Volume 26, Number 2

Bus Route

Derald Hamilton

Snowy-haired coach operator Wilbur Suggins took a pill bottle from the breast pocket of his light blue uniform shirt, shook out a Prozac and gulped it as he approached the Operations dispatch window. Feral Area Rapid Transit (F.A.R.T for short) bus drivers, dispatchers—like Joel Higgins, who was putting away his own pill bottle as Wilbur approached—and others on the lower end of the organization’s hierarchical spectrum were commonly prescribed psychotropics like Paxil and Prozac.

“Wilbur,” Joel said, “George wants to have a word with you before your route. And just so you’ll be prepared,” he added as Wibur took his pouch of defect cards, day passes, and operations cards, “George appeared to be kind of pissed off at you.”

Wilbur sighed. Conferences with road supervisors were never pleasant experiences since they rarely seemed inclined to give any of the drivers an “Atta boy.” But even the tiniest of slip-ups and a driver could always be assured of catching hell. Today would be no exception.

Wilbur, after twenty-five years with F.A.R.T., had become a beleaguered husk of a man who sported a noticeable paunch, drooping shoulders and a receding hairline bordering a face that was starting to assume the visage of a sodden pie, clearly the product of progressive company seasoning. He stepped out into the yard and was met by George Mason, a diminutive man whom Wilbur swore had a Napoleon complex.

“Wilbur!” George said sharply. “I’ve got a bone to pick with you!”

“Why am I not surprised?” Wilbur responded, his voice heavy with resignation.

“This is serious!” George assured him.

“Do you see me smiling?” Wilbur asked.

George swigged from a crusted bottle of Maalox. While anxiety and depression plagued drivers, mechanics and dispatchers, at the other end of the spectrum, up to and including the CEO, pharmaceuticals centered on palliative drugs such as Maalox and Milk of Magnesia.

George jammed the bottle in his pocket. "Okay! Enough with the sarcasm! I’m not going to fool around with you, so here’s the bottom line. Our records clearly indicate that for the past week you’ve been running behind schedule. In fact, we noticed this trend going over into the previous weeks as well. So I’m here to tell you to get on the stick. Customer service is critical, and it is absolutely necessary that, if we are to maintain a high quality of customer service, punctuality is essential."

"Look," Wilbur retorted, "I drive the longest route we have, extending from one end of the county to the other. It’s a ten-hour shift, sometimes longer. And you know as well as I do that every type of humanity boards that bus, so you never know what you’re going to get from one day to the next. You also don’t know what’s going to happen during the shift or how much time it’s going to take to deal with the situations I encounter, like the time a passenger pulled out a knife and held it to my throat. How the hell can I maintain a schedule with something like that happening?"

"Our goal here is to enhance our customer service," George replied with the inflection of someone who was reading from a Transit handbook.

"Well, that all depends on what type of customers I’m called upon to service," Wilbur retorted. "So don’t give me that baloney."

"Okay. Have it your way, but I’m giving you fair warning. We’re stepping up the number of periodic spot checks, and you will be graded on your punctuality. If you can’t maintain it at least to a fair degree, a report will be filed, and you will have to go before a board and possibly be issued a personnel record entry."

"Noted. And I’ll make sure I keep an even more extensive occurrence listing in my logbook. You guys handle the paperwork on your end, and I’ll handle it on mine. Now let me get to my route. At least I can start that on time.”

And with that riposte, Wilbur brought the interview to an end, pledging to himself that two years from now, he would celebrate his retirement by telling George to stuff it.

The day began as usual, until after a few stops, a man with a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck and shoulders boarded and explained, when Wilbur protested, "This is my service animal. Like a guide dog, you know."

Will this sort of nonsense never end? Wilbur asked himself as the snake greeted him with what appeared to be a warning hiss.

"I don’t care," Wilbur said. "You will not bring that snake on board this bus."

"Snake!" a woman cried. "There’s a snake on board!"

Once those words had been uttered, panic and chaos ensued.

"See," said Wilbur. "You’re scaring the passengers."

"That’s their problem!" the man retorted. "I know my rights! I can bring a service animal on board this bus! Regulations say I can. Now, would you get rolling! I’ve got an appointment at the welfare office!"

"Not with that snake, I won’t! I’m radioing Dispatch and reporting this right now!"

The dispatcher, however, proved not to be cooperative. "Well," she said, "if it’s a service animal, then what’s the problem?"

"I’m not driving with a snake on board!" Wilbur shouted. "You hear that in the background? There’s passengers in a state of panic, just like me!" He left his mic open for a few extra seconds so Dispatch could hear the shouting.

