Saturday, December 03, 2005

Diverse Drivers


"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are arriving at our destination. Please make sure your tray tables and seats are in the upright position. If the Old Navy store is your final stop, enjoy your stay. Otherwise, you can catch a transfer to the 30, 45 and 51 right here on the kerb."

Some bus drivers make the ride really pleasant - they go out of their way to be helpful, chat, point out landmarks and share with you the little insider secrets of the city. Others, like the one before the wannabe-pilot, snarl at you for being a nincompoop when you ask for directions and spoil the mood of a perfectly good, if somewhat blustery and rainy, day.

Others have more complex personalities.

There was the one in Orlando, Florida, way back when I was presenting at the world's first International Harry Potter Symposium (but that's another story). I got onto the bus to the train station just before it pulled away, flustered and fully loaded with multiple backpacks, and as always, short of change. The lettering on the token machine said clearly "PLEASE CARRY EXACT FARE - BUS DRIVERS DO NOT CARRY CHANGE." I must've looked really high-strung, thinking I'd miss my train; the bus driver pulled out his own wallet, asked me how much change I needed and where I needed to get off, and asked me to sit down just behind him so he'd warn me in good time, all in this pleasant, grandfatherly voice.

The driver was evidently a regular on the route - he chatted up everyone who got on and off, and most seemed to know him. A few stops later, a reasonably well-dressed young white guy, a bit out of place in that poor Hispanic neighbourhood, asked the driver through the open doors, "Hey, does this bus go to the Galleria?"

The driver cupped his hand to his ear, "What?"

The guy repeated his question louder, and the driver, repeated, louder, "What?"

Slightly frustrated, the would-be commuter started repeating his question when the driver interrupted, "Yes, it goes to the Galleria."

The man started getting on, and the driver put the bus into gear and jolted the bus a foot forward, doors still open. The guy looked at him disbelievingly, "What the fuck?" and tried to get on again. Again the driver moved the bus forward a wee bit.

"FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE!" shouted the guy, and the driver chuckled, gave him the finger, closed the doors and drove off. The man pounded the side of the bus and cussed, which only made the African-American driver, and several other black guys sitting in the bus laugh. The driver and one of the commuters started talking about "white trash."

A couple stops later, two young Hispanic kids got on, and started paying their fares. The driver stopped them, in his avuncular voice asked them how old they were, and told them that kids under 17 only needed to show their school IDs to pay half-fare. They said they didn't have their IDs, and he waved them in, and told them not to forget the next time.

And then there was the one from a few midnights ago, when I was alone in the downtown Oakland Amtrak station (none too pleasant at the best of times) waiting to catch a bus to Berkeley. The bus arrived at the stop, and the driver, a big, mean-looking hunk of African-American muscle sauntered out and stood with his back to me.

"Does this bus go to Berkeley?"

Almost imperciptible nod. Not quite sure, I ask again, and he responds with a short growl that sounds vaguely affirmative.

I withdraw, and stand in a corner recovering my courage, then try another salvo.

"When does the bus leave?"

Silence. Then, reluctantly, he snaps, "Fifteen minutes."

About ten minutes later, he saunters back to the bus. I start to follow him, but he gives me a cold, cold look and shakes his head. Gets back into his seat, and closes the bus door.

Five minutes later, the bus door opens, and I get in with some trepidation. The fare is $1.75, and perenially out of change I only have dollar bills, but there's no way I'm asking him for help breaking a dollar bill. I sit back, and only really relax after some other passengers get on at the next stop.

"Errm - I'm new to this place - would you mind telling me when we reach University Avenue?"

Due consideration given. "Maybe."


Suddenly I realize that I forgot to ask for a transfer. And there's a sign in bold red letters proclaiming "TRANSFERS GIVEN ONLY AT TIME OF PURCHASE OF TICKET." And I'm out of dollar bills.

Fuck it! Enough of his bullshit.

"Excuse me. Could I have a transfer please?"

We're waiting at a traffic light. He slowly turns around. Obelisk glare. "What?"

"Could you give me a transfer please? I forgot to ask for one when I got on." I blurt out.

"Why do you need one?"

"My friend, he told me... he's far away, I need to change buses... 51 does still run this late, doesn't it?" I'm babbling slightly, but determinedly.

"BIG mistake. My friend, you made a BIG mistake."

"... what... ?"

And then his face split into the widest grin, he hands me a transfer, and says, "I'm just messing with you, man." Smiles appreciatively at the backside of a woman who's just gotten off, gives me a wink, and chuckles. And he's still chuckling when I get off the bus, shaking my head and grinning.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get a pepper spray!! Gosh its frightening.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Mayank said...

Sid, considering that your literary skills are impressing me b the day, you might wanna consider starting wrting a novel soon :D.

4:38 PM  
Blogger traveblog said...

flattery will get you places, m'boy :)

btw - nomenclature ground rules -

desi friends usually call me jaggi, or family/more formally, sidharth.
only people who have trouble with the aspirative siDHarth and end up referring to me as big bad guy from star wars call me sid.

1:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home