“Jungle calls around the corner!” This shout was followed by hoots, grunts, and squeals as the bus turned, intended to madden the driver of infamous bus 18. My high school bus had a reputation for driving its drivers—driving them to drink, anyway. Some of the more memorable replacements had unflattering nicknames hurled at them: Wedgehead and Illiterate Bob are two I remember well. I arrived at school smelling of pot and slightly deaf from the shouting more than once. Then we got a driver who fought back. One day he expelled all the boys from the bus for the remainder of the week. Being a Bible-reading, church-going youth who sat quietly up front, I felt that I didn’t deserve this punitive measure. Still, I felt sorry for the drivers. And I’d learned a valuable lesson—being responsible for the safe arrival of fifty people is a lot of pressure.
Yesterday I climbed aboard the adult NJ Transit bus 117. Only later did I ominously realize that if the first digit were added to the final digit, you would get bus 18. Or was it really the Pequod?
Those of us who stumble aboard the bus before 6 am are a docile, sleepy crowd, for the most part. I open my book, and if someone insists on talking, plug my buds into the white noise app on my phone. This is how I get my reading done. Some of the regulars like to argue with the drivers. “You’re too early,” one woman says (although she’s ironically on the bus at the time). Or “Why didn’t you stop for me? I had to chase the bus!” The latter was the complaint yesterday.
For being soporfiric, the early crowd is pretty tightly wound. Daily we spend about 4 hours commuting for 7 hours of work. We catch the early bus because traffic going into Manhattan meets the dictionary definition of Hell. Well, the complainer chose a tightly wound driver to challenge yesterday. The complainer wouldn’t let up. I could hear the yelling through my static-filled earbuds. In a move that would’ve done Illiterate Bob proud, the driver slammed on the brakes right on the highway and pulled over. He demanded the lady off the bus. She wouldn’t leave. He got off the bus and called his supervisor for 30 minutes. At the dawn of rush hour. The passengers began to grumble, not least of which was the complainer. Held hostage, we all knew we were going to be late for work. I put away my book. I’d been here before. I knew what would come next. I braced myself. “Jungle calls around the corner!”