Sunday, March 29, 2009


BUS STORY # 126 (Newbie)


There’s only one guy waiting at the stop for the No. 50 when I arrive. It’s about ten after seven in the morning, with another seven or so minutes before our bus arrives.

He’s looking north, toward the campus, as if he expects the No. 50 to be showing up any minute now. He’s clapping his gloved hands together. The gloves are leather and look like dress gloves. It’s not just the gloves that look dressy. He’s a complete package: walk-in-the-woods jacket, wide-wale corduroy trousers, and loafers. Dress loafers.

The corduroys are cuffed. And wheat colored. I have a pair of wheat trousers (not cuffed) which I quit wearing when I take the bus because they invariably pick up black marks from my backpack. It’s a mystery to me why this only happens when I wear light pants. (I can hear my wife now: “It happens when you wear dark pants, too. You just don’t see them.”) The cords look nice. I worry about them.

He turns to me and asks, “Have you ridden this bus before?” Then he adds, “There is a Number 50 bus, isn’t there?”

Something in his speech turns “dressy” into “fastidious.” I assure him there is, that the No. 50 is what I’ve been riding for over two years now, and I’m expecting it to arrive in about 10 minutes.

“Was there supposed to be an earlier bus?”

“Yes,” I reply. “It’s actually scheduled for six forty-seven, but sometimes there’s a good five-minute leeway on either side. Although I have to say lately, the buses have been running on schedule. They run every 30 minutes.”

“Does the bus ever not show?”

I laugh. “I’ve had this bus not show at this end once, and at the go-home end twice.” Which, I think now, is not so bad in almost three years.

“The first bus didn’t show this morning.”

“How long have you been here?

He pulled his sleeve back and studied his watch. “Twenty-four minutes.”

As I think about that “twenty-four,” I notice his hair. It’s gray, and its neatly cut and combed old-style. I get a whiff of Lucky Tiger and hear the ch-ching of the old National Cash Register in the barbershop of my grade school days.

His glasses are a throwback, too. They’re the wire, rimless glasses of my high school principle. Well, not exactly. They aren’t the coke bottle lenses, and the corners aren’t angled and beveled. But they are rectangular.

“I plotted this trip very carefully. I took the Rapid Ride to The Frontier. I got there at six-forty, and walked straight here. The bus didn’t come.”

I’m thinking the walk can’t take more than three or four minutes. He would have seen the bus cross Central if it had been early.

“It’s bad enough being late for work. But leaving people out in the cold like this . . .” He claps his gloved hands for emphasis.

I’m sympathetic about the “being late for work” part because I’ve been there. But I’m also amused by “out in the cold.” It’s a crisp, cold morning, low 30’s, no wind. Altogether a fine, late winter morning to be at this particular stop. The one time this bus didn’t show for me, it was 13 degrees, and I didn’t get my toes back until mid-afternoon. I don’t think he’s waited for very many buses.

About this time, a No. 50 comes up Yale from the south. It’s the Happy Feet bus, and I’m amused all over again, thinking about my unhappy feet the morning my bus didn’t come.

“Looks like your bus must have been early. This is the first run returning from the airport.” I explain.

“Well, it was very early. The driver should have adhered to the schedule. People need to be able to rely on schedules.”

“Maybe your watch is off,” I suggest, meaning off from the bus clock. I’m remembering calibrating every timepiece I own – including my pager and the microwave – to “bus time.”

“My watch is very accurate,” he sniffs.

No point in trying to explain what I meant, I think to myself. He’s new, and he’ll figure it all out sooner or later. It finally occurs to me there might be a good story in why he’s riding the bus, but about that time, another Rapid Ride has sent a group of riders to our stop. Two of those riders work in the same building I do, and they engage me in conversation. When the bus arrives, I’ve missed my chance.

I end up sitting up on the platform in the back. He sits down front, near the door, and angles himself to look forward through the windshield. He stays fixed on the route. I can tell when we’re getting near his stop because he starts to get antsy. I know he’s anxious about where, exactly, he needs to get off and when to signal for the stop. When he goes to pull the cord, there is no cord. One of the riders sitting next to him presses the bar behind them and triggers the request. He’s nonplussed again by the back doors. No question he’s a first timer, at least on a 400. It takes me back. He’ll figure it all out.

The next morning, he’s not there. I’d love to know that story, too.

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