by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
I have an idea for a novel. Some money stashed away, I quit my job with its benefits and perks. I am - finally - going to be “a writer.”
Shortly after I make this decision, the engine goes on my car. It had just been rebuilt the year before; I refuse to do it again.
I panic, take the money I have and search for a used car. I hear a voice warning me not to buy the first one I find, but I hand over the money anyway. Within days, I have to replace the harness. Within a week, the alternator, followed shortly by the battery. The brakes go. And then, the transmission. I return home one day to find the car will only go in reverse. I back it up on the porch and park it.
This time, there is no money stashed away. I've had some publishing success but without monetary payment. Still I don't want to go back to working for someone else. I don't own a bike. I jog, love to run, but hate walking. My only transportation choice, is the public bus system.
People on the bus don't look happy. I smile but rarely are smiles returned. I don't understand it because we're all in the same boat. Or bus, as the case may be.
This man on the bus occasionally flirts with me. Though he's cute and funny, I'm sure I'll never date him. It's obvious he doesn't have a car.
The bus system is federally funded. It's common knowledge that it does not make the city money. Service is limited and when routes are changed, it appears to be done at the whim of city councilors and a director, who I'm sure have never ridden the bus.
Most of the drivers are courteous; some not. Those drive off before passengers, even the elderly, have sat down. If you're exiting and ask for a transfer, they berate you for not asking for one when you first got on. They will delay leaving a transfer point if they're in the middle of a cell phone call.
Passengers resign themselves to buses frequently fifteen to twenty minutes late. Although the cost to ride is fifty cents or less, passengers pay more they realize.
Sometimes I wish Montgomery would come to New Mexico.
“You know, Gwen, you are one of the few passengers I know who isn't a loser.”
A compliment, I think.
I still have not learned the schedules. I am at the local university and know that a bus passes by. By chance, I run into a man I've seen on the bus.
“Hi,” I say. “You ride the bus, right?”
He gives me that look I've received frequently when I attempt to make contact with others I know from the transit system. Still, he tells me yes.
I explain that I have to run a quick errand on campus and ask his help in determining if I will be able to make the next bus.
He explains the route.
I ask his name.
He hesitates, then tells me “Dick.”
“Well, thank you, Dick,” I say and head off.
Errand done, I wait at a bus stop along the route. Did I make it? My head looks this way, that. Finally, the bus appears. I get on.
“You made it.”
I turn and see Dick. He smiles.
I smile in return. “I did,” I tell him.
I find a seat by the window. The bus lurches forward and we're on our way.
A group of developmentally-delayed adults ride the buses from the group home to their places of employment and back. There is one, D_____, who is friendly as well as vocal. He announces businesses as we pass.
“Hastings. Walgreen's. There's McDonald's. Wal-mart.”
He announces the date.
“Today is Tuesday, July 13, 2004.”
“Today is Thursday, February 18, 2003,” a teenage kid tells him.
“No,” D________ protests. “It's Tuesday, July 13, 2004.”
“It's Saturday, December 15,” another kid says.
“Today is Tuesday, July 13,” D_________ demands.
The kid continue. D_______ ignores them, staring out the window. He pulls the cord as the bus nears his stop. When the bus pulls to the curb, he stands and makes his waydown the aisle.
“Goodbye, D______,” the boys tell him.
He says nothing, but just before he steps out the back door, he says, “Assholes.”
I laugh. I'm always on the lookout for material and that will have to somehow find its way into a story.
A position opens up at my former place of employment and I agree to fill in until someone is hired. I work eight hours daily; most times I'm too tired to jot down any words when I get off; still I remind myself it's temporary.
One day, I'm told the job is mine if I want it. I decline the job offer. I'm a writer now.
The only reason I would have taken the job would have been to purchase another car. I decide I'll continue to use the public bus system. After all, I'm trying to get somewhere.