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Russ Kay: "And a Long Strange Ride It Was ..."
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And a Long, Strange Ride It Was …

A True Story by Russell Kay

It was a traveling week, and those are always kind of unpredictable. But it ended in a bus  encounter like nothing I’d ever dreamed of … or would want to repeat.
Things started out normally enough. From home in Worcester, Mass., I made plans to attend a big computer industry trade show in New York City, then spend two days at the Annual Show of the Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association (of which I am a life member) in Stamford, Conn. Remember this final destination.

On Wednesday morning, bright and early, I set out to drive the two and a half hours to Stamford. Everything was fine until the last 15 miles, which were stop-and-go gridlock on I-95 because of accidents and road construction. I got to Stamford with 15 minutes to spare before the bus left for New York, but the parking garage at the “Transportation Center” (i.e., the train/bus station) was full. I needed to leave my car there for three days and finally had to settle for a nearby lot where the tab was $18 a day. I agreed, having little choice, handed over $54 and set out to walk the quarter-mile or so to the bus station, dragging a large suitcase on wheels and a not-quite-so large computer backpack on my shoulders.

Got there, bought my ticket, and sat down at exactly the bus’s scheduled departure time. I waited. And waited some more. Turns out, the bus got caught in that same mess up on I-95. I got to New York, took a quick cab to the Javits Center, and got there in time to make my first appointment at the show by 10 minutes. The show, compared to previous such shows in New York, was a real bust, but I had enough appointments set up that my time was well spent.

Now let’s fast-forward to Friday. The first bus to Stamford that morning left at 10:15, and I wanted to catch it so I could spend the day poking around Stamford and maybe take in a movie. Got to the Port Authority Terminal at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue in plenty of time (having cleverly chosen a hotel just a block away), and stood in line at the gate. Then it happened.

I’ve been in and out of that terminal maybe a dozen times in the past few years, and I have never before seen a security check. But a uniformed rent-a-cop wheeled her little wagon up to the head of the line and announced that all carry-on bags were going to be searched.

When my turn came, the bag passed fine … but then she scanned me with one of those hand-held metal detectors. Beep! Coins come out. Beep! Same for the keys. Beep! And my little Spyderco Cricket joins the pile.

“What’s that?” she demanded.

“A pocket knife,” I answered with some trepidation in my mind. I mean, jeez, the blade on it is only two inches long. I could do more damage with a ballpoint pen.

“Can’t go on the bus,” she stated.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll just put it inside my bag that will ride underneath.”

“I said, Can’t Go On The Bus,” she insisted. “Can’t go on the bus at all, no way.” Then she let loose the real zinger: “In fact, I’m not going to let you on any bus until you go somewhere and get rid of that knife – maybe send it to someone – and come back and show me a receipt proving it.” A little more gently, she said, “There’s a Post Office one level up inside the terminal.”

I haven’t made it to age 60 without learning that I’m just never going to win some battles and sometimes it’s better not even to try. Especially with a cop, private or otherwise. Also, I really didn’t want her to take an interest in the rest of my luggage, and it certainly didn’t seem like the best time to mention that inside my big suitcase was a padded case with a full dozen knives in it. I was, after all, going to Stamford to attend a knife show!

I sighed, asked the guy standing next to me to watch my luggage, and set out to mail my knife to myself. Well, it turns out the Post Office is in fact two levels up and, while it’s technically in the same terminal, it is, in fact, located in another building. By the time I got there, at 10:09, I had a bad feeling.

I waited impatiently in line behind the one person being served. I asked for a Priority Mail cassette-sized box, wrapped the Cricket in an Express Mail envelope so it wouldn’t rattle around, sealed it up, put my home address on it, and put it on the scale.

“Can’t accept it without a return address,” the clerk informed me. So I hurriedly scribbled my name and address on the box a second time. I paid my $3.85 and, yes, I got a receipt. I raced back to the gate, arriving there at 10:23. The 10:15 bus, of course, had already left. The rent-a-cop was standing there with an annoyed look on her face.

“You left your luggage here,” she complained.

“Well sure,” I answered. “I didn’t have a hope in hell of making the bus if I’d taken them with me.”

“Guess what – you didn’t make it. I tried to hold the bus for a few minutes, but it had to leave,” she added.

“Ah well,” I muttered. “When’s the next bus to Stamford?”

“First, let’s see that receipt.” I handed it over, she studied it carefully for a few seconds, then returned it to me.

“Next bus is at 11:45,” she said.

