fudge vs. the queens manhattan bus: fudge strikes back
as ye loyal are no doubt aware, the queens-manhattan bus company and i have duked it out, trilogy-style, for years. we neither of us come alone to the battlefield. the mta hedges its bets with increased subway fares. i throw my grandmother into the mix. there are moved stops, skipped stops, summons stops and my personal favorite, the bus-not-appearing-in-this-blogpost. last year i dealt them a crippling blow by using my 'wisconsin driver's license' distraction to sveltly dodge their random ticket distribution, and i also scored major points by allowing my grandmother to operate in her all-out traffic-blocking capacity. suffice it to say that though it was war, i was winning.
"but fudge," you say, "surely you did not grow so cocky, in your victory, that you failed to prepare for the inevitable dropping of the other shoe?"
alas, virginia. we humans are brainless beings. the truth was that i became smug in my daily subway ridings. "ho ho," i thought to myself, "i am an experienced and world-weary traveler! i am in subways day and night! i am familiar with nearly all the routes on the island! i am invincible to the mta's underhand dealings now!"
but of course this was foolishness. i had fatally underestimated the queens manhattan bus company. the bus company does not go quietly into the night; it lurks, in the undergrowth of industrial queens, waiting for you to reveal your weakness - and then it strikes.
i wish i could say that this is what happened to me this past weekend. it would lend me some dignity, and the bus company too, and i am sure we are both sorely in need of some.
what actually happened was far stupider. those of you with no patience for moronity are advised to turn back while you can.
being sick and exhausted (there's no other way to travel), i was thrilled when my grandmother extended her biannual shabbos invitation to me earlier this week. "you don't have other plans?" she inquired. "no! no!" i exclaimed, blithely wiping down my calander with the back of my sleeve. "this week's perfect! really!"
it was perfect. the week afterwards was finals, and if i emerged once from my hole of a room it would no doubt stun the small rodents who scurry through our walls at night. but that week there was nothing going on at stern and it was not close enough to finals that i seriously expected to study. i was pumped. i took out several fifteen-pound books from the library, shoved all my dirty laundry into a three-wheeled suitcase, and headed out for the bus stop on friday, sneezing, drooping, but no less exhilirated.
it did not occur to me that it was gonna be one of those holiday-traffic kinds of weekends, during which the bus company pulls out all the stops, in its (or so i thought at the time) sad and futile struggles to reclaim its position as chief boogeyman in my life. forget not showing up at your stop. your 'reliable' bus does not intend to show up at A, NY stop. or at least, not within the next 24 hours. to be fair, this is not entirely your bus's fault. your bus is busy, having many people to pick up way down in electchester or wherever it is, and being also blocked by the ceaseless stream of merry touristy types who cannot cross broadway and thirty-fourth in one traffic light, poor nebuchs.
so it is really no one's fault, until your bus DOES miraculously appear, only to glide by you, suitcase in hand, as it decides you are not worth stopping for; or until it does stop, only, depending on the driver, to decide why you personally may not get on the bus, for instance your bag is too big, or you look rich enough to take a cab, or perhaps you are garbed in an offensive color.
but one of my many combat strategies which i have developed in my ongoing struggle with the bus company is the understanding that, despite my grandmother's firm belief to the contrary, there are actually SEVERAL buses that head up to her neck of the woods, and when my bus has not yet come at 2:45 on a friday when shabbos starts like 4ish, i secretly hop on one of these. if i get out with time to spare, i covertly trek back to the other stop when i get into queens, so she can discover me in the right place. i had never before had opportunity to deal with the 'if not' scenario before.
according to my grandmother, this is where all the trouble began.
having navigated my suitcase down to the wide aisle of seats in the middle of the bus, which, amazingly, had only ten people on it despite the 'next bus please' caption scrolling across its side, i glanced out the window and realized that we were going to be stuck at about forty-sixth and sixth until my youngest sister's high school graduation. thanks to recent yoga training (and other things you do not want floating around haphazardly in the vague chaos of your brain), i also 'checked in with my body' and found that:
a) i could not breathe through my nose
b) i was tired
c) the chances of me making it back to grandma's stop with my suitcase were not good.
so i slipped my phone (dangling from a loop on my keychain) out of its little pocket and called my grandmother to explain the situation.
"WHAT?" she cried.
"it's okay, grandma. it just stops on the other side of you, that's all."
"but where are you going to get out?"
"pretty close to you."
"but not at the same stop?"
"ask him if he will stop at that stop."
"he doesn't go that route, grandma. it's okay. it's just as close, really it is."
"well see if he will stop closer to me."
"i'll try, grandma."
"tell him he'd better!"
