Riding public transit during going-to-work and coming-home hours is pretty boring—at least if you live in Bountiful, UT. Passengers on those runs are predictable– men in suits and ties reading their scriptures, women in dresses avoiding eye contact with other passengers, university students with headphones zoning into worlds of their own.
To experience a Shakespearean breadth of characters, the bus must be boarded at less busy times—times when people ride to reach appointments other than daily work. Recently, when the bus pulled up at my stop,a young woman stood on the steps arguing with the driver. I reached around her to deposit my fare and sat on the nearest seat. The woman finally coughed up another dollar, plopped down beside me, and kept arguing with the driver. She was a Medicaid recipient and qualified for half-fare. The driver insisted she needed an official reduced rate punch card to receive the discount. Her Medicaid card was not sufficient. A mind-mannered young man holding a toddler sat across the aisle and tried to calm her down. Could they be together? She looked more the type to have a tattooed, bandana-wearing boy friend than this quiet fellow.
The woman continued to harass the driver. “Every other driver accepts my card. I’ve never had a problem before. How long have you been driving?” Had the driver been a Zen practitioner or had any training in dealing with irrational passengers, he would have ignored her and the trip would have been less interesting. But he argued back. “I’m only following orders. I don’t care what other drivers do. You need a punch card to get the discount.” His defensive voice inflamed her outrage like a splash of gasoline. “I’m taking your number and reporting you! You’ve got no f____ business over-charging me!”
With that outburst, the driver pulled over and ordered the woman off the bus. The young man with the child stood up, but the woman refused. “You can’t kick me off. I paid!” “You can’t swear on my bus. Get off!” “I’m not swearing now!” Arms folded against her chest, Ms Belligerent’s eyes dared the driver to touch her. My money would have been on Ms Belligerent if the driver had tried to bodily eject her. He must have felt the same way because he pulled back into traffic and proceeded towards Salt Lake. Ms B beamed in a flush of triumph until the driver picked up his phone. He spoke in a low voice and Ms Belligerent transformed into Ms Subdued. The toddler on Mr. Mild Manner’s lap dropped a pink purse on the floor. When Mr. Mild reached for the purse, he dropped his open soft drink. Brown, sticky liquid gushed from the can creating a sugary pond in the aisle. “You’ll get us in trouble,” his partner hissed as she opened a diaper back and handed him some wipes. Mr. M handed her the baby and mopped away at the floor until we reached Salt Lake where the driver pulled over and a security officer entered the bus and asked the former Ms Belligerant to come with him. Mr. M picked up the stroller and followed her off.
“What do you want to bet, those two are not legally married?” the women across from me speculated. I don’t know. If he was just a boy friend, he was probably rethinking the relationship. Anyway, their antics provided enough diversion to make me forget the sticky fluid under my feet until I tried to stand up at my stop and found my shoes stuck fast to the floor.
Charles Dickens got ideas for his novels while walking through the streets of London. Modern novelists can enjoy the parade of humanity from the relative comfort of a bus seat.