drums are played on Black Pearl from the AVL Drumkits. Other plugins on the mix include compressors and limiters from Linux Studio Plugins, 5-band EQ, vintage delay, bass enhancer, and multiband compressor from Calf Studio Gear, the EQ from x42 Plugins, and Ardour’s delay and compressor plugins.

Tom’s Notes

I’ve been familiar with this song for quite some time from Alan’s original recording with Jack Bracken but approaching it down the road a ways I found I had few ideas to offer until Alan recently explained to me where the musical inspiration came from.

Alan presented me with vocal, guitar and drums. He also gave me instruction on the organ solo, as he explained above. As we’ve been remotely collaborating for a few months now, I think we’ve both realized the value of carving out a spot to see how the other might fill it. In the case of this song, my mind went to soul music – perhaps Ray Charles, Booker T. Jones, “Duck” Dunn (via Sam & Dave or Otis Redding), Memphis Horns had an influence.

I will say I think Alan’s guitar work is some of his best.

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