When I was a Cub Scout so many years ago, we used to sing this little ditty as we returned home from our daytrips in honor of the bus driver who had made the outing possible.
“Three cheers for the bus driver,” we'd all sing, “he’s fat and he’s jolly and built like a trolley…”
I supposed that bit about being fat would be considered offensive today, but we said it with love and I don’t think “morbidly obese and jolly” makes for a particularly nice song.
This tune came climbing out of a dark corner of my memory recently when I thought about this fabulous driver who used to work on the X27 line that I take to and from work.
Ride the Express Bus long enough and you start recognizing the various drivers. This particular fellow stands out because he is just so damn nice.
I believe his name is Mike, and if isn’t, well, Mike will just have to do, won’t it? The great thing about Mike is that he makes you feel like you’re entering his home rather than climbing aboard a bus.
“Hello, my friend,” he said to me one night. “Good to see you!”
Can you believe that--a New York City bus driver giving someone that kind of greeting? I was tempted to look out the window to make sure I hadn’t been transported from the concrete canyons of New York to Main Street in Mayberry.
“Thank you,” he said, as I dunked my Metrocard into the slot, like I was doing him a favor by paying my fare.
One of Mike’s regular passengers got on behind me and greeted him with a wisecrack.
“Ugh!” my fellow rider said. “If I knew it was you I would’ve taken another bus!”
Mike just laughed and headed down Broadway. And he was able to maintain this incredibly cheerful attitude as he drove through the manic streets of Manhattan. He rarely uses the horn, I’ve never heard him yell, and he keeps his cool in the middle of rush hour traffic.
God, if only someone could bottle this man’s patience and cheerful disposition. I’d buy a busload of the stuff.
I think of how I lose my temper so quickly at work. My job may not be easy, but it doesn’t begin to compare with what Mike must deal with on a daily basis.
The way the freaks in this town drive it’s a wonder he doesn’t go from Mike to Mad Max and run people off the road.
A few weeks have gone by and I haven’t seen Mike. I figured he was working a different shift and that I’d run into him sooner or later.
And then one night last week I was talking to a man who rides the X28, which goes out to Bensonhurst. This gentleman told me had gotten on an earlier bus, paid his fare, but then got off when he saw a woman sitting outside a building on Broadway with a baby in her arms.
“I told the driver to wait,” he said. “I was going to give that woman some money. I went over to her and when I turned around the bus was gone.”
“He drove off after you paid your fare?” I asked.
He said he'd get on the next X28, tell the driver his story, and ask to ride without paying an additional fare.
I didn’t say anything, but I wasn’t hopeful. You meet some great drivers on these buses, of course, but there are the occasional asshats who switch off their brains and refuse to give you an ounce of help.
And usually you meet these slugs at the worst possible moment--like now.
A few minutes later an X28 pulls in, the kind man gets on board and who do I see behind the wheel but marvelous Mike himself.
I saw the gentleman explaining himself to Mike and, without hesitating in the slightest, Mike waved him to a seat.
Aunt Bee, is dinner ready?
I signaled to Mike and pointed to his new route, demanding in pantomime to know why he had deserted his X27 fans. Mike smiled and shrugged, gave us all a wave and drove off. And my day suddenly got much better.
Role models can come at you at any moment and from any walk of life and Mike has some incredible qualities that I want to emulate. He proves that you can have a heart and still survive in the big city.
So three cheers for the bus driver and thanks for the great ride.