Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Keep On Driving by Kevin Finnerty

Kevin Finnerty's stream of consciousness from a Minnesotan bus driver trying to persuade you he's not paid enough.

They don't pay me enough.

They say driving a bus is easy. After all, just about everybody can drive a car.

Sure, but if you sat where I sit and saw what I see, you might think different.

Let's start with all those other drivers. Up here, I can see everyone else on the highway traveling between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

At least half of them have no business being on the road driving 60 miles per hour on perfectly clean roads, let alone ones with snow and ice.

It's not that they can't drive, though there's some of that. It's more that they shouldn't be driving because they don't take it seriously.

Every other car, drivers are texting or surfing the web or using their smart phones to make a call. Some put on makeup, others have a snack.

You guys would shoot me if I did any of those things.

You might say I can't do them because I'm responsible for all my passengers. Fair enough. But anytime you're on the road you're responsible for more than yourself. Even if you're alone in your vehicle. Who knows who you'll hit when you take your eyes off the road to look at the GIF of the dancing cat that your BFF said in a text you just had to see right away.

Maybe I'm just riled up because they don't pay me enough. I know if one of those idiots does spin out and hits me they'll be the ones worse for wear, not me. As long as I'm in my bus.

So I keep on driving.

That's what the guy who trained me years ago said. That was his principle piece of advice: no matter what, keep on driving.

So I do.

But let me tell you about the passengers. The ones I love are the ones who want to share their entire lives with me and everyone else onboard.

They tend to be young ladies. They get on the bus with their cell phones pressed against their shoulder while they look for their bus pass in their purse, even though they could have done this while waiting on line.

"Yeah, yeah, then you won't believe his next line of bullshit," she'll say as she stands before you.

The first time or two you'll think she's talking to you but then you realize these girls' lives revolve around themselves and their phones 24/7.

She'll head to the back of the bus and bring all of the zombies back there into her world.

"Shit, he don't know. He don't know, I tell you. He. Don't. Know."

I drive one of those long buses that look like two buses welded together. It's got this elastic type of connection in the middle that enables me to go around corners. Anyway, it's probably 40 feet from me to the back. And even sitting where I am with a small fan blowing at me to both cool me off and create a little background noise, I can still hear her. She's that loud.

"No, no, no. They said it's a cyst or something. Makes me shit five times a day. And when I'm not shitting, I'm farting up a storm... Hell, yeah, he complains but what's he going to do about it. It's who I am."

Keep on driving, I tell myself, keep on driving.

I get it. The cell phone ladies are just annoying. No reason to get a raise just because of them.

But the job's risky too. The people I hate the most are the would-be riders who won't pay their fare. Usually young guys pretending to be tougher than they really are. Pants falling off their ass.

They step up to the fare box and then start with the excuses and arguments.

"I forgot my pass."

"I didn't know the express costs more."

"My card worked this morning."

"C'mon, just let me on."

"You're holding up the line."

No, you're holding up the line. You pushed your way to the front so everyone behind you would start clamoring to just go already. 'Cause they don't want to be out in the cold no more.

But whether you know it or not, the city makes audio and video recordings, and I can be fired for violating company policy.

"Aw, don't be like that."

"Don't be like them."

Yeah, I get it. Somehow I'm doing a disservice to my race by not letting you board an express bus when you likely have the money on you or could easily get it. You just want to ride for free, and I'm supposed to let that happen and risk my job, my salary, my means of supporting my wife and kids, just because we happen to be of the same race?

I tell some of them to hit it but usually cave as long as it's not someone I see pulling the same shit every other day. Squeaky wheels get the grease, you know.

And I gotta keep on driving.

But I know they send testers every once in a while to see if I'm enforcing the rules. I can usually pick them out, but one day I'm going to say no to the wrong person and he's going to hit me with what he's got - either his fists or some sort of weapon.

And then you'll see they don't pay me enough.

Maybe it's because they think it's easy once you get the hang of it. I drive the same route over and over again. And encounter these same people and same incidents almost every day.

But sometimes something's a little different. Just a little while ago this big ol' girl got on board. I'd say she was dragging a boy, two or three years old, with her, except she really was lifting him. Using one of her beefy arms to pull his skinny ones up and over the stairs and towards the back of the bus.

This part wasn't unusual. She sat in the back and began munching on a bag of chips and drinking pop, making a mess by doing things you're not supposed to do, were I to enforce the rules. Course that would mean violating the most important rule and stopping the bus. So I just spied her actions through the large rear view mirror they give me. So I can be a witness in the homicide investigation, I guess.

Momma ain't paying no attention while her child bounces around his seat. Momma hardly says boo except "cut it" from time to time.

Just like everyone else, Momma's more into her cell phone. But this girl's got responsibilities she's ignoring. Like the kid she seems to think is now everyone else's problem once he's on my bus.

And the kid, he doesn't like not getting attention from Momma or any of the other passengers who're doing their best to hold their tongues. Silently informing me I'm the one who's supposed to police this bad behavior.

