June 12th, 2006 —
Taking A Ride
I’ve never really observed any one on the bus in my many travels into Manhattan. The minute I get on the bus, I find a seat somewhere in the middle, park my self on the aisle seat and turn on my music. I can’t always read on the bus because I get “bus sick”, sort of like car sick except it’s on a bus. However, I pull out one of the many catalogs I’ve received in the mail and never have time to read; just to skim through it until the bus driver has made his entire pick ups on his way into Manhattan. This isn’t the regular city bus, it’s the express bus. It picks you up in the area you live and after a few more pickups it drives straight into Manhattan along Fifth Avenue. It’s an expensive ride when you think about the two dollars one can pay to take the train or a regular city bus but for me those five bucks is worth it if I don’t have to smell the underground of New York City that adds to my minor case of claustrophobia or deal with boisterous students on the above ground transportation. I like my ride to be peaceful. That’s when I do my best thinking. I like to consider the express bus my own private transportation; a big cab ride into Metropolis.
I purposely sit on the aisle seat, engrossed in my catalog, spreading out my arms far enough to block any one’s view of the empty seat next to me, lost in my music, hoping that no one will notice the seat and want to sit there. Yes, I’m selfish. But I always get stuck with the man who snores as if he has a ton of phlegm he’s choking on as his head slowly makes it’s way onto my shoulder or the woman who wears a ton of perfume that’s supposed to mimic a garden as she examines her false nails on a manicured hand that has a ton of rings to small for her pudgy fingers and that’s almost as bad as the nausea I get from reading on the bus. Once I notice the driver is on the highway heading into Manhattan, I relax. I put away my catalogs, turn up the volume of my IPOD, close my eyes and get involved to the sound of the music that plays only for me.
I’m not quite sure why I changed my routine this particular day; maybe it was the different bus that was approaching the bus stop. As soon as I saw it I knew my ride would be out of the ordinary. The red white and blue of the massive vehicle that was heading my way was not the same style bus than what I had been used to. In fact this was the first time I took a bus of this style where there were open seats up front, parallel to each other that led to the regular seats in the back. The seats in the back were in two rows, just like a school bus, minus the loud kids.
I sat in the second seat across from a man that reminded me so much of my father. He was sitting straight and tall. My father had a thing about slouching. Any time he would walk by me, if I was slouching he’d press one hand on my stomach and another one in the small of my back. Unsaid, I knew what he was telling me; SIT UP STRAIGHT! This man had my father’s stature. He also had a thin mustache and a small triangular shaped patch of hair underneath his lower lip. He kept moving his lower lip in and out of his mouth making that patch of hair come to life. My father used to do that when he was doing some serious thinking. We all knew to keep out of his way when he did that or risk getting scolded. The man sitting in front of me had something on his mind. I could tell because he was staring at his hands, while getting busy with his lower lip. He had on a Marine baseball cap and on the side he had a pin that led me to believe he served in the Korean War. I thought about my dad again as I kept moving my head and eyes back and forth so as not to let the man across from me catch me staring at him. I hadn’t thought about my dad in a long time. In the beginning, after he passed away, I thought about him all the time as I’m sure is the norm. Now that I’m older, I think of him on special family occasions, wishing he was here to enjoy it. I get spiritual about it seeking the comfort it brings me to know that he is here in spirit. I came back to the present when I noticed the driver had stopped picking up more passengers as the bus was already filled to the brim. I didn’t have to worry this time about any one sitting next to me for I had chosen to sit in this area on purpose. A woman sat down next to the man I had been watching. She was fidgeting with her jacket and kept getting up to wipe the seat clean. I’m not quite sure why she did that. How many times can one clean a seat especially when it wasn’t dirty to begin with? She then folded her jacket and placed it on her arm, turning to her side, giving her back to the man I had been observing for the past 15 minutes. She was trying to get comfortable in her seat but I couldn’t see how she could do that if she was contorting her body in an S formation when the only way you could have sat on this bus was straight. She then began rubbing her hand over her closely cropped hair. And that’s when I noticed the man that reminded