I was the last passenger on the last 70A bus, always a good time to chat up the operator. Everyone else always gets off at Central Square; I like to skip the shopping centers and save the walk to University Park. A little cheerful conversation goes a long way to make bearable the burden of bus driving, I suspect, and these good people always have interesting stories to tell. As we began our little talk, the sudden quiet brought sweet relief, like a throbbing pressure on both pairs of ears, hers and mine, from the tiny screaming children and the fuming mothers ever present on this inbound leg of the journey at the end of the day.
The woman now breathing a sigh of relief, I wondered if she was familiar with this daily din. "Do you drive this route often?"
"No, today they put me on this route off of my normal one."
"Must have been exciting for you."
"Hah!" She turned to look at me for the first time, and I liked her black fuzzy hair.
"Is there a daycare or something upstream of my stop, and that's why it's always so full of babies in here?"
"Nah, there's a hotel that fills up the rooms, and any left over, they give rooms to mothers and their kids. I asked one of the women. It's a shelter."
I expressed my surprise along with my pleasure at seeing these young women well-supplied with baby carriages and bottles and diminutive articles of clothing, despite their impossibly difficult situation, one much worse than I had suspected by their provisions.
"What a life."
"Get through school, get married, have a kid, that's what I told my daughter."
"In that order," I half-smiled.
"And she did! These ones, though... You got to have a baby to get into that hotel. A baby is your ticket."
While the bus swerved around a corner I paused, dangling at an angle as if the reflective support pole stayed my slide down a slope. I noted the dark pink sky behind the twirling kaleidoscopic city foreground. It was pretty late, 8:45, probably.
"It's like the time of the Virgin Mary in here, needing a baby to get into a hotel," I offered.
Her sudden eye contact along with her assent let me know she had been thinking something similar, perhaps wondering if I would understand or appreciate such a comparison. "It's ridiculous." She shook her head, wide and slow.
We exchanged good-night wishes, the bus bucking to a halt, and I hopped off. Maybe soon I'll get to know her name, to replace the "Operator Number" announced periodically on the LED matrix over her cockpit.
A hotel sounded like a fickle shelter to me, with capacity ebbing and flowing not unlike that situation Joseph and Mary reportedly faced. I'll defend these women when they show their embarrassment or shame over their noisy little ones, I thought. The only embarrassment they need feel is for their fellow passengers, who never say anything but ever imply their petty discomfort.
On the other hand, I hold no scorn for the previous substitute driver, at the commencement of the third hour of her one and only 70A experience unabashedly pulling her vehicle to a curb, shutting herself outside the hell pits for a moment of peace and a heavy pull at a smoke. The thought of laughing out the window with those young mothers over her puffing and pacing cheered me, anyone passing perhaps wondering what pulled at the corners of my lips. But soon the same image set me to brooding on today's event: the Fire Hazard man.
Not much of an event, really, but a little flare of anger lends it a place in my memory. Some dolt had approached the front of the bus at his stop, but, seeing the door veritably bricked in by a cluster of baby carriages, blustered a moment and turned around, mumbling as he passed.
"They shouldn't block the door; that's a fire hazard." I looked up from my book to the back of his head just ducking onto the street through the bus's rear door. "It's unsafe," I heard him say again, disappearing.
Perhaps I should just let the reader sit a moment and perceive the layers of sad, sopping, saturated wrong flop down like the rifled pages of a book in a puddle.
Firstly, esteemed sir, how many babies do you often push? It's unfortunate that they reroute you, but to the mothers who tend them they're ever-present inertia; small wonder they drop near the place they enter.
Second, there was clearly no other place for these carriages, even if the caretakers had exerted themselves as on your behalf as you prefer. The folding seats had folded, the aisles had been emptied of errant feet and bags and filled again with strollers. To clear the way would be to keep a mother from work and a child from school.
Third, this barebones bus could not burn if it tried, provided, of course, that impatient hell does not open a port-hole under your feet even while the wheels on the bus go round and round because
Fourth, WOULD THESE BABIES NOT NEED TO ESCAPE A BURNING BUS? Is it such a personal tragedy that these babies and these mothers obstruct by squatting closer to the exit than able-bodied you? "Hero of Bus Accident Praised: Pushes Aside Babies, Carriages Allowing Passengers To Escape." It feels like the punchline to a First-World Problems joke in its inaneness. Single Guy Problems.
I probably overdo my tirade, since I'm certain he didn't think about these things much before he spoke. Perhaps this is his fault, but it is a lesser one than all those faults I charge him with as if he had considered them. Anyway, now I don't know whether I can hate him, since I spent so long arresting my giggling after he departed. Fire hazard. Of all the complaints.
Maybe I'll tell this story to my friend Chuka, also a bus driver, or maybe I'll tell it as an excuse to learn the name of Ms. Fuzzy Black Hair whose Operator Number I don't even know: it will probably break the stern face of one or the other or both into a grin, and hell, they could use it sometimes.