"Let him on board and proceed with your route.”

"No way! I’m dialing the police!"

"You realize I’m going to have to report your actions to the road supervisor," the dispatcher replied in the tone of one offering, if not solace, at least a way out.

"Well, you just go ahead and make your friggin’ report!" Wilbur snarled. "I am not driving this coach with a snake on board, especially a snake that size!"

"I’m going to report this!" the man hollered. "I want your badge number!"

Wilbur flashed his badge fixed on his lapel at the man. "Go ahead and report it!" he said. "That’ll make you and Dispatch that I’ll have to deal with."

"And me," a thin-faced man with a crown of black hair that looked suspiciously like a cheap toupee announced, coming forward, "I’m making a report, too. Seeing that snake made me wet my pants. At the very least, F.A.R.T. should pay for the cleaning bill." Of course everyone’s eyes went to his wet pants when he said this, and the man blushed, but he continued to stand there complaining. Wilbur was silently thankful the man was a straphanger, so he didn’t have to deal with a soiled coach seat.

An eternity seemed to pass before the police arrived and convinced the snake man that he could be charged with endangerment, service animal or not. Wilbur managed to get the coach rolling again only to find a road supervisor waiting for him at the next stop, demanding to know why he was late and informing him that he was going to file a report. Four reports already, Wilbur thought, and the day’s not even half over.

At one time, as an ambitious and forward-looking youth, Wilbur had harbored aspirations of serving the public and climbing the corporate ladder, marking his beginnings as a bus driver, noting such a position as being one of the best ways to achieve that end. And although he saw a number of his colleagues advance in this manner, it was not long before he realized that he was not be among those anointed ones, not because of his lack of excellence as a bus driver, but because he lacked the one element that was essential for the success in climbing the corporate ladder of F.A.R.T.—mainly connections. As a result, Wilbur had maintained his position at the bottom most tier as both driver and wage slave. He may have dreamed of greener pastures, but in reality, these supposed nirvanas remained exceedingly nebulous. After twenty-five years of slow, painful disillusionment, Wilbur Suggins, with the help of psychotropic drugs and mellowing attitude, was coming close to drawing the ultimate Voltarian conclusion, a pragmatic concept that stipulated, in the words of Candide, that “we must cultivate our garden” in lieu of the Leibnizian mantra of Pangloss, “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

After a few more stops the coach was filled to near brim capacity, at which point, a drunk came on board and staggered to the back of the coach jostling practically every passenger who had the misfortune to occupy an aisle seat or a standing position. As he reached the back, the bus began to move, causing the intoxicated gentleman to throw up, much to the distress of every passenger in his immediate proximity, some of whom retaliated by proceeding to pummel him. Once again chaos ensued.

To address this situation, Wilbur needed to perform two functions almost simultaneously. First, he needed, once again, to wire law-enforcement to quell the riot taking place, and second, he needed to down the coach and wire minor maintenance to send out a replacement, all of which would require him to draw up a defect card labeling the reason for the coach shut down as "a hot lunch."

After an indeterminate time had elapsed, Wilbur, equipped with a new coach, was once again back on the road. But at the next designated stop, a road supervisor was waiting for him, leaning against the F.A.R.T. stop signpost clutching a clipboard while his gaudy tie flapped in the breeze. Wilbur set the emergency brake and disembarked from the coach. "Mr. Suggens," the supervisor said, "you are not even half finished with your shift and already you have fallen close to two hours behind in your schedule. This is inexcusable. I’m going to have to file a report on this."

"That’ll make five so far today," Wilbur told him dolefully. "I take it you make no allowance for extenuating circumstances?"

"That will be left for the committee to decide."

"Okay, fine. As I told one of your colleagues at the beginning of my shift, you take care of the paperwork from your end, and I’ll take care of it from mine."

"I also intend to take note of your attitude."

"You do that, and I challenge you to maintain a cheerful disposition having gone through what I’ve gone through today," Wilbur said defiantly, his bile rising.

"My records say that you’ve been a bus driver for twenty-five years," the supervisor noted, tapping on the clipboard. "Seems to me you ought to be able to take care of any kind of incident and still keep to your schedule by now."

"Mister, you can go fuck yourself!" Wilbur told him. "On this route, I should be getting combat pay!" And upon mouthing those sentiments, Wilbur turned abruptly and proceeded to board his coach and take another Paxil. For a second he had to pause and think. Prozac in the left pocket, Paxil on the right. As his coach pulled away from the curb, Wilbur glimpsed the supervisor taking medication of his own.

