The bus service, which, by the way, has offered me a full refund and a free trip, picks you up in the meat packing district at 5:30pm for the trip back to C'ville. We had all been called and given a description of the bus and the driver--not the same driver we had for the trip up, thank goodness. The bus arrived in good time. It was a small, twenty-five seat bus, with a working air conditioner this time. We all boarded without incident and waited to depart. And waited. And waited.
The woman in front of me, who takes this bus service frequently, said it was very unusual for it not to depart on time. The other passengers included several young women, and an elderly man and woman who are of a type common in Charlottesville: highly educated folks who make earnest speeches at city council meetings in favor of helping the homeless or keeping poisons out of the drinking water or making the roads more bicycle-friendly. They were not traveling together, but they knew each other and had a laughing conversation about a literary critic they had both read that day.
It developed that there was a missing passenger, prompting the driver to have anxious phone calls with his boss. The driver was a young guy who said he was from Connecticut. He was wearing a shirt embroidered with: City of Harrisonburg Department of Transportation. This was deeply confusing, unless there is a Harrisonburg, Connecticut. (There isn't.)
The woman in front of me grumbled with me a bit. We both had to be at work at 8:00 the next morning. Even an on-time arrival at 11:30pm meant an inadequate night's sleep. If the driver had made a good faith effort to contact the passenger and he/she still didn't show, we felt it was reasonable to leave. Suddenly, the missing passenger was revealed and the woman in front of me groaned, "She's been standing there the whole time!" Indeed. The passenger had kept us all waiting because apparently, she was too dim (or drunk, as it happens) to realize that when you're standing at the designated spot where a bus is supposed to pick you up, and then an actual bus pulls up to the very spot where it's supposed to, and people with suitcases start boarding, maybe you should investigate the possibility that this might be YOUR bus.
At any rate, she boarded. Every row had at least one person in it, so to be nice and prevent her from having to sit with a stranger, I signaled to Seamus to vacate his seat and squeeze in next to me. So now she had two seats to herself. She plopped her bag down and promptly fell fast asleep. Seamus passed me a note: A thank you would have been NICE.
The driver-from-Connecticut did not know his way around Manhattan, but he at least knew how to use GPS and the earnest-elderly-educated Charlottesville man was able to direct him to the Lincoln tunnel.
Somewhere deep into New Jersey, the late-arriving passenger jerked awake and walked up to the front of the bus to ask the driver to stop because she had to go to the bathroom. The earnest, educated Charlottesvillian piped up about how this bus always stops once, at the halfway point in Maryland. The woman turned to him and screamed, "And are YOU the arbiter of where this bus gets to stop?" A scene like this, in a small, twenty-five seat bus like this one is very uncomfortable indeed. I was mortified. I had also been relying on public bathrooms in NYC since 9:00 that morning. As far as I was concerned, this woman could suck it up and STFU.
But no, we made a special stop. There was a long line to use the ladies room, and the woman for whom we made the special stop made a face and left the line. Was she going to demand that we drive to another rest stop that didn't have a line? A few minutes later, while we were still waiting for the ladies, Seamus came bursting out of the men's room, positively blushing, and told us that the rude woman had used the men's room. Of course we were catty. It was funny how quickly a line was drawn between the respectable females and the outcast female.
Most of us bought food and were back on the bus. But wait! One passenger was missing. Can you guess which one? She was the first one out of the bathroom, yet was the last to emerge from the rest stop, walking slowly, as if she had all the time in the world, with a piece of pizza and a smoothie. She asked the driver if we could just wait a few more minutes and then sat on the curb next to the bus and ate her pizza, while those of us on the bus had a collective stroke. She finished her pizza and smoked a cigarette, dragging on it so hard that the insides of her cheeks must have been touching, and at last deigned to get back on the bus so we could be on our way. This is the kind of person I absolutely can't stand. She couldn't wait her turn to use the bathroom, but had no problem keeping a busload of people waiting while she took forever to order food and eat and smoke.
There was a traffic jam in Delaware, and a worse one on I-66, outside of Washington. It was now very late and impossible to sleep. I amused myself by picking out little landmarks--a telephone pole, or a building--and breathlessly waiting for us to pass it at which point I'd pick a new landmark, twenty feet down the road, and watch for ten minutes until we passed it, and so on until the traffic began to move again.
The driver, who in all other respects was perfectly nice, was an engine gunner. We'd be driving along, quite fast, and then he would suddenly gun the engine as if we were being pursued by demons from hell. He'd relax on the gas pedal for a few minutes, then gun the engine again. I resigned myself to just not sleeping until we got home. The rude woman was lying on her back on the bus seat, with her legs straight up in the air, propped up against the window. She was wearing a dress, by the way.
But now a new worry presented itself. The driver had a heavy foot--would we get through notorious Greene County without a speeding ticket? True story: I once got a speeding ticket in Canada, and when the cop saw my address on my license, he started laughing and said he'd gotten a speeding ticket in Greene County, Virginia. The Arbiter of the Bus, as I couldn't help nicknaming him, had been stellar up to this point about advising the driver when he knew an exit was coming. I wondered if he would alert the driver about Greene County cops, but he didn't. At any rate, we didn't get a speeding ticket.
We were in Albemarle County at last, and here, the Arbiter of the Bus and his female counterpart failed us, for they did not know how to get to the downtown drop-off spot. They seemed to be really nice people, but it just confirmed the type I had pegged them as, that they knew their way around Manhattan better than they did around their own hometown. The woman in front of me took over giving directions, while I helped out with a few feeble shouts. I was trapped in my seat by Seamus, who had fallen asleep against my arm. Our arrival time was about 1:30--two hours late. By the time I was settled in bed it was after 2:00am. And yes, I did make it to work on time the next morning.