me of my dad give her an odd look, turned around to face me, then shook his head. I wondered if he knew her. I wondered why he made that face. I wondered what she had done to cause him to make that face. Pretty soon she began to bother me. She kept moving so much in her seat, playing with her hair and fidgeting with her fingers that one couldn’t help notice her actions. I wanted to scream at her and say, “SIT STILL! YOU’RE MAKING ME DIZZY!” But I resisted the temptation. I wasn’t in the mood for a confrontation and let’s be real here, I wasn’t the one sitting next to her, so with a simple close of my eyes, I could pretend she wasn’t there. I focused my attention on the song that was playing in my ear; “Hit the Road Jack” and I thought how funny! Is the man sitting across from me, wishing this woman would hit the road because of all her fidgeting or was she hoping he would because at the very same time that Ray Charles began to screech, “What Ya say?” the woman looked at the man with eyebrows crunched down and a look of excuse- me- what –is- your- problem? It was as if he was singing the song in his head and she heard him. I put my fingers to my lips stifling a smile. I had to think of something else or I would break out laughing and for sure they would all think I was nuts. I closed my eyes once again and tried to get involved in the flow of my music when the bus screeched almost to a complete stop, as my eyes opened wide and my hand reached for the pole to hold unto to keep from sliding off my seat. It figures; a cab cut off the bus thinking he owned the street.
With my eyes now opened, I began to look around me once again. All the passengers on the seats behind me were either engrossed in some reading material (how do they do that?), looking out the window in a dazed state of mind, listening to music or dozing off. When my head turned back to join the rest of my body, I noticed Miss Fidgety was staring at me. Immediately she moved her head back to her uncomfortable S position and I could tell she was looking at me from the corner of her eye, waiting for my head to turn so she could stare at me again. Come on now I thought, that’s just silly but no sooner did I think that, I did indeed turn my head to look at the passengers in the back. I looked through the side of my eye to see if she was watching me. I waited until I was sure and then I snapped my head back to attention and BAM! GOTCHA! She was staring at me. She turned her head so quickly that the movement caused her jacket to fall on the floor. She picked it up, wiped it clean and then before she sat down on her seat again, started the whole process of cleaning her chair several times before sitting on it in her S formation. The Korean War Veteran sitting next to her was now making the same faces as he had in the beginning and all I could think of was the chain of events that happened just because I caught her staring at me. I silently apologized to the Vet.
I closed my eyes and grooved to my music once again. Michael Buble was singing, “A Foggy Day-In London Town” as I was tapping my foot on the floor to the beat. The song ended just as I opened my eyes to see a couple I hadn’t noticed before sitting across from me. Buble began to croon the old Ray Charles song, “But You Don’t Know Me,” as I began to observe the couple. She was wearing a loud turquoise blue suit with a white blouse that looked a bit wrinkled and I couldn’t help but notice if she had just unbuttoned the buttons of her too tight suit, it would have probably looked better on her. She was talking a mile a minute while the handsome man was just staring at her smiling. I don’t remember what he was wearing but if it looked as good as his smile, then it must have been something nice. He’d interject a few words here and there while she shook her head in agreement. I thought they were a couple but their body language was saying differently. Did they just meet on the bus? Are they bus buddies; people who take the same mode of transportation every day at the same time? Was he finally making contact with her? As I was thinking all of this, the bus made its first stop. Loud turquoise woman, who was chatting with the man got up, waved goodbye to him, confirming to me that they weren’t a couple. I followed her with my eyes. She walked straight into the arms of another man, kissed him hello and kept walking up Fifth Avenue, arm in arm. I turned to look at the man she had been talking to earlier as he turned his head to watch them walk away. Michael Buble was singing the chorus of the song, “But you don’t know me,” and my heart swelled for this man. It was as if this song was coming alive for me, being played out by a man who loved from a far and a woman who didn’t even noticed. He turned back on his seat, sighed and stared at his hands. My Korean War Dad was doing the same as the woman next to him kept fidgeting. As I kept listening to my music, I noticed how much goes on in a single bus ride when you step out of your box.
