Today’s post is going to be a bit of a cheat, as it happened several months ago. I should have written it when it happened, but I was in the grip of no-blogging and I never did it. The story’s too good to forget, though, so I’m telling it now.
It was a sweltering August day, and I was on my way home on a standing-room-only bus on a busy Portland street. It was packed, and every stop we passed had at least one person waiting to board, and nobody got off. When we hit Division, there was a group of people waiting, including a man pushing a woman in a wheelchair. Everyone on the bus performed that physics-defying shuffle and compressed themselves into smaller air space under each other’s armpits, and we cleared the handicap section up front. They got on the bus, the man keeping up a friendly, cheerful banter with the bus driver while he folded up the seat and cleared a path and engaged the little locking mechanism and made sure she was comfortable; we went on our way.
Two decades on public transportation have given me a sort of noise filter that allows me to tune out most of what goes on around me while I’m commuting. I keep half an ear open for aggressive tone, because sometimes situations develop and you want to know where it’s going before it gets there. But I don’t actively pay attention to conversations around me. I gradually became aware that the woman in the wheelchair and the man with her had started bickering. Something about the groceries and cooking and who knows what else. They got louder and louder and suddenly at the next stop, he was hovering at the front exit and yelling, “Is this what you want? You want me to leave?” And he got off the bus. Which is not that weird. Couple fighting on the bus, at least one episode per week.
But then. The woman in the wheelchair stood up and said, “Seriously? Seriously? Take your damn chair!” And she got off, too, AND LEFT THE WHEELCHAIR ON THE BUS.
There are approximately eleventy billion sweating people on this bus, and we’re all just staring with our mouths hanging open as the bus driver bursts into flames and starts screaming, “You all are CRAZY. Don’t EVER get on my bus again!” The man, by now, is banging on the window and demanding to have his wheelchair back. The woman is laughing and crossing the street against the traffic light, leaving him behind. The bus driver has grown to three times normal human size and is roaring, “The hell with you, you can pick it up at the next stop!” He throws the break and we’re off again, across the intersection. The man is now running to catch up with us so he can claim the chair at the next stop, and the woman is running behind him, throwing groceries at him as she goes. The rest of us are in danger of tipping the bus over, because we’re all craning our necks to see out one side so we don’t miss anything. Loaf of bread, zing! Head of lettuce, splat!
The bus comes up to the next stop, and the driver gets up, opens the door and addresses the crowd waiting to board: “NOBODY MOVE.” He folds up the wheelchair, pitches it out on the sidewalk just as the man comes panting up and grabs it by the handle. The bus driver stood back, mopped his brow, and with an elegant sweep of his arm to indicate boarding, says, “Jerry Springer Bus, folks, all aboard. Drinks upstairs in the VIP if you’re 21.” He sat back down in the driver’s seat and said, “Damn. Only on 82nd Avenue.” And then we went on our way.
The thing about this is that it was so absurd that it made a miserable situation feel almost festive. The bus stayed packed, we were all still sweating and cramped and trying to fit 8 more people on at every stop. But shared absurdity is a wonderful thing, and the mood on that bus was pure joy. Even people getting on who had no idea what had happened were talking and laughing and making room for each other. And the rest of us got a pretty good story.
The madding crowd, people. It’s the thing.