Commuter Chronicles #2: Peril on the 532

The story below is a working draft of a personal narrative recounting a rather memorable trip to work one morning in 2007. This is my perspective of what happened that morning.

I knew I should have stayed home today. Those were the only thoughts running through my head as the back tire of the 30,000 lbs bus dangled over the edge of the canal. I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment to quickly thank God that this was just a standard size bus and not the ridiculously long articulated bus. That, and to block out the sound of the hyperventilating woman sitting directly behind me.

Instead, I glanced toward the front of the bus to see how my pal Mona was holding up. She seemed to be taking the situation in stride. Mona was another rider from the same stop I frequent, and we usually sat together on the bus. Lately, there had been more people on the route, including this day, so I sat towards the back where there was a little more breathing room.

Today however, it didn’t matter where I would have sat; every seat on that bus was uncomfortable. Everyone was sitting tense with hunched up neck and shoulder muscles gripping the metal U-shaped head rests in front of them, wondering if they would make it to work today. I wanted off the bus, but was too chicken to follow the other two passengers who escaped. They chose to stand on the side of the road and watch the driver try to turn around a standard size city bus on a one way, one lane dirt road with a canal running right behind. God, I knew I should have stayed home.

I had already been running late that morning. I just couldn’t seem to pull myself together. My hair felt like straw despite the extra conditioner I slathered on and my makeup didn’t seem to want to stick to my face. I couldn’t seem to find a pair of slacks that only needed a slight wave of the iron to look fresh or that didn’t have a broken hem.

Getting out the door by 6:35am to make the 6:45am bus was already a challenge for me as I am not one of those people that can spring right out of bed and get going as soon as my eyes open.  I always need a few extra minutes to adjust. But ever since this   new driver on took over the route, I had been waking up more stressed than ever.

I almost missed the bus twice this past week due to the new schedule imposed by the driver and I didn’t want to run for the bus again. I also stopped wearing heels in case I had to run again. This made it more difficult to pick out shoes with whichever outfit I’d already assembled.

This driver had been arriving at my stop around 6:38am each morning, exactly 7 minutes earlier than all the previous drivers had ever arrived and only 6 minutes after the previous bus left the stop. Unless I wanted to set my alarm even earlier, I had no extra minutes to adjust in the morning.  I now needed to be out the door by 6:25am. Now this particular morning, I really just wanted to call in to work, but I knew I had a full day ahead. I then considered taking the last express bus out, but by the time this thought occurred to me, I had already put in so much effort to get out the door by 6:25am.

I arrived at the bus stop a couple of minutes before the bus pulled up. Mona was already there. We quickly chatted about how we both made it on time today without having to run for the bus. That, and if the driver wouldn’t show up so ridiculously early to our stop, she wouldn’t need to waste time idling for 5 minutes at the Country Club stop which had no indent to pull into and would therefore block traffic.

Anytime you asked the driver why she came so early to the bus stop since she always has time to spare at Country Club, she just bleakly answered “these were the instructions I was given”.  She also used that line her first day on the route when she bypassed the last stop at the State Capitol and kept driving. Those of us remaining passengers had to convince her then that the Capitol was indeed part of the route (hence the text on electronic marquee on the front of the bus which read “Mesa to State Capitol”) and she needed to turn around and take us back.

The bus pulled up, opened the doors and we both boarded.  Mona went in first, swiped her card and quickly sat down in front. I swiped my card without looking at the driver or acknowledging her presence. Normally, I’ll greet my bus drivers because it is the polite thing to do. They get me to work on time without me having to navigate the wild freeways. Riding the bus is a stress reliever for me, so it only seems natural to thank the drivers. Except this one. If anything, she’d become a stress inducer for me.

As the bus began its way down McKellips Road into the Salt-River Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation, everyone on the bus quickly took notice of the ambulances and police just before the intersection to the Casino about two miles down the road. It looked like the road was closed in both directions. The bus driver made a right turn onto Alma School Rd towards McDowell to bypass the closure.

The land between McKellips and McDowell is fairly transparent. Both roads are sparsely lined with industrial businesses. You know, the type of businesses that have the words “gravel”, “steel” or “propane” in their name. Every so often there is a modest abode sitting in the middle of the land between the two roads.

Most of the passengers had their gaze planted just past this space, back to McKellips Road, so as to gather details of the accident up ahead. It looked like the accident scene was at the corner of Dobson and McKellips. Which is why it was extremely puzzling when the driver started to make a left turn onto Dobson. Normally Dobson is a major, high traffic street. Except here, where it is a narrow residential road.  So even without the accident up ahead, it just seemed like an odd place for the bus to turn.

Everyone on the bus breathed in a collective sigh of wonder as she began her 3 point turn. One man whose name I still don’t know, but will always refer to as Brave Passenger, quickly piped up “Maam, I don’t think you want to turn here, the accident scene is at the end of the road”.

Of course, the bus driver answered with her famous line of “these were the instructions I was given”.

“But, you can clearly see that this road will lead right into the accident scene! We can’t turn here! Just keep going straight and turn at Hayden” pleaded Brave Passenger.

“There were the instructions I was given”.

So there we went, everyone except the driver seemed to understand this was a bad idea. The woman sitting next to me tried to distract us both by pointing out the cute puppies running around in the front yard of one of the houses on this narrow road. They were cute, what I could see of them until a huge dust cloud formed right in front of my window.

The bus almost made it to the end of the road before one of the reservation cops came running, frantically waving his arms at the bus. The driver stopped and opened her driver side window. We could all hear the exchange.