Every one on that bus had a story. I also noticed that no one was smiling. I have a story too. Life has been a bit hard for me lately but I take each day as a new beginning and I fought the temptation to stand up and say, “People! What’s up with these sad faces? Come on! Get living.” Of course I fought the temptation but didn’t miss the whole point of this bus ride. As I turned my attention back to my music, there it was, playing in my ear, Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” I turned around as the bus was nearing my stop and looked around. I silently wished every one on the bus a good day, good smiles and good thoughts. I hoped that at some point in their day, if not that day, then one day, soon, they would stop and dance.
As I got off the bus, I noticed my Korean War dad getting up. As we stood back to front, waiting for the bus to stop, I turned. I looked at him. I wanted to say something to him but he had that unapproachable look in his eyes. I quickly turned straight ahead and changed my mind. I stood at attention, just like my father had taught me to. No slouching! I wanted to say to him that my father was in the Korean War and my husband was a former marine and I wanted to say Thank you but I wasn’t that bold and so I said a silent thank you in my mind. I thought about how often we think of wanting to say things to others and don’t because of obstacles we put in our own way. How could saying a simple thank you be such a hard thing to do? As the bus came to a stop, I held on to the handrail, took one step at a time (bad knees, tall bus) and landed on the curb. I walked a few feet, turned around and saw the man struggling with the steps as he got off the bus. I wanted to help him but I thought he’s a Marine, proud and determined, if I help him, he might get insulted. So I hesitated. I still wanted to say something to him. I was compelled too and I was frustrated for letting an obstacle get in my way. As I turned to walk away, Elvis started crooning into my IPOD. He was singing, “There must be peace and understanding sometime, strong winds of promise that will blow away all the doubt and fear. If I can dream of a warmer sun where hope keeps shining on everyone ….” As he was getting to his chorus I turned around. I walked towards the man as Elvis kept singing “We’re lost in a cloud, with too much rain, we’re trapped in a world that’s troubled with pain,” and I found my hand moving to touch this man’s arm. He looked at me ready to say something and I beat him to the punch.
“I wanted to say ….Thank you.” I stuttered. He looked at me confused.
“I saw your baseball cap. You’re a former Marine and you were in the Korean War right?” I said, this time with more conviction.
“Uh yes, that’s right,” he said as he touched his baseball cap tenderly.
“Well, my dad was in the Korean War, and my husband is a former Marine. Sempir fi and thank you.”
“You know Sempir Fi?” He asked shocked.
“Yes, I do. Every time my husband sees a Marine he says this and they stop, salute each other and talk a bit about their units, platoons, and things I don’t quite understand but I know that Sempir Fi means always faithful. In fact I shouldn’t say former Marine, because I know the saying goes, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” I noticed that you have a pin on your hat and it reminded me of my dad.” I said without taking a breath.
“Well, thank you for saying that to me. You just made my day. God Bless you.” He said as he shook my hand and turned to cross the street. He didn’t seem to struggle any more with his walk and although he was tall when I first laid eyes on him, he was much taller now.
I smiled proud of the fact that I pushed that obstacle out of the way to make someone smile; prouder even that I validated someone that so many have forgotten. I didn’t just thank him; I was thanking every man and woman who had served our country. I thought about my unusual bus ride that day. Too many times we get so absorbed in our lives we forget that while we are doing that, time waits for no one. So why waste time worrying about things you cannot change? Why not change what you can? Why not dance? Why not stop and say a kind word to a stranger? I thought about Ms. Fidgety, My- You- Don’t- Know –Me- Man with the nice smile, and all the other people on the bus heading to a destination that somehow was part of their lives but they didn’t seem connected to it at all. I walked a little slower along Fifth Avenue and noticed a few things I hadn’t before the many times I’ve taken this route. What a beautiful place this all was. And while there were people walking to and fro, getting to their destinations, not every one had a smile on their face and I felt sad. I wanted to embrace them all and tell them to stop, take a deep breath and live, really live. I found myself sighing a bit as I walked past the horses waiting for the tourists to take a ride on the brightly colored carriage that they pulled. I knew that it wasn’t up to me to be responsible for every one in the world but I also knew that one action, one positive thought, one smile could make a difference as I walked to my own destination and Louis Armstrong sang, “What a Wonderful World.”
Copyright © 2006 by Sonia Agron –