by Derek Shuffield
I hate riding the bus.
First there’s the smell. Every bus somehow contains the smell of hours of physical labor mashed together with greasy McDonald’s food and indigestion. Even after you get over the stench, there’s still the noise. Children fighting and parents scolding, some headphones blaring music that Satan himself must have created while someone else is screaming incoherently into a phone.
I stood staring blankly into oncoming traffic hoping to see that massive vehicle with my number on it: 22. My bus was ten minutes late and the next scheduled bus arrived in another ten minutes— I had to catch that one to get to work on time.
I took my eyes off the road and looked over at the no-name gas station across the street. There was only one car there and a pack of cigarettes would be lovely.
What the hell, I had ten minutes. That’s plenty of time to run in, grab a pack and run back out.
When I got there only one lady was standing at the counter.
“Ok, for daily numbers, give me 2-2-2, 3-3-3, 4-4-4, 5-5-5, 6-6-6, 7-7-7, 8-8-8, 9-9…”
Jesus Christ, I thought. This may take a while. The cashier stood looking just as confused as I did punching in numbers into a register.
“And for the Big 4, give 1-2-3-4, 4-5-6-7, 8-9-1-0, 1-1-1-2, and 7-7-7-7. And for the Treasure Hunt I want 10-20-30-40-50, 11-22-33-44-55, and 12-23-34-45-56. For the Mega Six…”
Fantastic. I’d seen this before. Due to my smoking habits, I’m no stranger to gas stations and to lotto freaks. I shouldn’t even say freaks, most of the people who buy lottery tickets have some reason. Old ladies trying to pass the time are the usual buyers, followed by your blue collar workers just trying to make a few extra bucks so they can get that special something they can’t seem to save up for. But she was neither of these. She was the unpredictable kind—the kind that begins buying lottery tickets the day they turn 18 just because they can.
It’s easy to tell how old a lotto freak is, especially the unpredictable kind. All you have to do is see how long they can continue to spout out the same numbers they have been saying for years. The older the lottery player is, the more numbers they will be reciting because God knows that if one day you don’t play that one set of numbers, it’s gonna be the day that those numbers were worth a few million bucks. If she didn’t shut up soon, she’d be 45.
I looked at my watch. I had seven minutes til the next bus arrived. I began to tap my foot and the lady paused in the middle of reciting her Mega Millions numbers and turned to me.
“Are you waiting to buy gas?” she said, wiping some of the stray strands of hair out of her face.
“Just cigarettes, but—“
“Oh, ok. Well for Mega Million I want…”
For Christ’s sake, woman. When she finally finished with her numbers she paid, took her tickets and began to make small talk with the cashier.
“Where are you from, honey?” she began to ask, swaying her weight from one over-burdened leg to the next.
“Pack of menthols?” he asked me cutting her off. He knew what I wanted and that I was in a hurry. I was in this gas station all the time.
I nodded my head as he went to reach for my smokes.
“I’m originally from North Carolina, and whereabouts are you from?” he asked her back as he grabbed the pack and handed it to me.
“Ah, I’m from Pittsburg, but I wish I was from the South. You know, we may have a tough history with the South, but with the good Lord’s help, it’s a place many of us can call home now.”
I handed him my cash and said not to worry about change, and jumped towards the door.
There it went by.
“Ah, hun, did you just miss your bus?” Miss Lotto asked me.
I told her I did and it was my last chance to get to work on time.
“Well I know the feeling. Come with me. I’ll help you catch it.” Her face was shining with pride.
She shoved all the tickets into her purse and started out the door in a panic.
I opened the passenger door to her sedan and hopped in. As I buckled up I started to search for my bus money so that when we caught the 22 I could make a quick transition from car to bus.
“Oh, don’t you even think about it hun,” the woman said. “I won’t take your money. I don’t normally do this sort of thing. But you know what, the good Lord blessed me so I want to bless you.”
I tried to hide my surprise and look grateful as the car jerked forward and careened onto the road.
“Hold on now,” Miss Lotto said looking at me. “We’re gonna catch this thing.”
As she straightened onto the road, I watched the speedometer climb from the speed limit of 25mph to 45. Miss Lotto jerked the car to the left. I looked out my window and saw the double yellow. The speedometer began climbing up as two cars on our right fell behind us. Our car swerved back into the correct lane of traffic just as oncoming cars began to blare their horns in shock and horror.
We flew down the road at 60 mph. I prayed there were no school zones between us and the bus.
I closed my eyes and tried to picture anything that wasn’t moving as fast as I was. Snails, sloths, and California traffic danced for me as I felt the brakes being applied.
“There it is, hun!” Miss Lotto said. I opened my eyes and it was only three cars in front of us stopped at a red light. As we pulled up to the light and I slid my buckle off and wiped the sweat off of my forehead in one swift motion.
“No! It will turn green! We’ll catch it at the next one,” she said. She pulled into the turning lane and clenched both the steering wheel and her jaw preparing for what she seemed to be picturing as the drag race of the millennium. The light turned green and she bolted past the rest of the cars and the bus.
I really wanted one of my cigarettes.
“So do you work around here?” she asked casually.
“If I make it there alive—“
“Well, praise the Lord! Lots of people don’t have jobs right now.”
With a radiant smile and glowing proud eyes she began to scan the road for the next bus stop. When she found it, she slammed the brakes. I jumped out of the car, thanked her and stood at the stop holding out my money.
The bus never even slowed down.
“Get back in, we got this!”
I hopped in, buckled up, pulled on the buckle to make sure it was nice and secure and she took off again honking the whole time. Within seconds we were on the bus’s tail.
The 22 stopped at a red light to let someone off the bus. Miss Lotto drove right past the bus and the red light, stopped her car, and put it in park. I couldn’t believe it. We were holding up traffic coming from every direction.
I thanked her again, got out of the car and ignored the blaring horns as I ran up to the bus blocked in by Miss Lotto’s sedan.
Brakes screeched and people started screaming from every direction. I hurried toward the bus trying to look only at the pavement beneath my feet. Once I got to the bus door I knocked on it a few times before it opened.
The driver glared down at me. I looked around me at the people on the bus. All eyes were on me.
“Just pay already, kid,” the driver said.
I stumbled onto the bus, took the two dollars back out of my pocket and fed them to the money machine. Turning my head toward the aisle I was met by those familiar smells and sounds that can only exist on public transportation. I made the walk of shame to an empty seat, put on headphones, cranked some Satan music, and began to stretch out my hands. The harsh stares began to subside as the bus began to drive again. I was one of the people on the bus I hated now. And I didn’t even care. I was gonna make it to work on time. And I was gonna get there with a fresh pack of smokes.
Photo courtesy of SEPTA <http://article.wn.com/view/2014/02/19/February_18_2014_A_SemiCentennial_of_Service_SEPTA_Celebrate/>
No copyright infringement intended.