I was waiting for a bus. I had two bags.

One was a carry-on with wallet, phone, iPod, keys, MacBook, manuscripts, Kindle, medication, and eyeglasses that I would hold on to dear possession unless my life was literally in the balance. The other contained my clothes and Dopp kit for a three day fun filled excursion to coordinate a move of all my, my wife, and three under aged ten children’s possessions from one apartment on the west side of Manhattan to another on the east side. It may as well have been a move from Pakistan to Somalia.

As I knew the 52-seater would inevitably fill to the brim with privileged geriatric complainers, I decided to stow my more substantial second bag in the bus’s bowels. I wanted to avoid having to jockey a position for the scarce overhead storage. It’s been my experience that a 68 year old woman from the greater New York area is more fearsome an opponent in a luggage scrum than the entire defensive line of the Chicago Bears. Fortunately, this was one of those fancy busses whose undercarriage compartments had those Delorean-esque doors that magically pop up with even the slightest exertion from a disillusioned 48 year old driver.

Despite a grizzled exterior that I’m told conveys a confident self-sufficiency; I readily admit that I have some borderline diagnosable psychological irregularities. One of which is that I don’t like to surrender any of my possessions without personally witnessing their secure stowage. Problem was the rush of humanity to get on to the bus blocked my ability to do so with bag #2. I was required to simply drop it in the general vicinity of the driver and take a leap of faith that he would take care of it.

I did.

The temperature outside was 98 degrees.  My iPhone informed me that in Central Park, it was 106. But inside the bus, it was Ice Station Zebra.

I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

And while my black Irish blood spritzed drizzle after drizzle of Erin go Bragh sweat down my forehead, neck and back in the noonday sun, the moment I stepped onto the bus, my teeth began to chatter.

Technically, I’m disabled. Not really, but I can always pull the artificial joint card if need be. Don’t ask me about it or you’ll hear far too many stories about the glory days of Western Pennsylvania High School football and of the importance of never playing a Prevent defense. With the bum knee, I like to sit in an interior seat so that my left leg can freely extend into the aisle of a plane, bus, movie theater, and even on occasion Church pew. The advantage of this necessity is that it requires a co-passenger to ask me “is anyone sitting there?” to avoid having to climb over me to get to the adjacent window seat. I’ve found that most people would rather sit next to the loo than have to ask a stranger to sit next to them.

But your Aunt Pearl didn’t mind climbing over me.

Once she did, she decided to sit plum against my right hand side. She hasn’t had much physical contact lately and my sweaty torso seemed to have a certain warmth and appeal to her. No matter how far I shifted to avoid her substantial press upon my upper thigh, I was foiled.

Back to my borderline psychological problems. I have intimacy issues. And physical contact beyond a very select group of people who have weathered years of subtle flinching from me is … let’s just say “disconcerting.”

So there I was. My abandoned luggage was probably still sitting on the curb outside of the old fashioned movie theater of the quaint little town where I go to “relax.” (If not already being picked through by the same Townies who sideswiped my car last fall). The 58 degree interior of the bus had made my autonomic nervous system kick in to protect my rapidly declining core temperature, signaling every major muscle in my body to contract. And despite numerous attempts to disengage from Aunt Pearl, she was having none of it.

After a two and a half hour ride worrying about stuff I should have thrown out long ago and running through my internal HOME and WORK to do lists, I got off the bus on 51st Street and Third Avenue. The driver opened the hatch and threw my old bag—the one that I got at my brother’s member guest golf tournament sixteen years ago—next to a Learning Annex newsstand, narrowly beyond a puddle of spilled lemonade or perhaps a puddle of something else.

I had many miles to go before I would open that last box and put away my daughter’s last dress up gown, but I knew I’d get it done.

When you gotta move… You move.

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  1. Steve Lovelace on August 26, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Wow, Shawn, this sounds very familiar. I’m always riding mass transit, and I get very nervous when people get too chummy on a crowded bus or train.

  2. Jeremy on August 26, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Shawn, look at all the spike strips Resistance threw in front of you while you were just getting on the stinkin’ bus. It would have been easy and much more comfortable to jump off, secure your bag, and tell your family the move is canceled. Maybe not that last one, but I bet you could have convinced yourself of it at the time. Good work, man.

    And Prevent defense sucks.

  3. David Y.B. Kaufmann on August 26, 2011 at 6:12 am

    A graphic description of the “traveler’s nightmare.” (Please, rail on against the Prevent Defense.) “Modern” transportation, including TSA peep & grope, reminds us just how far civilization still has to go. The horrors of 18th century travel tales have nothing on us – whether we go by plane, car or bus.

    • David Y.B. Kaufmann on August 26, 2011 at 6:14 am

      Addendum: You’re a brave man, to go through that without executing swift justice. TFS!

  4. tolladay on August 26, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I guess I have a different take on this. I regularly ride on public transportation in a town (LA) that openly loathes such conveyances. Since I work odd hours, I have often come home late in the evening when the busses start loading up with the mentally ill who have no where else to stay. Still I often run up against the most delightful of people, many of them visitors from another country who do not realize that our public transportation system is not anything like theirs.

    The heart of the issue is not arriving at your destination, or even the fat sweaty lady sitting next to you, it is one of control. On public transportation, you are not in control, and that is a scary feeling if you are under the illusion that you are.

    I like public transportation because when you are on it, you ride with a group, a team. Sure its an ad hoc team, and one in which you have no control over its membership or its formation., but still, for that moment you are a member never-the-less. While you are one this “team” you cannot be wrapped up only in your own junk, but have to actually pay attention to the needs of those around you. This is a good thing. This is what makes us human. Its just not easy to embrace.

    • Nicole Gibeaut on August 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm

      This reply touched my heart–what an amazingly enlightened view of both bus-riding and life, in general. I felt this viscerally, and it brought joy. Thank you.

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