Bus Is Writer’s Route to Poetry From the Heart


An unusual frame of reference helps Vicky Lindsey bring rhyme and reason to the mean streets of Los Angeles.

It’s the windshield of the No. 40 bus that rumbles through the center of the city.

Lindsey is a bus driver who travels the route by day. And she’s a poet who writes about it by night.

Her bus carries you into her ‘hood, she says. Her poetry carries you into her heart.

“I see everything from here,” Lindsey explains as she steers her MTA bus along Alameda Street. “I write about everything I see.”


That accounts for the cardboard boxes at Lindsey’s East 109th Place home that are crammed with poetry about homelessness, unemployment and drug dealers. About gangbangers, graffiti, gunfire.

Gritty stuff, Vicky Lindsey’s art.

A poem titled “Silent Conversation of a Cocaine Addict” gives voice to the desperate faces that she sees on too many street corners:

I had a beautiful home, but now it’s gone.

I used to wear nice clothes, now they’re shabby and full of holes.

I don’t even have shoes on my feet; I don’t know what I’m going to eat.

Or as a matter of fact when. . . . This has got to end.


The three teen-agers in droopy pants she sees sauntering along the sidewalk could be the subjects of “Help Yourself . . . Check Yourself.” In it, Lindsey urges youngsters to reject gangs and seize control of their own lives:

People don’t give a damn about you--

They do what they gotta do.

And they do it to who they want to;

They could give a s --- about what the next person is going through.

Lindsey, 37, began writing poetry as a teen-ager. Her defining moment came as a senior in a Compton High School language class.


“I wrote a poem in French and English and it rhymed in both. My teacher was amazed,” she recalled. “It took me a while to realize everybody can’t write.”

She has written about 600 poems since then. And there’s a definite edge to each.

“I don’t write about animals or sunsets,” she explained the other day as she maneuvered her bus along Alameda in Downtown. “I’m not that big a flower lover. I go into bookstores and look at poetry books and say, ‘God, my poems are more interesting than this .”

And there may be no bus route in Los Angeles that is more interesting than the No. 40.

It starts at the Los Angeles County Jail near Downtown and ends outside an upscale shopping mall in Redondo Beach. Along the way, it passes through the central business district, past faded South-Central Los Angeles neighborhoods and through the Crenshaw district and Inglewood.

“From the scruffies to the yuppies” is the way Lindsey characterizes the trip from one end of the line to the other.

Lindsey scrawls notes for her poems on the back of passenger transfer pads during 20-minute bus layovers outside the jail and at the Galleria at South Bay. Each trip delivers a wealth of material.

Once, she watched in horror and then wrote about the passenger who was shot to death after stepping from her bus and landing in an altercation with police.

“It involved two white cops and a white boy,” she said. “Somebody said he had a gun and he ran and they shot him. It was beyond belief.”


Lindsey writes often about the police and about criminal cases. Many of those poems appear as commentaries in a newsletter distributed by a legal activist group called Mothers Reclaiming Our Children. She labels those pieces “Poetry from the ‘Hood.”

“It’s better than calling it ‘Poems by Vicky,’ ” she said with a grin.

Her courthouse subjects have included Rodney G. King and O.J. Simpson. And people like Lolita Jones.

Jones, 34, of Paramount, was involved in a nasty child custody dispute when Lindsey wrote a poem called “It’s Gonna Be All Right.”

“I read it to myself right in the middle of Children’s Court,” Jones recalled. “It was very personal, very inspirational. I cried when I read it--it gave me a lot of strength.”

In her Watts-area neighborhood, Lindsey’s poetry often hits home.

She has written poetic eulogies for more than 50 funerals. Most were for friends, or friends of friends. About 20 of them involved gang killings.

A poem she wrote last month after a 14-year-old boy died in a gang shooting was not read aloud or distributed at the funeral, however. It traced the boy’s problems to his home life: Lindsey decided it was too true--and too tough.


“I didn’t want his mother to read it. I don’t want to hurt people with my poetry--I don’t want to make people look bad,” she said, almost apologizing.

Lindsey is assembling her gang-death poetry for a book she plans to call “Last Writes.” But other poems have been widely circulated. One called “Prayer of a Gangbanger” was read at the 1993 national gang truce conference in Chicago:

We need to love one another. We need to stop tripping over color.

You know it’s a shame--in death we’re all the same . . .

Bloods and Crips, all our blood is “red.”

And ain’t it called code “blue” when you’re dead?


Lindsey said she is motivated by being a single working parent of two sons--Lijuan, nearly 7, and 19-year-old Lionel. “My boys are black boys in South-Central L.A. I want to keep them alive,” she said.

Lindsey started driving a bus 14 years ago. Co-workers at the MTA say they were jolted to learn that a poet was behind the wheel.

“I was surprised by the content and the way it was written,” said Adrienne Rogers, an administrative aide for the transit system. “She is anti-violence. But her writing is very vivid, very vibrant, at times shocking. She writes from the heart and gets the story told.”

MTA spokeswoman Andrea Greene met Lindsey in the late 1980s. At the time, Lindsey was temporarily assigned to an office job while pregnant. Greene said her poetry is simultaneously harsh and beautiful.

“I was kind of taken aback by her ability to get right into the soul of other people’s feelings,” Greene said. “She sees so much on the bus system. She’s able to relate to people around her.”

Back on the bus, passengers are not the only thing Lindsey is picking up as the No. 40 lumbers down South Broadway.


She takes note of the homeless man asleep on a piece of cardboard in a vacant storefront’s doorway. And of the crowd of bone-weary seamstresses at a bus stop outside a garment district sweatshop.

The bus heads west on Martin Luther King Boulevard to Leimert, then makes a right on Vernon and a left on Crenshaw.

A woman with five children under the age of about 7 struggles aboard. So does a young woman wearing mismatched gold earrings and a short, way-too-tight spangle-covered skirt. A few stops later a sweaty laborer steps on and flashes his bus pass.

“I’ll definitely write about all the babies,” Lindsey says later. “And the lady with the silver dress who just didn’t have a clue. And did you catch the musty man?”

With a hydraulic hiss, the bus door closes and Lindsey is off again. On the scent of another poem.