Twenty-two tonight. Not the most interesting route to run, but at least part of the ride had a nice view of the Hudson. He started the engine and watched in amusement as a light snow drifted through the glow of the headlights.
“This stop: Dallius Street and Hamilton Street,” a woman’s voice blared.
“Yeah, I know,” he mumbled. You got used to the automatic GPS-based announcements after a while, but you never quite got to like them.
He shifted into drive and pulled out of the lot. Five or so people were waiting across the street at the Greyhound station. He pulled up, put on a grin, and rolled open the doors.
They piled on to the usual clink of quarters and beep of the computer counting the number of fares they had paid. He counted, too: three nods in return to his greetings, and one full smile and “hello”—a record for the strangers at the Greyhound station. He shut the door as they spread themselves thin across the seats.
“Next stop: Broadway station,” the voice spoke.
Broadway station—a university stop. College kids are even worse than the Greyhound strangers; they get on in groups, sit in the back in groups, and get off in groups, the whole time trying their hardest to pretend they’re not actually using public transportation.
There probably wouldn’t be anyone there this late on a Wednesday night, though. He was surprised as he turned the corner to see a single blonde figure sitting under the shelter, and as the doors slid open, he let his eyebrows rise a little at just what a nice figure it was.
“Twenty-two!” he said as she climbed aboard. She dropped in her fare and moved to one of the open seats in the front.
“Next stop: State Street and James Street.”
Finally, a stop for locals and maybe some friendly noise to muffle the empty sound of the heaters.
He readied his smile again. “Twenty-two!”
Six clinks and a beep; another occupied seat in the back. A swipe of a fare card and another beep.
A third set of clinks. “Hey, Mike,” he greeted. “How’s it goin’?”
“Eh, same old, same old. But man, what’s up with this weather?”
He chuckled. “I dunno, man. But they told me next month it’ll be April, so maybe somethin’ll happen.”
The rider laughed in response and took a seat near the middle.
The bus rounded the corner onto Pearl Street, probably the only part of the city that was lit up at night. As if in tribute to the bars lining the road, the computerized voice always seemed to have a bit of difficulty with its next line.
“Next stop: Pearl Street and…” It remained silent for a moment, as if trying to summon the presence of mind it needed to get the next part right. Then it blurted out the same thing it always did, something that sounded more like “mushroom” than “Van Tromp” but was meant to be the latter.
The bus came to a stop and two men stumbled aboard.
“Twenty-two,” he offered, but his usual enthusiasm was stifled by the alcohol-heavy air that entered with them; he never liked dealing with drunks. He watched them warily in the mirror as they plopped themselves down across from the blonde.
He closed the doors and continued on. A moment later he heard a slow whistle from behind him, and in his mirror he saw one of the drunks eyeing up the college girl.
“You’re preeety,” the drunk slurred.
One of the people in the back from the Greyhound station pulled the cord, triggering the earsplitting ring of a requested stop. Another discretely slipped in a pair of headphones.
“Heey,” the drunk insisted, louder this time, “you’re preeeety.”
The blonde continued staring intensely out into the dark city.
“Hey!” the drunk began again, but he was interrupted by another of the Greyhound passengers.
“Stop,” the other man said. “Look, she’s not interested.”
The driver breathed a sigh of relief, but the drunk was not deterred.
“Hey, man… sstay out of it,” he retaliated. He turned to eye the African-American man who had spoken up, and after a moment of thought, something seemed to click in his head. “Aww, man!” he bellowed. “We got Barack Obama on here! Look at thisss guy!”
“Alright!” The driver knew he had to step in. “Tune it down now, or get off my bus.”
“Next stop,” the woman’s voice said, “county lot.”
The bus rolled to a stop, and the passenger in the back got off. The drunks made their way off, too, the loud one punching the door on his way and muttering something about “talking to a round-bottomed blonde”.
As the bus pulled away, the blonde turned around and thanked the man behind her who had spoken up. The driver heaved another relieved sigh as he watched them disappear in his rear-view mirror.
“Next stop: Broadway and North Ferry Street.”
“Twenty-two!” the driver said as the doors opened.
“Hi,” replied a mother ushering her two little girls ahead of her. She stopped to drop in their fare, missing the bill slot a few times as she watched her kids. “No, ‘Kesha, sit in the front. Right there.”
She sat down next to them as the bus returned to motion. A moment later, she rolled her eyes in disgust as her phone rang. “Hello?” she answered, not hiding her exasperation. “Yeah. We just got on the twenty-two. Yeah. My battery’s dying, so I’ll talk to you later— Huh? Sure.”
She turned to the girl at her side and handed her the phone. “Here, ‘Kesha, it’s your daddy.”
“Hello? Daddy? Whatcha doin’, Daddy?” A moment’s silence. “Daddy?”
“Is it dead?” the mother asked. Then, when the girl didn’t answer, “give it to me.” She took the phone and looked at it, then put it to her ear. “Hey, my battery’s dead. She’ll call you back later.”
“Next stop: Broadway and Lawn Avenue.” Another earsplitting electric bell rang out, and the bus pulled to a stop. Two of the Greyhound passengers and the guy named Mike stepped out into the snow.
The bus continued on with the sound of the heaters only occasionally interrupted by the children’s babbling or the mother’s admonitions.
“Next stop,” the voice persisted, “Broadway and Price Chopper.” The mother and her girls departed.
With them gone, the bus went on for a stretch in silence. The driver started and rolled his eyes: on a quiet bus, the stop request bell is even more loud and obnoxious.
“Next stop: Broadway and Thirteenth Street.”
Cool, he thought. Almost there. The two locals nodded as they got off, the first acknowledgment he’d gotten in a while. “Have a good one,” he said, and pulled away.
A few streets later, he turned to cross the river, and the bell rang again.
“Next stop: Ferry Street and Fourth Street.”
Another of the Greyhound passengers stepped out into the city. The driver looked back as the doors closed. Just one more of them and the blonde, still staring out the window.
“Next stop: Fourth Street and Fulton Street,” the voice alerted. The bus pulled to a stop, and the last two passengers stood to get off. The driver nodded to the blonde as she stepped down.
“Thanks,” said the other Greyhound passenger, shooting the driver a smile as he walked past.
“No problem,” the driver replied. “Stay warm out there.”