The Rhythm of The Road - An Urban Journey
by David Rambeau
It was morning; it was night. I was there alone, downtown, waiting in the fog. Finally my bus came. At least I thought it was mine, though when I checked the vehicle signs they were blank. Well, I certainly wasn't going to wait any longer; I had to get to my destination. Wherever that was.
The doors opened and I, with all my bags of books and papers, climbed aboard. I slid my monthly pass through the farebox and noticed for the first time the driver. He was wearing sunglasses, sunglasses, I thought, sunglasses? The doors closed.
I moved to sit down up front. Some people sit in the back; some sit in the front. I'm a front-sitter. But while trying to decide where to sit, I thought I heard live music playing softly, jazz, coming from the rear of the bus. No, I said to myself, and turned to see if there was any reaction from the driver. I saw none. He was just sitting there, sunglasses and all, driving casually into what was now a dense fog. I reached for the bell-cord, paused, and decided against it. I wasn't going back out into the void. Better in than out.
The music became more insistent. A tenor sax soloed a lost-love version of "Stella By Starlight". Conversational voices filtering from the rear through the passengers standing in the aisle sounded like a party. No way, not a jazz club in the rear of a city bus. But why not, everything else happens there.
Then I heard a rumbling sound and looked around to see the bus seats folded away, and that leather, cushioned seats resembling those of a limousine had replaced them. Behind me a cheerful voice announced, "The bar is open." Before me, beneath a neon sign, was an array of whiskeys and wines that could scarcely be matched in a Las Vegas casino.
"I'll take your bags sir." It was the driver, attired now in a white shirt, black patent leather bow-tie and shoes, and a black suit. He didn't have on an ordinary chauffeur's cap. Rather he was wearing what looked like the cap of a German army officer. He introduced himself as William, and instructed me that he would store my things so I wouldn't have my hands cluttered during our urban journey. Then he returned to the driver's seat and we sped on.
"What'll you have sir?", the bartender asked. For no reason I recalled my late night sets years ago at Ann's Bar on John R and Piquette. Best shrimp-in-the-basket in the city back then. Don Q and Coke, that's what I used to order, so I did again.
The mood of the revelers was joyous, abandoned to the rhythm of the road and the muted red ceiling lights that ran the length of the coach. I tried in vain to find a window to get my bearings since we hadn't stopped since I boarded the bus. Even an express bus will stop at intervals, but we barreled along like we were on a freeway. In time, however, my concern about time and place disappeared with my drink. By the second one I had fully blended with the crowd and the vocalist who was doing a Dakota Staton medley accompanied on a baby grand by a pianist in a tux.
Don't I know you?, she said. I know you from somewhere." People do this with some regularity so I take it with a smile and usually no encouragement. But this sister was fine enough for me to alter my modus operandi. She was sitting at the end of the bar, not far away, so I excused myself a couple of times as I eased through the patrons to pursue this opportunity. "You might," I started. "Sure I do. You're a writer for a local publication, I've read some of your stories."
You know the feeling you get when you're playing bid-whist, you pick up your hand, start sorting your cards and know you've been dealt a boston. That's all I could think of, and if I played my cards right, I would make my bid.
We discussed the school strike, the genocide in East Timor, vacation travel, fashion, the jazz festival. The conversation was progressing nicely toward my topic of subliminal interest, getting over, when she excused herself and glided toward the front of the bus.
I sat for a while considering my concluding strategy when the bartender announced "last call". The combo riffed through a finale, put away their instruments, and departed. I stepped away through the crowd looking for her to no avail. When I turned to look the other way the bar had disappeared, the revelers again looked like passengers. I hurried up the aisle; the cushioned seats were gone, replaced by the regular four-abreast rows typically found on city buses. I checked each seat till I finally came to the yellow line on the floor at the front of the bus.
The driver, no longer in sunglasses, was seated behind the wheel in a dingy khaki green outfit with merit patches on his sleeve. His German officer corps cap was missing.
We pulled up on Cass Avenue in front of the Main Library. My bags were on the seat directly behind the driver. I gathered them and got off to go to the Internet Lab and get to work.
Sometimes late at night when I'm waiting downtown for a bus and see the headlights on the horizon coming toward me, I wonder if.