“This is a crime scene, the road it closed! You can’t drive through here!” shouted the cop.

“I was told by the bus company that this where I needed to turn” the driver answered in a robotic tone.

“I don’t care, you can’t come through here” the cop retorted.

Brave Passenger tried to devise a solution to this mess.

“Uh sir, as you can see there isn’t room for the bus to turn around. Is it possible for the driver to go down that little path running diagonally off the street? It looks like we’d end up past the accident scene”

“No, the road is still closed off another 50 feet past where the bus would end up” answered the cop.

“What should I do then” asked the driver.

“I don’t know, but you can’t continue down this road and you can’t use the path!” The cop stormed off back to the accident scene.

The driver sat for a second. I can’t prove it, but I think a circuit shorted in her brain at that moment. Brave passenger sprang into action.

“Look, you’re just going to have to back up this bus and turn it around. It won’t be easy and you’ll have to be careful as there is a canal directly behind us, but if you keep backing up and moving forward, each time shifting the bus at an angle, you’ll eventually be able to rotate the bus.”

“Let me call the bus company and see what they tell me” answered the driver. Brave passenger rolled his eyes while she radioed in the situation to the bus company. After five minutes of a static laden exchange, the driver looked back at Brave Passenger and said “well, they didn’t give me any more instructions. I guess I’ll try what you said.”

Brave Passenger and one other volunteer got off the bus to stand outside and help her navigate her way out of the road. That is when the other two passengers also stepped off the bus, because they didn’t think they could stand being on the bus while this was happening.

Ten minutes into this exercise, the bus had rotated about 90 degrees clockwise. Now the canal was directly behind us. She could back up about a foot or so which would make the next 90 degrees take longer. It was at about the 130 degree mark that the driver, clearly tired and frazzled, backed up about 6 inches too far. The back tire was resting on the embankment to the canal. Brave Passenger quickly signaled to the driver to stop.

“Don’t move at all!” he shouted. He and the other volunteer took a minute to work out the angles. “Okay, luckily the house in front of us doesn’t have a fence and no one seems to be home. You can pull up an extra six inches in their front yard without running into anything.

Brave Passenger carefully navigated the driver through this rough patch of an already messy situation. There was a vein in the front of my head that was throbbing mercilessly. It was my queue to stop watching the mayhem going on with the bus. I sifted through my briefcase to find my cell phone. We had been stuck here for 35 minutes already. I would normally be at the State Capitol by now, walking towards my office. I decided to and let someone back at the office know I would be late.

My co-worker on the other end of the line sounded half-asleep. “Hey, it’s Nicole. Listen, I’m on my way into the office, but I’m running late. The bus is experiencing difficulties.”  I had no idea what else to say at this point. My co-worker quickly answered “alright, see ya later” not realizing I just might end up on a breaking news segment any minute if this bus does end up in the canal or goes smashing through the house currently sitting in front of it.

About 10 minutes after my phone call, Brave Passenger and the other volunteer had successfully navigated the driver so the bus was now facing towards McDowell Road. They were both treated to a rousing round of applause by the entire bus. We were back on the road.

“Oh” exclaimed the woman sitting behind me who practically had a nervous breakdown throughout the ordeal. “She did such a good job getting us out of there. That rez cop was no help”.

“Seriously?” I asked. “She got us into this mess to begin with and she couldn’t have done it without the help of the passenger up front”.

“Yeah, but she kept calm and got us out of it. That cop could have helped. She’s such a great driver otherwise.”

“It’s not hard for robots to stay calm” I shot back. The woman stared back at me with a puzzled expression. I just turned around and kept my mouth shut. There was no convincing this woman that the driver was negligent.

The rest of the drive into work was fairly uneventful. The later bus had already come and gone through the route so there were no more passengers to pick up.  When the bus finally reached the State Capitol, I waited a second to catch up to Mona as we both stepped off the bus. We just both smiled at each other and let out a laugh. It was all we could think to do after the ride we had.

“Hopefully the rest of the day goes better” I said to Mona.

“Ha! Yeah I don’t think it could get any worse now” she replied.

We walked towards our respective buildings. I can’t even tell you what the rest of the day was like. Everything seemed a blur after that bus ride from hell. Before I left work that day, I popped into my boss’s office to let her know that I would be coming in at 8am instead of 7:30am for the time being. I wasn’t taking any more chances with bad robot driver.

The next morning I woke up and took a good five minutes to shift from being asleep to being awake. I sat down, poured a bowl of cereal and enjoyed every last drop of my coffee before ironing a pair of slacks. I didn’t need to be out the door until 6:50am.

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4 thoughts on “Commuter Chronicles #2: Peril on the 532

  1. Thanks Katy – I have a bad feeling that my posts are turning people away from using public transportation! I guess I keep at it because of all the “adventures” that public transportation has provided me over the years. 🙂 Honestly, most of the time I can hop onto an express and snooze for a good half hour without incidence.

    • Oh, people don’t need your posts to turn them away from public transportation! It’s so true though…in fact, I could probably write a decent sized book with all the “adventures” I’ve had using public transportation.

      You can snooze on the bus? I’m quite envious of anyone with this talent!

  2. What a true public transportation veteran – the upside – you are saving more money than I can put away during my lifetime doing it . I am just sure of it. You not only have had the wonderful opportunity to instruct a driver on where her scheduled stops are supposed to be, but to have a character name for other passengers is hysterical. Love this story, especially how you wrap it up…hope you continue going in to work at 8am for as long as you can tell the previous bus comes 6 minutes early….but aren’t you going to miss Mona?

¡Dígame!

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