Today is Transit Driver Appreciation Day! This holiday seems to the brainchild of TriMet transportation (providing bus, light rail and commuter rail service) out of Portland, Oregon.
I think most transit drivers are real public heroes. They deal with traffic; inclement weather; and strange, belligerent, confused, and angry passengers. I always thank my driver.
The story that follows isn’t specifically about a transit driver, but it took place on a city bus, so I think it fits the occasion. Anything could happen on a city bus. Drivers and passengers alike have to be prepared for surprises.
Long ago I lived in a large city in Texas. I didn’t have a vehicle, so I walked or biked or rode the bus to get to all the places I needed to go. Work was a long way from home, father than I wanted to ride my bike early in the morning or after a long day on the job, so I spent a lot of time on public transit at the beginning and end of each work day.
One afternoon I was on a bus full of evening commuters. The place was packed. Every seat was taken, and I was grateful I’d gotten on early and had a place to sit.
I don’t remember when the woman boarded the bus of if I’d noticed her when she did. I was sitting in one of the forward facing double seats on the same side as the driver; she was across the aisle from me and father up, in the middle of the row of seats facing the aisle.
The interior of the bus was noisy with the sound of people talking mixed with the steady thump thump of wheels on pavement and the roar of engine. As the bus approached a red light, the driver decreased our speed, and the roar of the engine died down.
Of course, the bus was not the only vehicle on the road. We were in the midst of big-city rush hour traffic, so there were a dozen or more vehicles between the bus and the intersection. Even after traffic started moving, it was going to be a while until we started chugging along again.
It was at this time the woman decided to make her pronouncement.
I have to go to the bathroom! she called out in a loud, singsong voice. She placed the stress on the word “have” and the first syllable of “bathroom.”
The woman was young, but definitely not a child. Most adults would not make this announcement to people they didn’t know
Everyone else on the bus was immediately uncomfortable and quiet. The interior of the bus was enveloped in the silence that occurs when a group of strangers are feeling socially awkward together. But ok, the outburst was over. We could move on…
I have to go to the bathroom, the woman burst out again.
Oh, the awkwardness was not over.
As the bus inched its way forward, the woman turned her words into a little chant.
I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. Her voice grew more plaintive as her chant progressed.
None of the other passengers on the bus would look at the woman or at each other. No eye contact was being made.
I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom.
We could all hear the growing desperation in her voice.
Even if the bus driver would have let her out between stops, there was no place for her to go. We were in the middle of a block with an empty athletic field on the right and businesses not likely to have public restrooms on the left. Even if she got off the bus, where would she find the restroom she seemed so desperately to need?
I have to go to the bathroom.
Finally, the bus was close to the traffic light. Surely when the light turned green the bus would make it through the intersection.
I have to go to the bathroom.
Red became green, and the bus made it through, but I guess the woman was going to hold out until she got to her stop. She didn’t pull the cord to ring the bell or dash to the door. In fact, several blocks later when we got to my stop, I could hear her as I got off the bus, still chanting about her need to go to the bathroom.
Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-sitting-bus-seats-34171/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-bus-on-road-near-in-high-rise-building-during-daytime-68427/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/bar-bus-grip-hand-grips-1462097/.