It’s nearing the end of what has become a long, profitable day. My final delivery even garnered a cash tip. Those are very rare. Couriers call them unicorns. Because most of the time we’re sure they don’t exist.
The bus I’m on is extremely crowded tonight. I can’t make it very far back. It’s a single length, not one of the doubles that they most likely give to the more experienced drivers. The other passengers don’t move to the back. Either they’re too stupid or they simply don’t want to. Just what you want, your fellow assholes forgetting the public in public transportation.
I’ve seen this driver before. She’s very nice but she drives with a heavy foot. Her face close to the windshield, she’s constantly scanning from left to right. A quick check to center. Then left to right again. Almost as if she’s looking for something. Lots of things. That just aren’t there. Her driving throws everyone from the back to the front of the bus, and then back again. No one sleeps on her route. That’s for sure. Meanwhile, the scrolling electronic message above her reads:
ATTENTION STANDING CUSTOMERS, PLEASE HOLD ON TO SOMETHING
Suddenly we careen right. Screech to a halt. Right in front of a two lane bridge. Sitting there awhile, I start to get annoyed. Figuring it’s some dumbass cyclist who can’t get their bike on the rack. I try to look out the window, for reference of where we are exactly. The reflection from all the lights on the inside makes this difficult. From what I can tell, this is definitely not a bus stop. I try to see through to the driver from where I am. She’s staring straight ahead. But not moving. The large tin can idles with her foot on the brake.
The street quickly gets backed up in that direction. Soon other buses will catch up, and not be able to make it past ours. Then unexpected detours. But what stops to make? I almost want that to happen. Just to see what it’s like. Just to catch a bus that is moving would be sufficient.
I try to move forward. Through the sea of those who could care less. Most are unaware this might affect them. Finally I’m at the front. My presence does nothing to draw her gaze away from that windshield. Normally a driver would yell at me for standing so close. Believe me, it’s happened once or twice to yours truly.
“Is something wrong with the bus?” I ask, knowing that’s not the case.
“Not the bus, just what’s in front of it,” the driver says, not making eye contact.
“What’s in front of it?”
“I’m not supposed to say. It’s telling me not to say. And not to go any further.”
I bend down, trying to see her line of sight out the windshield. It’s nothing but relative darkness as far as I can tell. Our headlights get stymied by the steel structure of the bridge directly in front. The packed-in passengers are getting aggravated. I ask if we should let them out. This draws a nod to the affirmative. Then she fumbles for the lever, finally opening the doors. Not that that’s any huge favor. We’re in practical desolation.
Practical because there is a dive bar half a block away. Checking the statue behind the wheel again, I decide to just jump off for a minute. I’ll time myself. I know the place, it’s never very busy. And at this point, another bus should be here soon.
I’m in and out. As expected. A few shots of whiskey bought, paid for, and consumed. With minimal conversation. I did run into Johnny the Drunk on the way out. That’s how he introduces himself. I know him from the meetings. Everybody knows Johnny. He will always try to chat you up two ways: First, seeing that look in your eye, he goes for shame. Tells you to get back in the meetings. Says “Let’s go right now. I’ll go with you.” As soon as he gets a whiff that’s not working, he goes for pity. Don’t spend your money on something that throws your life away. Give it to him. He’s down on his luck. But he would inevitably buy booze with every dollar.
I shake him off somewhat quickly. Probably had something to do with me seeing him before he saw me. I was ready for it. I’m back in less than four minutes. The bus is still there. Another bus is taking a detour right behind it. I hope it’s not the last. Attempting to reenter the stalled bus, I’m confronted by a transit employee. I see the driver being put into a taxi by another. Nobody behind the wheel until this guy settles in. He’s going to finish the run.
“That driver sees ghosts,” he says unprompted.”Once that happens, her shift is over. She can no longer drive in the catatonic state that ensues.” How convenient for her. And no one else. I’d like to quit my job whenever I felt like it too.
“The ghosts tell her to stop the bus. And threaten her as to what will happen if she doesn’t,” he says. It’s a good excuse. Well thought out. But it wouldn’t work just anywhere. I’d only get fired. Or rather, not make any money. You don’t work, you don’t get paid.
I take my pick of seats. Eventually more passengers get on the empty bus. They look at me as if I’m the cause of it. Then I realize we had appropriately been driving down Erie Avenue. Huh, I thought I had problems. But maybe I’m just trying to keep the ghosts away? And maybe she should try drinking? Perhaps she already has. Too bad I couldn’t introduce her to Johnny.