The karma of late night busses and bike rides
I had been standing all night, pouring drinks for smug people in smart outfits on a roof-top in the City. When it was all over, they took their time clearing out, so I had to take my time cleaning up their foul messes, and the night dragged into early morning. And I missed my first ride across the water, and then, I thought, my second, as the day’s work mercifully ended.
I jumped on my bike and pedaled to the bus station, just to have a look around, and paced back and forth thinking what to do about getting home. It was cold and I was bundled up with a hat and gloves and a sweatshirt over layers, but the cold wind still sunk in. A man in shorts and a t-shirt and an orange wristband with his hands in his pants approached me under the glaring lights of the temporary bus terminal.
“Hey man, you know any shelters around here?” he asked with a shiver.
“No, sorry,” I replied. “I live in the East Bay, so I’m just here for work.”
“Do you have a phone I could use for a minute?”
“Man, I wish. But mine got run over by a fucking semi yesterday.”
“Shit,” he said. “I’m freezing. I’m from Alabama and I just got outta prison up here. I still have the wrist-band and everything”
He was showing me the orange thing when a rumble from behind startled me. It was my bus, 15 minutes late, but right on time for me. I yelled, “good luck” and “stay warm, bud” as I gathered my bike and sprinted across the street to the stop. The bus pulled up and the bike racks were full and the seats were over-flowing. Dammit, I thought, this really sucks. So I stood by the door, with a helpless look as those carrying only their own skins climbed aboard and wedged in. A coiffed man in a scarf got on, but only had a 20-dollar bill and he looked hopeless as the driver told him their was no change, so a 20-dollar ride it was going to be. I had my fare in my pocket so I collected it and leaned through the door and handed it to the scarf-ed man.
“Hey dude, that bike is no good. You can’t get on,” the driver yelled at me.
“No shit,” I said. “The fare is for that guy. Get home safe, dude, and pay it forward.”
And the doors slammed shut and the bus rumbled to life as the scarf-ed man mouthed “thank you” through the trembling glass.
“Well, fuck AC Transit and Mayor Quan. They’re all idiots. Oakland is so ghetto,” fumed another helpless biker next to me.
“Ya, it really sucks getting left out in the cold, and I don’t see much hope for the bar-close bus now,” I said to him. “But this is the last stop, I might head back up the line, and try my luck there.”
I gave him the particulars of the route and he pedaled off still cursing his misfortune. I decided to have a ride around, to kill some time and vent some frustration. So I pedaled through the quiet and sparkling heart of the city for a while and took in the un-canny stillness. I rode up and down a few hills and watched the late-nite construction crews pouring concrete into the someday permanent bus stop. I rode for a long time, and decided to at least check with a cab about getting me over the bridge.
I found one sitting in front of a law office, and tapped on his window. He looked up from his PDA and rolled down the glass.
“How much to get to the East Bay?” I asked.
“Well I have to pay the toll coming back and I pass that on to you, so, I’d say, 20 bucks,” he told me.
“Alright, let’s do it,” I said. “I’m cold and tired.”
So he opened his door and a glass bottle in a paper bag fell to the curb and clanked around as he got out. He laid down the back seats and helped me put my bike in the back, and cleared out the front so I could ride shotgun with my knees pressed up against the dash-board. We talked about the prospects of a bike lane on the bridge and bantered around the various obstacles to biking the Bay as we rolled across the water.
The meter, hit the 20-dollar mark before we hit land, but he turned it off, saying “a promise is a promise.” He took me to a lonely corner, under a broken street-light and let me out. I tipped him the bridge toll, and we parted ways with “good luck’s” and “take care’s”. And I pedaled off into the chilly night, remarking my good fortune, finally on the way home to a warm bed.