Ticket to Ride
My First Foray
It was with a whiff of adventure that I set out all by myself to pick up household essentials. “You can catch the no.10 bus going to Wakarusa. Tasha goes there all the time and she says the store there has a lot of stuff,” daughter dear gave her well meaning advice, while feeling a little guilty that she wasn’t coming along. “No, I don’t want to go there,” I turned up my nose and scoffed at the idea, “that’s such a small store.” “Then you can cross the street and catch the no.10 going in the opposite direction.” “I think I’ll do just that,” I said, feeling more convinced each time I said it aloud. Yes, I’ve got the phone, taxi service number, money and yes, I’ve written down the address of the apartment.
I haven’t stepped into a bus since my college days, I thought nostalgically, wallowing in the memory of my salad days, when heady with new found independence I had insisted on taking the University Special to college, refusing, a tad rebelliously, my gentle father’s offer to be dropped to the campus by car. Now, without any of the three cars that I have at my disposal back home in Delhi, I started off, albeit with a little nervousness in my heart.
At other times and at other places in India as well as in different cities around the world, it had always been taxis or maybe, a tourist bus for a sightseeing trip. But I reminded myself that we had, sometimes, taken bus no.74 in London from Earl’s Court to Marble Arch and what fun it used to be to sit in the red double decker and watch the world from such a vantage point. So I would manage just fine, I assured myself.
“Make a list and go and get what you need. Get a thermometer, nose drops, Campbell’s chicken soup ...” and other ingredients that will ensure good health and well being – this was friend Khuku’s friendly advice because daughter dear was unwell with fever and a cold, having crumbled under the strain of initiation to the American education system. We hadn’t packed a thermometer because we thought it could be considered a potential weapon and nose drops because it fell under the dangerous category of liquids, flammable or otherwise. Thus, only the back of my hand on her brow served to gauge whether her temperature was higher than normal. Which my doctor father had always told us with restrained irritation was the most inaccurate way of trying to find out whether someone had a fever.
So at my back though I didn’t hear ‘Time’s winged chariot’, I heard friend Khuku admonishing me, “Remember, even the glass won’t move if you don’t pick it up.” Chastened, I tried to keep in mind that here you are meant to be a one woman army, who had to do everything under the sun and marched off faithfully to the supermarket, armed with a copy of the shopping list my friend had taken care to email.
Ticket to Ride
The bus came a few minutes after the scheduled time. I climbed in and with a sense of importance, flashed a twenty dollar bill and asked for a ticket. I wanted to go to the big store, I explained. The young man driving the bus told me how to get there. No.10 to Downtown, and then no.7. Meanwhile, I kept looking for the conductor but couldn’t find him. “It’ll be a dollar.” I flashed the twenty dollar bill again. “I’m sorry but we don’t give change. You have to put in the exact amount in the glass box here.” By now my face had fallen and I was visibly disappointed after all the preparations I had made. “Then how will I travel with you?” I asked crestfallen. Unfazed, the young driver told me with a smile, “You can pay the next time.” “But how will I find this very bus?” I asked. My confusion stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know then that the same buses go around on circular journeys in the same route. “The next time you can pay a dollar extra for today,” the young man continued. “But I have to come back also,” by now I had started dithering. “When you pay your bill at the store, you can ask them for change,” the young gentleman had a solution for all my problems.
I was so touched by his gesture and his trust that I would pay the next time. As simple as that. Nowhere in the world could I have experienced this, I thought humbly, as I settled down in the window seat to enjoy the sights and sounds of small town Lawrence – a picturesque university town.
The bus meandered through the beautiful university campus as the driver called out the name of every stop. No pushing, no jostling, each passenger waited patiently outside till the person inside disembarked. There was no hurry, no rush. I had to change buses at Downtown. The friendly young driver gave me a transfer ticket – all within the dollar fare (which I hadn’t even paid) – and guided me to bus no.7 which finally dropped me to my destination.
