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Bus Story: It’s a Not a Commute, It’s a Commitment

November 23, 2010

Snowpocalypse II.  Son of Snowpocalypse.  SnOMFG. Whatever you call it, this town has a difficult time handling what other cities would consider a very light snowfall and cold temperatures. But since we don’t get this stuff very often, it paralyzes the city and causes rational people to do completely irrational things, particularly with their cars.  You saw Monday morning’s Bus Story: the day started out as if a drunk millionaire was playing with his Zippo lighter over gas-soaked hibachi sitting next to a pile of very dry hundred dollar bills he was about to hand out to unemployed cage fighters.  It was tense to say the least.  So as the snow started to fall in the afternoon, we all watched from our vantage points across the city and made decisions about when to make a run for it.  I hit the streets around 4:20p, and waited, along with not a small number of other anxious riders, for the ole 54.  I let one go by at just around 4:45p, as it was backed to the gills; finally boarded another just after 5:00 p.m.  The bus was crowded, but not overly so with only a handful of people standing.  We had no idea what lay in store for us this night.

 

After several blocks of very slow going, the gentlemen to my right…I was in the very back…began making those huffing, impatient noises and holding his head in his hands.  Hackles up. Anxiety meter clicks into place. We’re not going anywhere fast and I am directly in the path from Practically Panting Dude to the door.  We creep along for another long stretch of time and finally we stop.  We sit in the middle of an intersection, far off our usual path.  And we sit.  And we sit.  He’s almost hyperventilating, my anxiety meter is tapping the far right of the dial with a steady “click, ping, click, ping” and I share a look with some fellow passengers around me to make sure they see him. They do.  The smell of panic starts permeating the back of the bus.  “BACK DOOR PLEASE!” someone shouts!  We all jump as if goosed.  No response.  We’re in an intersection.  We know the driver can’t open the door.  All riders know that.  But there it is again, “BACK DOOR!  NOW!  PLEASE!” comes the plea. Driver Dudette calmly says, over the loudspeaker, that she really can’t open it until we move just a little bit forward so the door opens onto a sidewalk; she can’t open it into the middle of an intersection.  “SHE HAS TO GET OFF THE BUS NOW!” comes the very insistent voice.  New level of panic as he’s pleading for someone else.  Driver Dudette inches forward just enough to fling open the back door, and a woman bolts out of the bus as if fired from a Howitzer.  And with her departure, about 10 more people make their way out and onto the icy street.  Just before the doors close, Practically Panting Dude clambers over me, and launches himself out of the bus.  Anxiety meter drops back to a more manageable level and the panic subsides.

 

Then we sit; all of us, because with the departure, the bus has a very manageable number, everyone with a seat, and even a little space.  We settle in, sensing a long trip.  How long, we had no idea.  By the 5th hour, we are all a little stunned. But what is really remarkable is that no one is upset with the driver or each other or really anything.  A cranky factor settled in, but there was no real visible frustration, mostly just amazement and dismay.  All of this was helped by Driver Dudette, who kept us informed as best she could about what routes she was trying, she turned on music, kept checking that we were comfortable and not too hot or cold…and while we just sat for what turned out to be a 6 hour trip home, she had to drive a massive articulated city bus.  Several times during the trip, she announced if we were near a fast-food place or a gas station if anyone needed to hop off to grab a bite or to use the restrooms.  We were moving slowly enough, when we were actually moving, that people could get off and back on again.  At one point, as we were finally making progress, around 10:00p or so, a rock or something got caught in the tire chains. It made a very loud, percussive rattling sound.  I was sitting in the back right over the rear wheel well, and when it started, all heads turned to me, wondering what in the WORLD I was doing to make all that noise. I was so tired that I almost blurted out, “It’s not me, for heaven’s sake”…but fortunately, everyone figured that out in about 2 seconds and I am glad for whatever internal filter kicked in at that moment and kept me from looking like a danged fool.

 

In the end, we arrived to our destinations, with Driver Dudette still smiling and thanking everyone for their patience. It’s not every day that you board the ole 54 to go home and spend as much time on the bus as you might if you were flying across the country.  And thank goodness for that.  For as much as I’m committed to public transportation and to sharing Bus Stories, any longer on the bus last night, and I would have to have been committed in a way that involves special jackets and those nice men in their clean white suits.

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