(an excerpt from my book…to learn more about it, click above on “ABOUT ME” )
“Do you go anywhere near Hollywood and Schrader?” I ask the driver of the bus that’s just stopped in front of me at Venice Beach. It’s not the one I’ve been waiting for, but the sun is sinking low and I’ve decided to explore alternatives.
“I go along Venice,” he says.
“Well, I was hoping to catch the number ten, but I’ve been waiting forty-five minutes for it, and-”
“-and you’ll be waiting another forty-five,” he says, smiling. “Get on. We’ll figure something out.”
Though small-built, I quickly discover, the driver can take care of himself.
“Don’t put that in,” he warns a big man in a lime green trench coat, getting ready to slip a token into the fare box for a less costly Venice bus service. The guy takes his chances, drops in the token, and makes his way to the back of the bus.
Which isn’t going anywhere.
“Don’t try me!” the driver shouts with a ferocity which I would have been unable to imagine only a minute before. “I’ll call them!”
Whoever “them” is, this is all the man needs to hear. Grumbling something about how he’s not intimidated, he gets off the bus
“I see you’ve got an easy job,” I say.
“It’s always interesting,” the driver says, his voice suddenly calm again, and now reflective. “There are days. Like someone gets up in the morning and decides the only thing they’re going to do today is drink on my bus.”
Or maybe stab or shoot another passenger. He’s seen that happen, too. Fortunately, as this particular ride inches along, speed made impossible by the responsibility of loading up every few blocks, not to mention the renowned snail’s pace of LA traffic, tonight’s passengers just want to get where they’re going.
“And ho w are you doing tonight?” the driver asks one of his regulars.
“Happy Valenti ne’s Day,” says another as he boards.
The driver’s life ha s covered a lot of ground. Time in the Marines. A weakness for billiards. And the proud owner of a Green Bay Packers’ jersey, a gift his rookie NFLer son has just given him upon scoring his first career touchdown.
As for the difficult patrons, he likes most of them fine. Sure, with ones like the guy who’d tried to stiff him with the bad token, sometimes “them,” meaning the sheriff, has to be called in. But he’s seen the sheriff get unduly rough, so sometimes when he radios in to report a problem passenger, he gives a location a couple of intersections away. “It gives the passenger the opportunity to recant. Or at least, they can get off before we reach the sheriff.”
“Don’t you have air conditioning?” demands the passenger beside me, an older man with wrinkled hands, a goatee and a cane. He looks ahead vacantly like a blind man, but his eyes are strong, deep blue, and focused, and he seems not at all helpless.
The driver gets the air conditioning going. I haven’t noticed a need for it, but now that it’s on, it’s welcome.
“You should have already had it on,” the passenger says.
“Someone just told me it was too cold,” the driver answers.
“Tell them to wear jackets. It smells like a barn in here.”
“That’s one thing about serving the public,” the driver says. “The customer is always right.”
“I’m not saying I’m right,” says the passenger. “But I’ve got a cane that says I’m not wrong.”
The bus has reached standing room only capacity. One of the standees is a young woman who can’t raise her boyfriend on his cell. The driver coasts into conversation with her. So this is what sweet talking sounds like. I can’t make out the words, exactly, but the tone promises an evening of lingering love. In minutes, he has her phone number.
The driver and the man with the cane consult on where the best place is for me to get off.
“Don’t let him off near where all those women who aren’t really women are,” the passenger warns. “He wouldn’t be safe with them. I’ve seen them cause a lot of damage.” Judging by the smile on his face, it looks like he’s talking from personal experience.
“I don’t know,” says the passenger. “Some of them aren’t too shy about pulling a knife on you.” I can’t tell if he’s concerned for my safety, or just enjoying the process of finding out if I’ll scare.
“Just so long as the knives are for self-protection,” I say. “If I stay out of their way, will they stay out of mine?”
“Oh, yes,” he says. Then he smiles. “Probably.”
“What are you frightening this fine gentleman for?” the driver says. “You will be just fine.”
The bus stops. I get off. No cross-dressing, knife-wielding prostitutes to be found anywhere. I am, indeed, just fine.