There is a great deal of construction going on near one of the bus stops I use to get home after work. The construction requires that I go a few minutes out of my way, which sometimes puts me in the path of a bus I could have used to get home if I’d arrived at the stop only five minutes earlier. This bus sometimes gets delayed by a red light, or a raised drawbridge. When this happens, I try to catch the driver’s eye. I look at him with great hope, pointing to myself and then the bus. Sometimes I hear myself make a noise like, “Eh?” If the driver-side window is open as I cross in front, I will say something like, “Can I hop on?” If the driver appears not to have heard, I’ll tap on the passenger door from the sidewalk, ask again, and express copious gratitude if allowed on. I recognize that the drivers are not supposed to let passengers on or off the bus outside of designated stops, but a guy can dream. I am almost always let on, except by this one guy. I know this guy sees me, but in the instant after he does he locks his eyes forward in a lazy sort of way, as if he isn’t purposefully avoiding me until the light turns green. When I tap on his door and ask if I can be let on, he keeps his eyes forward. Sometimes he sighs, which I imagine is the only acknowledgement I’ll get. Now, I’m a rule follower. Have been most of my life. When others around me break or bend the rules, I’m usually the one to express concern. I am the Chuckie Finster of my friend group, the obedient canary in the coal mines of anarchy. That metaphor may have stretched the rules of good writing, and for that I apologize. See? See that concern? I warned you.
Anyway, what happens with this driver is that as it becomes clear he’s a black belt at the blank forward stare, I continue on to the bus stop to wait for the next one. I’m pretty sure it’s gotten to the point where this driver recognizes me, and that after he sees me he makes a point of looking forward so he won’t have to accidentally acknowledge me. I may be wrong, but I imagine if he were to reply to my knocks with something like, “I can’t let you on here,” I’d understand and walk on just the same. He’s certainly under no obligation to acknowledge me, but that he doesn’t has taken these encounters to new levels for me. For a while, I imagined myself yelling something spiteful through the door like, “Not letting me on isn’t making you’re life any easier,” or a simple, “Poor, poor, unhappy man.” I have been miserable in jobs before, and I know the feeling. I remember the compassion and the human drama that snapped me out of my unhappiness and gave me that extra bit of patience or understanding I needed to get through a tough shift. In my more elevated, thoughtful moods I fantasize about saying something like, “You don’t have to let me on, but please don’t ignore me. It hurts.” I would mean it.
My point in telling this story is that during these episodes I feel wrapped up in the day-to-day drama of my life, the narrative of my life, or the narrative of the bus driver. I feel it as a narrative, which is a purposeful thing, something to be mulled over and responded to. An ultimately meaningless and occasionally forgettable interaction becomes potent. I don’t like these encounters. They make me feel small, like I am being bullied, which has always been an emotional trigger of mine. This is a negative thing. It’s what I can do with it that becomes a positive thing.
There are layers to this story, a story which you probably feel I have already oversold. First, there’s my desire to tell it. The more encounters I accrue with this driver, the more I want to talk about it. “Let me talk about this jerk-face,” I say. “What a jerk-face, right?” As I retell it, I become the petty one, clinging to the story, using it to make myself the hero, the victim, and these feelings creep into how I feel about it, that I am small, that I am demonstrating myself to be exactly the sort of person worthy of such an offense, someone who can’t understand or see things from the driver’s point of view. Perhaps he’s tired. Perhaps he’s unhappy. Perhaps he really doesn’t see me because his vision isn’t so great, or he can’t hear me because he’s hard of hearing, in which case maybe the city should rethink the minimum physical requirements to being a bus driver. What I think the most likely scenario is for the driver is: It hurts to say no to someone. He’s probably a rule follower, too, and it’s less psychic weight on him to feign obliviousness than to say no to someone who could then easily turn out to be an asshole. With assholes, he either absorbs their insults or gives in, becoming the victim. It can be a gamble, one he makes multiple times a day. I put him in a tough spot.
I see these things, and even through empathy I cannot escape my own place in the tale. I feel ignored, insignificant, inconvenienced by a person who could easily help me out during this dark period, this period of obstructed ambulation. (It’s really a small inconvenience, but big words make it seem more of a plight.)
And here is where the story springs from, the inability of the event to resolve itself. I enjoy narratives. Narratives provide the illusion of meaning to an often meaningless world. I told the story to my boyfriend, to a coworker. I told it to myself several times. I anticipate seeing the driver again, rehearse scenes in my head, devise fantasies in which I unleash a confident and well-delivered rebuke to him, shaming him into opening the doors. Other times I imagine my anger dragging me to the point where I have a profound realization about forgiveness and letting go of the little things. Basically these episodes wind up taking me somewhere. Which is what a bus does. Or can do, depending on whether or not you are at a bus stop in time, or passing a friendly driver. You get it.