I grabbed my bags and sat down to wait for the 11:45. After an hour, I got in line for the bus, which in fact arrived precisely at 11:45. After another 10 minutes they let us board. No security search at all. I got in, found a seat, turned on the overhead light, and began to read. After a while, it dawned on me that the bus was still parked in the terminal, and there was no driver in the appropriate seat.

I turned my attention to a conversation going on just outside the open door. The driver was talking to someone else who, it sounded like, was giving him directions. Finally, at 12:10, the driver climbed aboard and the trip started.

After a while, as the bus lumbered through Harlem and the Bronx and, for all I know, parts of  New Jersey, I got tired and dozed off. Had a very nice snooze, in fact. I woke up and glanced at my watch. It was 1:45, so I figured we should be pretty close to our destination. I was feeling good.

Until I looked out the window and realized that the sign we were just about to go under said this was the way to Manhattan. After a couple of turns and swoops, the bus pulled up at the side of the street and stopped. We were now at 42nd Street and 10th Avenue in downtown New York … approximately one block from the back of the Port Authority Terminal we had left nearly two hours before.

The driver, a man in his thirties or forties, pulled out a cell phone and began jabbering into it. “I got lost and couldn’t find my way out of New York,” he told the phone.

I didn’t mention this before, but there was a sign inside the terminal that said the first row of seats on the bus is not available to passengers. I’ve often seen supervisors sitting there up front, apparently training or evaluating drivers. Now I realized that in the front row of my bus was seated a young woman, not in uniform, clutching a sheaf of papers that, evidently, had printed, step-by-step directions on how to get from New York to Stamford. She had been reading them to the driver.

The driver kept talking to someone, explaining his problem, his voice rising in volume and intensity as he explained that since he’d gotten lost he decided to try and find his way back to where he started. Well, he sure got that one right.

He hung up the phone, engaged his left turn signal, and the bus set out. For Stamford. Again.

This time, he seemed to know where he was going, because before I knew it we were on an expressway. The driver did, however, seem to be arguing with his (dare I say) navigator, about where they were going.

“Yes, I have to stop at New Rochelle,” he told her. “That’s on the schedule and I gotta stop there.”

Time passed.

Suddenly, we were exiting the expressway at a ramp that was labeled “New Rochelle.” As we got to the bottom of the ramp, the only options were to turn left or right. The driver sang out, “Anybody know which way we go? Are there any regulars on the bus? Anyone here who knows where the stop is?” No one said anything.

It was the bus from hell, I just knew. We were lost again. I was never going to get to Stamford. I’d miss the knife show. How would I rescue my car? And would I have to pay another $18 a day in parking fees?

Surprise! The driver turned left, and that turned out to be right. After negotiating another couple of turns, he pulled up alongside the curb – New Rochelle doesn’t have a real bus terminal – got out and went into a nearby convenience store to check in. It was the same place the bus from Stamford to New York had stopped, which seemed promising. After all, we weren’t much more than two hours behind schedule.

Back in the bus, the driver got us back onto I-95 and we proceeded on to the next stop, Stamford.

Imagine my bewilderment when we actually arrived there. At the very same bus station I’d been at two days before. Amazing, simply amazing. I reminded the driver that I had luggage underneath (not mentioning that it contained weapons of mass destruction), and he got out and unloaded my stuff.

I had expected to take the 10:15 bus from Manhattan, arriving in Stamford at 12:05. I looked at my watch again. It was 4:15. I guessed I wasn’t going to take in a movie that afternoon after all. Well, at least I was here.

“Hope you find your way back,” I called cheerfully to the driver. I didn’t really listen to his answer; it wasn’t my problem any more. The folks going on to Vermont – well, silently I wished them luck.

I pulled my suitcase along through a parking lot, across a construction site, under a viaduct, and uphill the quarter mile to the parking lot. My car was still there.

Never has a Honda sedan seemed so much an expression of personal freedom and the ability to exert control over my own life. I had escaped the clutches of the lost Greyhound and would live to tell about it. I wasn’t going to be another Flying Dutchman after all.

I’ve heard it said that people making plans is God’s idea of a good joke. I sure hope she enjoyed it.

Copyright © 2003 by Russell Kay. All Rights Reserved.

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This has been a good evening for me to read Hell Bus Stories, between your own and this one of your dad's. At least now they're all years ago and have become fun to recount...

... I find myself imaging, a century or two ago, one of your ancestors having been rude to a hansom driver who was secretly a warlock, and this is the result of the curse on your bloodline...

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