Green Light - An Urban Journey

by David Rambeau

I'd only been waiting a half-hour when the bus came into view. I didn't smile because I'd been standing in the sun all the while. Shade is hard to come by in Detroit since Dutch elm disease denuded the community. If the narrow pole with the bus-stop sign had been erect, I could at least have rested on it, but it's tough to lean on something pointed in a forty-five degree angle.

As it came closer, I shut the magazine I had been reading, anticipating that soon I'd be sitting down. But when the driver stayed in the second lane alert went off, and I scrambled into the street waving and hollering. He pulled up about twenty yards past the stop and opened the passenger door. With bags in both hands I walked hurriedly to board the bus. When I got on, the driver didn't say anything, no smile, no hello, no I'm sorry I nearly passed your black ass standing there in the sun...nothing. You've probably heard of d.w.b., "driving while black", and the problems this causes for young blacks in the suburbs. This driver was d.w.a., "driving with an attitude," not an uncommon occurrence on the bus.

I sat in the first seat by a window facing the front. Somebody was sitting next to the door, opposite the driver. As we rode along, their conversation got heated, so the driver turned toward the passenger for eye contact, leaned into the aisle and continued driving with his left foot on the accelerator.

Occasionally, while barreling down the street, he'd snatch a glance at the road and the traffic. Needless to say I wondered what bus-driving school he got certified by. While he drove like he had an eye in his left ear, my gaze focused on the road ahead, which seemed to narrow as their discussion continued and his speed increased to match the passion of their conversation. I heard all this baloney about impeaching the president and recalling the mayor, but I wished they would have let this crap go so he could put both hands on the steering wheel, and stop this left-hand, left-foot stunt-driving demonstration.

We scraped the curb a few times but nothing more serious than that when abruptly the conversation ended and the passenger he'd been talking to got off the bus. I thought everything was going to be ok when the driver turned around so he could look through the windshield with both eyes in the front of his head, while the one in his ear could get a rest.

After a couple of blocks I noticed he was driving kind of slow for no reason. He was stopping about ten or fifteen feet behind traffic at each corner or stopping ten or fifteen feet past any stop where would-be passengers were waiting. One passenger got on and asked him three or four times for information and all he could do was murmur incoherently till, fed up and confused, the passenger stalked to a seat and flopped down muttering about lack of service and way-out drivers.

Next, he bumped the curb a couple of times pulling into a stop. What is with this driver now I thought? When he was just sitting at the stop, motor idling, I thought he was being considerate, letting folks getting on have a chance to sit down, when a loud voice from the rear of the bus blasted out, "Come on driver, get this damn thing movin'. I'm already an hour late for work! My boss will be upset". Someone comforted him, "Don't worry, he'll get over it."

With this verbal inspiration I observed the driver more closely to find as we drifted along that this Negro was nodding out. I have been on a lot of urban journeys on public transportation in this city and observed innumerable oddities, but this driver was a mold-buster. Now I began to wonder if we were going to make it to Woodward, where, if the good Lord blessed me, I would get off. You might have wondered why I simply didn't get off the bus immediately, and wait for the next coach, which could have posed a solution to my problem. But I would have had to wait two hours for another bus, and that driver might not have been any different from this one. I decided to chance it.

We turned at Woodrow Wilson going south and caught a light at Glendale. He didn't pull the bus up to the corner, no, he stopped twenty yards from the intersection. This world-class public servant was too much. We waited and waited. Finally, the light changed; cars in front of us pulled away, but we sat still. This time he didn't hear the catcalls from the rear because, I suppose, the passengers thought the bus had broken down. I knew better. After a few minutes I leaned forward and quietly but pointedly advised him, "Green light." He jerked alert, shook sleep out of his head, stiffened in his seat and mashed on the gas.

For the next few blocks he drove with the front door open, probably to help keep himself awake, or to compensate for the lack of air-conditioning or to counter the primordial funk that seeped from front to rear of the unwashed vehicle. Of course you'd be funky too if you only washed once a month.

When I knew Woodward was the next stop I began to relax, not only for myself and the very few riders left, but for the curbs, the street signs, the fire hydrants and the bus tires which had narrowly avoided destruction or sustained substantial bruising.

When I got off neither of us said anything. After I went a ways, I turned around. The bus was still sitting there, the driver a zombie behind the wheel. I smiled and said to myself, "Green light, Lone Ranger, green light."

Green Light - An Urban Journey by David Rambeau

© Copyright 1999. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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