"this is nerve-wracking, what's gonna be with you. okay. bye."
it was not so nerve-wracking. i had been this way before and could follow the stops reasonably well. sheepishly, i negotiated with the bus driver, and in the holiday spirit he agreed to leave me off at a non-stop closer to my grandma, leading to much admiring sighing from the nine white-haired ladies and one peppery-haired husband traveling with me. several of them remarked on the kind heartedness of the bus driver.
in retrospect, this should have been a warning sign.
when we arrived at my stop, i shook myself awake and lunged down the aisle with my suitcase balanced between one hand and a foot and a sad sack of flowers beneath my elbow, trying not to harm any of the frail elderly in the seats around me. the bus driver asked gently (gently!), "are you gonna be alright from here, sweetheart? you sure you got all your things?"
"uh huh," i nodded enthusiastically, beaming him a no doubt frightening smile. "yup! i'm good! happy new year's!"
"to you too, miss," he said, and he closed the doors behind me.
standing in front of the shopping center that was my grandmother's preferred post, i reached into my pocket to call her and anounce my arrival, dreaming already of an early, early bedtime.
my fingers scraped the bottom of the pocket.
that's weird, i thought. i don't think i put them back in my purse.
i scrounged around in my purse, digging through receipts and packs of gum fruitlessly, for about fifteen seconds. my purse is not that big. it doesn't take long.
then i glanced up, down the street, where the me-free bus was sitting innocently by the stoplight, about to turn green.
holy crap, i thought suddenly, it's on the seat in the middle.
i glanced at my suitcase. it was missing a wheel.
i glanced at the bus.
had it been a movie, this would have been the scene where the rain began to pour down, and i threw back my head and shoulders and roared at the sky, "NOOOOOOOOOO!"
but it was not a movie, and instead what i said to the sky was something like, "aw, come ON, G-d," as i bumped pathetically after the bus with my 300 pounds of dirty laundry in tow: across streets and over shopping center parking lots. i should have known better. by the time my knees gave out the bus had long since sailed merrily into the horizon, off to wherever it is buses go after the last stop, which is what i had arrived at. bent over and gasping for breath, i glanced at my watch. there were about twenty-five minutes left to shabbos. i was nowhere near the place my grandmother had told me to get off. i had no phone. and as i straightened out to assess my situation, i felt a raindrop on my forehead.
this prompted me to say something far less printable. but, to give myself credit, it took another ten minutes for me to actually cry.
i crossed the street in the irrational hope that the bus would come back, and i sized up my fellow sketchy-queens-neighborhood sidewalkers to see who would be the most likely to lend a random college student their phone. most fell into the spiked-collar wearing camp or the not-going-to-have-a-phone camp. in my head i saw my phone singing away on the bus seat, somewhere in yonkers. there were twenty minutes left. i just stood there, silently daring the sky to rain more.
eventually a happy-go-lucky woman, who it would later seem to me never really stopped jogging, took pity on me. "aw, don't cry!" she said brightly. "people lose things on buses all the time! i lose everything on the bus! you just go down to the depot and pick it up during business hours! want some tea? want to wait in the library? i'll stand here with your suitcase. i'm not a kidnapper," she added, in a between-you-and-me kind of voice. "i'm just a new yorker with a heart."
"they have those?" i said skeptically.
she shrugged. she was not a woman for sarcasm. "everything's possible in america!" she said.
and you know she was not half wrong. she let me use her cell phone to explain the situation to my grandmother, who was suitably distraught. my grandmother zoomed up the street in her usual miami-vice style and packaged me into the car, pontificating all the while.
"OH MY GAWD, it's almost SHABBOS, what is this that HAPPENS to you perlie, you poor BABY, always with the bus this HAPPENS to you, did i not TELL you you should ONLY TAKE THE BUS I TELL YOU TO TAKE, what is going to BE with you, this is TERRIBLE..."
"grandma, calm down," i attempted weakly.
"how are we going to SLEEP tonight?" she insisted, looking at me as we neared a stoplight. "i don't know how i will sleep! you are young so you will sleep. but how will you sleep knowing that is such a mess? what's gonna be with you perlie?"
GAH! i thought.
"at least i'm here," i suggested.
"that's true," my grandma agreed. "but i wish you were here in one piece."
"i pretty much am."
my grandma gave me a look. "no phone. no keys. how will you live?"
"i'm sure i can get it back."
"you can't get it back," she scoffed. "the bus company does not work like this."
we sat in the car, in the driveway. we looked at each other. i looked down the avenue. the significance of what had happened dawned on me.
alright, i thought. i'll play your game, you rogue.
"grandma," i said firmly, "i WILL get it back. i. WILL."
TO BE CONTINUED....
(note: tune in for our next episode, featuring special blogging guests and a detailed infiltration of the enemy- from within...)