The BoltBus from Boston to Manhattan promised to be packed the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend. To ensure we would find space for our considerable baggage, we rocked up early, first on line. To our surprise, we were put in the ‘C’ line for being too stupid to realise that if we merely had agreed to receive BoltBus spam, we’d have been given ‘A’ line preferential boarding status.
Our ‘C’ line status became a potential problem when several smug, preppy college types sauntered up, taking their rightful place in the ‘A’ line, with big bags and bicycles and kayaks and sousaphones and farm equipment and the contents of at least one dormitory room. At the last minute a dumpy, haggard, middle-aged man joined them in the ‘A’ line, looking rather out of place.
The ‘A’ line boarded. The ‘B’ line consisted of one young woman who was unable to explain to my satisfaction how she had ended up on the ‘B’ line. She boarded. By the time the ‘C’ line began boarding, it wended back into the terminal around a corner and out of sight. Happily, everybody and everything fit. Our early arrival placed us relatively early in the pecking order, so we avoided the jousting and negotiations we saw the late-comers suffer.
The driver welcomed us aboard, explaining that although the bus was labelled as a Peter Pan Lines bus, it was also the Greyhound as well as the BoltBus, “they are all the same company.” So much for branding differentiation. We backed out of the gate on time.
As the bus crawled past the other gates, I became aware of a commotion towards the rear of the bus. Now in the darkness of the terminal’s exit tunnel, the ill-fitting haggard middle-aged man was climbing over the woman on the aisle seat next to his. He stumbled up the aisle mumbling incoherently, finally getting the driver’s attention, indicating he wanted to get off. Not a moment too soon, either. The driver was able to oblige, letting him alight where the tunnel circled back near the gate at which we had boarded. Odd, I thought.
Moments later we emerged into the blinding sunlight, on the maze of flyovers and ramps that connect the South Station Bus Terminal with the rest of the world. A woman in the fourth row (two rows in front of me), asked in an audible yet reasonable voice “Are you going to inspect his seat?” There was no reaction from the driver, or anyone else for that matter. The bus continued slowly, navigating the exit ramps.
“I’m not comfortable with this. Are you going to inspect his seat?” she insisted, raising her voice. I could feel the tension rising, the implication of her query obvious. Still, no response.
She rose to her feet. Now she was shouting, demanding. “Hey, I ride this bus all the time and I have never seen that happen before. Don’t you think that was strange? Aren’t you going to inspect his seat?” Dead silence.
“She’s got a point…” an older woman squeaked timidly. The bus came to a halt.
The driver announced over the PA system “If you’d like, we can go back to the gate, and do the whole thing all over again…”
A decidedly male roar of “NO!!” filled the bus.
I hadn’t said a thing. I was trying to figure it out. Did she have point? Or was this paranoia?
“All right then!” the driver responded. We started to roll again.
“California here I come!” a young man in the front row shouted inexplicably.
Our protagonist – antagonist? – was apoplectic, now begging. “Can’t you please just inspect his seat? Just look at his seat! Please, look at his seat!”
A thoughtful young woman across the aisle stood up as the bus lurched down the ramp, shouting to the back of the bus “Hey, whoever is sitting next to where that guy was, would you check out his seat?”
A variety of analysis was shouted back.
“Nothing there but used tissues, and I ain’t touching those.”
“He was sick.”
“He was drunk.”
“He was hungover.”
“He stunk. Glad he’s gone.”
As we pulled out into traffic, the passengers devised increasingly intricate rationalisations.
“If he wanted to plant a bomb, he wouldn’t have gotten on the bus in the first place.”
“He would have put it underneath with the luggage, and walked away.”
“Suicide bombers don’t get off the bus, they stay on the bus!”
There were considerable jitters on that bus ride, including my own, especially for the first hour. In the end the biggest threat to passenger well-being was that the driver had never driven the route before. In Manhattan, he missed the left turn for the drop-off spot, and then started down the next left which would have sent us through the Midtown Tunnel to Queens. A practiced roar of “NO!!” filled the bus, this time at least two genders joining in. The driver veered back into Second Avenue traffic and eventually delivered us, an hour late.
As for the haggard non-bomber, I can’t decide whether the whole kerfuffle reflected admirable caution or pathetic panic. Maybe both.
I did note that it was women who both raised the alarm and took steps to resolve the situation. The men, including myself, sat silent and inert, except when some voiced opposition to the proposed delay. Sydney or the bush!
It is a sad commentary that one must think about such things as bombs being left on Peter Pan buses. But by the same token, it was encouraging to see a microcosm of society work out a way forward by talking and shouting at one another.
Indeed, if we hadn’t practiced a group “NO!!” I might still be lost in Queens.