Bob and the driver

Riding the bus back from breakfast on Saturday, a man stepped aboard carrying two black garbage bags, and talking loudly, but I couldn't make out a word.

Another head case, obviously. The primary purpose of public transit seems to be getting the mentally ill to their destinations. The fare is $2.75, but it's (unofficially) free for bums, and indeed, the man didn't pay.

He said something to the driver, loud enough that everyone on the bus could hear it, but there was no understanding what he said. Loud gibberish, that's all.

The driver replied, "How you doin' today?" and the bum said something unintelligible back. It was loud, not the soft-spoken muttering of most bums, and It might've not even been English.

The bus hadn't moved yet, but the bum nearly stumbled walking to an empty seat. So he's drunk, I assumed, or high. The driver waited until the new passenger was settled with his bags, then said, "You doing OK?"

The bum replied with seventeen syllables that seemed to mean 'yes'.

Then our ride was underway again, and I studied the bum, at an angle so he wouldn't know. Mostly he was quiet, but every couple of minutes he again burst into words, or caterwauling.

His garbage bags had no ties, so he held each by the neck to keep their contents from spilling. This meant he couldn't grip a rail or the seat in front of him when the driver applied brakes at a traffic light, so like Charlie Chaplin the bum slid all the way off his seat, his butt landing on the floor.

He started his almost-hollering again, and sounded angry, which means the same — he'd sounded angry since he'd climbed the stairs and not paid his fare. 

The driver apologized for the hard braking, and watched in the rear-view mirror, waiting for the bum to get back into a seated position.

Bus drivers see bums all day, of course, and it must be frustrating, but the apology sounded sincere. It wasn't the first time this particular bum had been on this particular driver's bus, I decided.

The bum started making his bum-noises again, sounding like a two-year-old, never forming words that I could tell.

Some rows behind him, a young black woman watched, and looked nervous. Most bums are quiet on the bus, but this guy would let out bursts of crazy sound, then silence, then more sound. Me being big and male, a shrug, but her being small and female, the bum probably seemed a worry.

When she glanced at me looking at her, I flashed an 'OK' face, nodding quickly and semi-smiling. Whatever the situation, the driver wasn't simply ignoring it as they sometimes do, so the danger felt minimal, probably nil. If she saw my signal the woman didn't acknowledge it, so my slight good deed was probably for naught.

On we went, the bus jittering and the bum being loud, then quiet for a block or two, and then hollering undecipherable inanities again, and then quiet.

He was five feet from me, so my mind couldn't wander out the window, and instead I pondered the impossibilities of mental health in America. Everything about the USA seems designed to manufacture crazies, but even people with health insurance usually aren't covered for mental health. And if you are, you can't get an appointment for months. This bum couldn't get an appointment, ever.

He rang the bell to get off, and loudly spewed another twenty seconds of loudness. And then, something unexpected, something O Henry. The bus slowed, the bum stood and carried his bags of whatever to the front door, and the driver said, "All right, Bob, you have a good one."

'Bob' turned and gave the driver another burst of unintelligible loudness, then stepped off the bus. The driver gently accelerated, and we were almost to my house so I rang the bell to get off. Standing for the last half-block, I said to the driver as he slowed, "You knew that guy, huh?" 

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Drive a bus, you get to know everybody." He opened the door so I said no more, but all my walk home, I wondered about it. 



  1. "Everything about the USA seems designed to manufacture crazies."

    Yes, yes that's alarmingly, horrifyingly, diabolically true. But a lovely vignette of a tale just the same.

    - Zeke Krahlin

    1. Was it good? I couldn't tell. I wrote several more paragraphs about what exactly I was thinking after the ride, but I think it's what anyone would think so I axed it, leaving it more ambiguous. But I kinda think it sucks either way.


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