I bought all the items on the list and so many more, delighted at the opportunity to stock up my sparse larder. “I better take a taxi back,” I decided, looking at the packets and packets I had collected by then. When I called the taxi service, I was quite shocked when the voice at the other end informed me that it would be at least an hour before they could send me a cab. Unlike in many metros one couldn’t hail a passing taxi, I thought ruefully, as I started my trek back to the bus stop. My problem still remained. I had paid by card and had intended to take a taxi, so once again, I was stuck without change. Again, unlike other metros, there weren’t small kiosks around where one could buy something small and get change.
Deeply embarrassed, I once again explained my problem to the lady driver of no.7 and offered the infamous twenty dollar bill and was again told very kindly that it was all right and I could pay the next time. She also gave me the transfer ticket for the next bus. It was unbelievable.
At Downtown, there were a lot of people waiting for their respective transfers and in that confusion as I walked up to the no.10, for some reason it didn’t notice me and drove off. “Oh no, now I’ll have to wait for an hour for the next bus or for the taxi.” Either way I was stuck. But my good luck hadn’t ended. The lady driver of bus no.7 had noticed no.10 driving off without me. She saw me struggling with all my shopping and came out of her bus to tell me that I should go and sit in the small white bus and the Supervisor would drop me to my destination. “Too good to be true,” I thought, as I trundled into the bus with my packets of various shapes and sizes.
“You know, I’m actually glad the no.10 didn’t stop for me,” I said chirpily to the Supervisor at the end of the ride. He had asked me where I was headed and dropped me not only at my destination but also right outside the apartment. He, on his part, gallantly insisted that as he was the boss, he could stop the bus anywhere, perhaps feeling bad about the heavy bags I had to carry.
I made several trips after this, both to Wakarusa and towards Downtown and became a regular on no.10. And more often than not, the driver was the same young man. Thus started my friendship with James, as I was to discover his name was. He became my teacher before he became my friend. Now I would always make sure I had a dollar bill ready before I boarded the bus. I also learnt that I had to put it in the glass box myself before trudging off and plonking myself on the seat. I couldn’t hand it to the driver – “We’re not supposed to touch the money” – was the gentle but strict admonishment from my teacher. I learnt to be patient. I was not supposed to jump up from my seat while the bus was in motion. Rather, wait till the bus came to a halt before moving out from my seat. There was always enough time. It wasn’t like a busy metropolis where everyone is in a tearing hurry to get somewhere. When I had too many packets to carry, James would always pick up some and help me get off the bus. “Are you sure you can manage from here?” he would ask gently and advised me to get a folding cart. On one occasion, I left the shopping cart next to the bus stop. Without telling me to do anything, he got out off the bus and turned the cart on its side so that, as he explained to me, if the wind was strong it wouldn’t roll off the slope and land on the road causing unsuspecting motorists to crash into it.
In my conversations after boarding the bus and before disembarking, I always had plenty of questions as to how I would get to a particular destination and more importantly, get back home. James always went beyond his duty as driver to chalk out the route and the transfers, which information was available in the bus schedules, but that which I had not yet been able to ferret out despite the growing collection at home. I particularly remember one time when we had to visit the real estate agent and daughter dear threatened to make me walk from Meadowbrook after a short bus ride – James came to my rescue and suggested that we take a transfer to another bus, which would make it a kinder walk for me in the sweltering afternoon heat.
Thus, in the weeks that followed, I learnt little lessons every day which I might not have learnt in this pleasant manner in a big city where one is just another faceless passenger rushing to her place of work or going wearily back home at the end of the day.
James would often ask if I was enjoying being in the US. We chatted about my experiences in America, about India, about the weather and about this and that. Most of the regular passengers on this route knew him well and he would always have a friendly word for each one of them.
On my birthday I was to meet daughter dear at the university and we were to continue to Encore in Downtown for dinner. James asked me where I was headed, maybe a little surprised that I was going away from Kasold that late in the day and not in my usual grocery shopping garb. He gave me directions as to how to reach there. He also informed me that that day was his last on route no.10. He would be driving bus no.29 from the next day onwards.
I was sad when I said goodbye to him. I knew my bus trips would never be the same again.
© 2015 Tillie's Tales