The enthusiasm with which drugs of various sort were used at F.A.R.T. accounted for a good many visits by teams of paramedics who could not have been blamed had they assumed that they were being utilized almost exclusively by F.A.R.T. But if synergy was ever to be achieved, it was clear perhaps at an earlier period in F.A.R.T.’s history that might have been accomplished by way of a lobotomy.

When Wilbur resumed his route, it only took a few stops until his coach was filled standing room only. Again, Wilbur took in a deep breath to steady himself, this time inhaling a peculiar aroma. Marijuana, he thought. I’m going to have to wire the police again. But before he could do so, a lady passenger shrieked out, "Pervert!" and in the rearview mirror Wilbur saw her swat the man next to her hard with her purse. Given the close proximity of the passengers, there was no chance that the conflict that followed between the lady and the alleged perpetrator could be confined to just the two of them. And so it was, once again, that a riot broke out in Wilbur’s coach.

"Again?" the police dispatcher said wearily. "I swear, we get more calls from that line than all the other F.A.R.T. lines combined. What is it this time?"

"A riot and a weed smoker. Better request backup."

When two black-and-whites that had been in the vicinity arrived on the scene, one of the patrolmen said to Wilbur, "This is your third call today. Can’t you keep better control of your passengers?"

"Can I control a hurricane?" Wilbur retorted.

"Point taken." The patrolman then turned to his colleagues. "Joe, Frank, you go around to the back entrance. Sid and I will take the front."

Seeing the officers, the irate woman who had started the rumpus called out, "It’s this man, officer! Arrest him!"

"It was an accident, officer!" the man in question protested. "It’s so crowded in here that …"

"Liar!" the woman shouted. "You were taking advantage of the crowded bus in order to play touchy-feely!"

"Why, you lying old cow!" the man hollered back. "You only wish I’d managed to make it."

Incensed, the woman whacked him with her purse one more time.

"All right! Hold it!" one of the officers shouted. "Did anyone here see what happened?"

A number of people spoke up simultaneously. Most were not able to give a clear description but thought they would give it a try anyway. Meanwhile, at the front of the coach, two other officers were quick to hone in on a zoned-out passenger who, apparently unfazed by the chaos taking place around him, was displaying a lit reefer on a roach clip. The ensuing body search found him to be in possession of ten additional reefers along with a number of other narcotics.

They cuffed the man, read him his rights then placed him in the squad car. Officer Sid came back and spoke to Wilbur. "I’ll say one thing for you," he said. "When you report an incident, you report an incident. This is number three, thus far. How many more do you anticipate?"

"I don’t know," Wilbur replied. "The day’s still young,” which was, in fact, the case, since the police, unable to quiet the molested female, cuffed both her and the perpetrator of the assault on her virtue.

"I know you’ve got a few hours left on your shift, but try to stay out of trouble," the last officer to leave remarked.

"No promises," Wilbur replied. "I’m just along for the ride. Which reminds me—I ain’t even had time to take a lunch break." He wired Dispatch for purposes of scheduling a break but was instructed to stay on duty.

During the remainder of his shift, Wilbur had a run-in with some rival gangbangers who staged a knife fight, a flasher, a man with a boom box who refused to turn it down and a lady with a bird inside a bird cage that somehow managed to get out and fly about the coach sporadically, releasing bird droppings on certain passengers.

After a full twelve hours, Wilbur’s shift finally ended. He drove his coach back to the yard and wearily ambled to the Operations building, so encumbered with logbook, pouch, and packet that it was necessary for him to measure every aching step. Just before reaching the operations building, he ran into road supervisor George Mason.

"You’re the last of the forty-one liners," George snapped as he looked up at Wilbur. "And you’re over two hours late reporting in. That is not acceptable. I’m definitely going to have to put you on report, and I hope for your sake you have a good defense prepared when you appear before the committee because you’re definitely going to need one." He tried to chug some antacid, shook the bottle hopefully and then tossed it at the trashcan and missed.

Wilbur handed George his daily occurrence log. Today, its thickness tended to resemble that of War and Peace.

"Here," said Wilbur. "I expect a copy of this to go to my union. And if they don’t feel they’re up to the task of handling my defense, then we’ll just turn it over to the Department of Labor Relations. Meantime, after what I’ve been through today, I’m in no mood for your autocratic B.S."

"Keep up that attitude, and I’ll see you get written up for insubordination as well."

"Keep addressing me in that tone, and I’ll see you get the chance to file an assault charge from a hospital bed," Wilbur said. He went to turn in his pouch to Dispatch and clock out for the day. He had a rendezvous with his bed that would be all too fleeting before his next shift in the morning. Besides, something told him that it was time for him to take a Prozac.