On Board #66

August 29, 10:32 a.m.
Eastern Travel bus – 3 Pike St. (New York, NY) to 1021 Arch St. (Philadelphia, PA)

This is an exposition on luck and chance and self determination and being a dumbass, as experienced before boarding and while riding the 10:30 Eastern Travel bus from New York to Philadelphia one Saturday morning.

This particular morning, in attempting to catch the 8:15 Eastern Travel bus from New York to Philly (N.B. not the 10:30 from NY to Philly), I woke up with just enough time to make it – not a second more. I took a shower, but did not shave; packed a slice of banana bread, but did not eat a bowl of cereal; ran back up two flights of stairs after forgetting my umbrella, but did not realize I had forgotten the black belt I needed for the wedding I would be attending in eight hours.

Needless to say, I missed the F train. And not by a few seconds, so I could hear the dreadful “BING” that signals both that your Hot Pocket is ready to be removed from the microwave (a good thing) and that the subway is leaving despite your best efforts to leap down the set of stairs (a far worse thing). No, I had badly missed this train, its rear lights nowhere in sight, probably a good two minutes down the tunnel.

I did eventually catch a train, because another one always comes (in New York, at least; one becomes more depressed after 1 a.m. elsewhere). It was not the first train that came by – a G – or the second – another G – but it was the third.

The train arrived at East Broadway, one and a half blocks from 3 Pike St, outpost of the secretive Eastern Travel Bus Company Inc. We were only a minute or two behind schedule. An elevator took me to an exit I do not want, and I realize just too darn late that my mental compass has failed me and sent me east (and slightly north) rather than west (and slightly south), where I needed to go.

It is enough.

I sprint, holding my suit in one hand and a camera bag in the other and my thoughts, as best I can recall, jump to the following questions: Why is running so exhausting? Why is there a half opened computer monitor in my path that I must jump over? Did I remember my camera? Why do these two women insist on unfurling their umbrellas wide (did I mention it was raining) and hogging the sidewalk like couples riding an escalator? Why is it raining? Why is this bag so heavy? Why is there construction forcing a detour in the sidewalk? How did Chinatown get built? Why is it here, in this spot? Why don’t I workout more? Seriously, this shirt is a medium and it’s wet and it’s loose? And why the hell is this bag so heavy? It’s still raining?

As I turn the corner onto Pike Street (which doesn’t actually have any signs calling it Pike Street) there’s a small crowd, half a dozen strong, all huddled under the bus stop. The petite Chinese woman sitting on a black egg crate in a pink jacket asks me where I’m going (actually, “Where you going?,” which sounds very ethnically ignorant but is actually exactly what you would say to a friend, except her pronunciation and diction are more formal, and yours is lazy and ignorant).

“Philly.”

She gestures to the corner. Rather, around the corner. “It’s gone, left one minute ago.”

“But it’s not even 8:15.” I look at the time: it is exactly 8:15. “Yes it is”; she shows me her watch, reading 8:16. “The next one is at 10,” she tells me with a sympathetic smile.

“Jesus Christ,” I say aloud, with immediate regret and only thankful that I was looking at the damply pewter sidewalk and not into the eyes just above the sympathetic smile of a woman who really couldn’t have helped me solve a problem I caused myself by stopping to back that piece of banana bread.

I now have to pass the time. I pass several Chinese restaurants walking down Canal St. to a Starbucks. I leave the umbrella – the one I ran back to get – tied to my camera bag, the rain dripping at a pace that makes holding the umbrella more painful than getting wet.

I buy a coffee and sit for an hour, surrounded by Europeans enjoying vacation.

I return to the stop and sit through people boarding a bus to DC. Two black women have occupied the egg crates and the short Chinese woman is standing. It seems she doesn’t recognize me from earlier which I find odd but really makes a whole lot of sense. Finally the bus arrives and the driver urges us to move with military precision down the aisle. I find a seat next to the black women after finding my bag just squeezes into the overhead compartment, thank goodness.

The drive through New Jersey is better in fog, which we have here today. A rusting metal drawbridge looks vintage rather than greenery-destroying, and the cranes at the port vaguely like an approaching army rather than encroaching blight. There is, of course, beauty in apocalypse, and Newark Airport’s rotting trailers and glowing red lights, blinking, look rather like a rebel outpost just as its central tower reminds one of the Tower of Sauron. These are good things.

The young girl sitting behind me is on her way to a friend’s going away party, a friend heading to Beijing and Paris for 18 months. The half of her face I can make out between two headrests is attractive. She is awakened by a phone and begins speaking to a friend she hasn’t talked to in forever.

“I helped Dave move all weekend.”

“I’m not sure I’m ready to get married. I want to get married at some point, I just don’t know when.”

“And yeah I would marry him.”

“I just feel like I’m running in place at my job. I want to get to the next level.”

“I’m just not sure where I am at this stage in my life.”

“I can’t believe we’re 27.”

“Amy wanted to be pregnant at 28. She just got a new job. I haven’t talked to her in a while.”

“She’s a TV reporter.”

“OK yeah, I’m turning 27 in two months.”

“It’ll be OK. I think.”

I got to my wedding in time, early, in fact. I filmed the happy couple. I enjoyed the open bar, and the dance floor. I had an uneventful bus ride back the next day, returning to work in plenty of time.

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