A Look On The Lighter Side: Ask not For whom the bus stops

“Hey! You! Stop!” That’s me, yelling and banging on the outside of a bus. A bus which, although moving slowly, refuses to stop for me and which eventually accelerates away.

I’m not even surprised. My lifetime experience with buses has proven one thing: they are not to be trusted.

From the very first, buses have let me down. I walked to almost all my schools, so my first serious memory of a bus is the one I took as a teen, from my suburban home into Washington, D.C., to interview for a summer job.

Of course, the bus broke down in one of D.C.’s many traffic circles, and I never made it to the interview.

A long-distance bus trip to cousins in North Carolina went even worse. I have never been so sick as I was by the end of that hours-long trip. I had brought along several books to read, but never made it past page 2 of the first one; somehow, trying to read while in a jouncing, swaying vehicle made me queasy in a way that train travel never has.

But it took living in New York City to show me the depths of treachery to which buses could sink.

My office and apartment were both in Manhattan, so subways served almost every purpose; when they didn’t, there were cabs. Still, one time I found myself on Seventh Avenue, 20 blocks north of Penn Station, with aching feet — and standing, as it happened, at a bus stop.

All I needed was to go straight down those 20 blocks, and get off, and that’s just exactly what everyone at the bus stop said I could do. To double-check, I asked the driver as soon as the bus appeared: “Is it true this bus goes straight down Seventh Avenue, to Penn Station?”

“Yes, ma’am. Straight down Seventh Avenue, and nothin’ else. Now you gettin’ on?”

I sent my coins clinking into the tollbox and climbed aboard — only to watch in helpless fury a few blocks later, as the bus swung off Seventh Avenue and headed west. Next thing I knew, “Everybody out! We’re here at the West Side Highway!”

Another time, I tried to catch a cross-town bus on 42nd Street. There were plenty of bus stops, and plenty of buses, but I was no novice: I knew that a bus would only stop at the sign for its matching number. So I chose one and waited. And watched the supposedly correct bus breeze on by. I waited for the next one. It stopped right in front of me — and took off again. The door never opened.

But it hadn’t gotten far before a red light stopped it. I looked up the street. If I ran, jaywalked, and ran some more, I might make it to this bus’ next stop before it did.

Of course, if I could do all that, I didn’t really need the bus. But now things were personal between this bus and me. So I ran, and dodged, and beat the bus to its stop with seconds to spare.

It stopped, opened its doors, and let everyone ahead of me climb on. When my turn came, however, the driver tried to slam his door shut.

But I was too quick for him; and before he knew it, I was standing inside the bus. Victory!

Just one problem. My purse was only halfway in when the door had closed.

When the driver finally realized that, by his own actions, he might have to give me a free ride, he opened the door enough for me to pull the purse inside.

Why are buses like this? I think the drivers resent the time they must waste on us pesky passengers. All this picking up and dropping off puts them behind schedule! In short: we, the passengers, are just the pits in the bus driver’s cherry-bowl of life.

I only ever met one bus driver who was a pleasure to deal with. All during one long ride, I watched him speak considerately to every passenger, patiently answer every question — and even explain how a transfer works.

Finally, I had to ask him: “You’re so nice!” I said. “You’re not like any other bus driver I’ve ever met! How do you do it?”

“I’ll tell you my secret,” he said. “I just pretend everyone is retarded.” (His word, not mine.)

At least trains can’t jump the track and head for the West Side Highway. That’s why I prefer them.

About the author

Judy Epstein

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