the relevance of a 16-cent bus passenger

By | September 23, 2013

Ellen Giamportone Photgraphy

I travel by city bus at least 10 hours per week. Business travel. I work as a professional salesman. The majority of my fellow bus passengers are slovenly dressed nonprofessional salesmen. Look, I don’t mean to sound highbrow, but I’ve had some advantages and spiritual breakthroughs that most people never experience–I graduated from grammar school, I learned to control my appetite, and I accept that jail time is not an honorable achievement. So given all that, I do understand that passing judgement on the less fortunate passengers is not nice.  But this afternoon when I rode the #1 bus, the route destined for turnaround at Walmart, I nearly committed assault.

This is how it all went down: The bus driver stopped the southbound coach unofficially just past 72nd Street to pick up a guy who I witnessed gallop across five lanes of Pacific Avenue speeding traffic. When the raggedy guy stepped onto the bus, the driver mentioned to him that he saw his reckless stunt. So the common hobo, thirty-something, backpack wearing deviant breathlessly tells the bus driver that he is disabled. For the sake of time, or for the sake of duty, the municipal driver directed the guy to pay half fare which is 75 cents. That’s when things got complex.

The self-described cripple, confirmed J-walker, bus route delaying, illicit passenger with a black pageboy haircut says that he doesn’t have 75 cents, and so he drops 16 pennies into the fare box and calls out, “Transfer.” At this point the tightly packed, shoulder to shoulder, too familiar for comfort travel coach is rolling away from the curb. As the bus moves into traffic again, the driver tells the hobo that he can’t have a transfer because he only paid 16 cents, so go sit down.

Just a few minutes and just a few blocks before the hobo stepped on, I had finally got an open seat next to the front door. A two-seat bench that faced the center aisle was freed when a mom with a stroller and a kid left the fully packed bus which I had boarded as a standing passenger downtown and miles ago. So now, with only one other open seat on the whole bus, the 16-cent bus passenger plopped next to me, but not for long. This passenger is a jabbering and animated-type hobo; and within a minute he stood up on the rolling bus and walked four feet to ask the driver for the second time to let him off at 99th and Pacific. Again the driver told him to sit down; and then suddenly the bus jerked and I watched the bookbag wearing hobo stagger backwards and fall sideways into my lap. Although the bus kept rolling, the hobo succeeded, with a swift shove from me, to get properly settled. Then he leaned into my face and apologized and explained that he is disabled. So I turned toward him in one of those moments of silence when everyone is watching to see what will happen next, and I neutralized him, bus commando style, with a clear and stern warning, “SIT BACK.”

A few blocks later the hobo exited the bus and once again he darted across five lanes of Pacific Avenue speeding traffic.