But they don't pay me enough.

And I got to keep on driving.

Best I can do is maybe speed up a little. Hopefully get wherever this woman is going and get her and her kid off the bus.

Anyway the kid starts climbing over the back of seats and then around them. You'd think Momma wouldn't even notice, her attention on her smart phone and all, but suddenly her arm reaches out and yanks the kid back. It's like one of those old cartoons where a cane drags some performer off stage.

The kid is literally airborne for a couple of seconds, his feet spinning like he's pedaling a bicycle, before he tumbles into his seat. Momma throws the chips and soda at him. This quiets him for a second so I stop looking in the mirror. I tell myself not to take my eyes off the road even if we've slowed to almost a complete halt as we hit traffic backing up in Minneapolis.

Then all of a sudden I - and everyone else on the bus - hear a loud: "Waaaaaah!"

Way too loud unless I've run over the kid. I check and he's still back there. I see the bag and can on the floor. Soda oozing onto the floor like blood.

The kid's fine. Not hurt. Not nothing. Except ill-mannered.

Momma ignores him while he continues to wail.

I enter the downtown area of Minneapolis, happy we've just about completed the twelve-mile trek.

Someone hits the bell, wants to get off. I glance in the mirror, hoping it's Momma and her boy, but it's a guy wearing a long coat standing near the back door exit.

He has a potato chip in his hair, and I wonder if this is his actual stop or just the first chance for him to escape.

I pull to the stop and rest my head on the steering wheel for a second until I hear a second, deeper wail.

"Waaaah!"

It's the guy in the overcoat.

Now that I'm stopped, I do something I rarely do. I turn in my seat to make sure the vision in the mirror wasn't lying to me.

I see suit pants beneath the overcoat and the back of a tall dude who's placed his face directly before the wailing kid.

The boy stops for a moment, unsure what's happening, then suddenly resumes crying. This time for real. He's scared.

And I'd be scared too if I were him. With a grown man dressed like an authority figure in his face. And no one protecting him.

I think maybe this time I really should do something, but I see Momma hasn't moved an inch and figure if it don't bother her, why should it bother me?

I'll watch this play out like everybody else.

Ten, twenty, thirty seconds pass before the guy stops.

"That was totally uncalled for."

An old lady near me half stands as she says this, but she's soon drowned out by applause.

First one or two people politely clap, but soon a whole round of applause overtakes the bus.

The guy in the coat had begun to move quickly towards the exit once he stopped fake crying but now stops with his hand on the door. With the other, he waves towards his fellow passengers before throwing a scarf around his neck and exiting my bus.

The boy has stopped crying and sits quietly in his seat. Momma shakes her head.

Order has been restored.

I resume driving because that's what I do.

But I swear, they don't pay me enough.

12 comments:

  1. Very entertaining - acutely observed behaviour and a celebration of the comedic side of ordinary life. Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  2. an excellent story, i felt i was on the bus, in fact i have been on the bus and i was always on the side of the driver!
    well done

    Mike McC

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  3. A touch of Bukowski about this. I was left wanting to know a bit more about the bus driver but I guess that was intentional. I enjoyed it, thanks.
    S.Lucas
    ps. they don't pay me enough either.

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  4. If the purpose of fiction is to let you walk a mile in someone else's shoes, then this succeeds mightily. Some great character detail, such as using the fan as background noise and rarely turning in his seat to face the madding crowd.

    One thought on the concluding incident: it might have been interesting to see the driver forced to interact with his passengers, rather than just observe a curious event.

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  5. What a great vehicle (pun intended) to examine human behavior! The story is fun and perceptive. Thank you.

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  6. I've been on that bus. It's the 281... No, not really, but the story feels very real. Thank you, Kevin Finnerty.

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  7. I liked it too. It points out how the bus driver becomes part of the equipment to us until they do something really nice or really awful. This driver did neither, but kept a constant vigil; and cared about the passengers and was a responsible, serious person. What more can you ask?

    I liked the race aspect. I think I might have liked not knowing if the driver was man or woman (likely a man: "wife and kids"). I wonder if the race aspect would have added to the final scene? You could have thrown a bunch of curveballs there. Just a thought - it's great as is!

    Good stuff. Thx.

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  8. Sounds too true to be fiction haha
    Great story

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  9. All the little details add up. The bus driver does deserve more money. The point of view worked really well here.

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  10. LOVE what the passenger did - have heard of people doing this but never witnessed it myself (or had the courage to be that person!). Too bad it couldn't have been aimed at the mother instead of the kid (thinking now of that saying "there are no bad dogs, only bad owners" and how it applies to children and parents too!). Definitely worth an ovation - glad he got one. Seems to me though they sure don't pay the driver enough, at least he got some free entertainment this day!

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  12. Brilliant! Just keep on driving - a lesson that should be taught by all driving instructors, including me, a driving instructor in Derby. Passive entertainment too!

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