Bike on the Bus

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Ellen's picture

The other morning I decided to take my bike on the bus so that I could bike between appointments, one on the east side of town, one on the west. I waited at the bus stop impatiently. The bus was late. When it finally pulled to a stop at the light in front of the mall, I noticed that the bike rack was full. I could see the outline of two sets of bike wheels against its white grill from a block away.

It would be more difficult to put my bike under the bus in one of the cargo bays, but I could do it. I worked out regularly just so I could lift the twenty pounds of bike whenever needed. My father had trained me on family vacations that if you bring it, you have to carry it. I had extrapolated that to bike maneuvering. I wasn't going to let some smart aleck jock have the satisfaction of watching me struggle just to put his hand out at the last minute to help me. "Little lady, let me get that." Ugh.

The bus pulled up and stopped with a screech of brakes. I caught the eye of the driver to make sure he saw that I had a bike. He nodded and I stepped to the side and waited while a young woman with a tiger tattoo an an older man in a baseball cap climbed aboard and paid their fare. The driver stepped off the bus, and unlocked the bin in front of me, not looking at me. "Where ya gettin' off?" His voice was gruff and impatient.

"Boulder Terminal." I spoke clearly so he wouldn't misunderstand and worry about piling more bikes in after mine. I was going to the end of the line.

He didn't respond but stepped back and looked at his watch. I bent my knees and lifted the bike, one hand on the vertical post under the seat, the other under the handlebars. So far so good. Holding the bike in front of me, I crouched under the lip of the storage compartment and set the rear wheel onto the corrugated metal floor. I pushed from the front post until the entire bike was inside.

I stepped back out, scraping my backpack against the top of the compartment and the metal edge grabbed the canvas and held on. I had to twist a bit, but in a moment I was free and stood up, dusting my hands off with the satisfaction of a job well done.

The driver looked at me and scratched his head. "It's s'posed to go the other way."

"Huh?"

The driver snuck a look at his watch. "The bike.” He narrowed his eyes in accusation. “It's supposed to go flush with the back of the unit."

"Geesh. All right." I crawled back in and grabbed the bike by the center bar and tried to push the front wheel back into the recesses of the bus while using my other hand to lift the rear. It shrieked at me as fender met floor. It hurt my ears. I needed more leverage. I nudged myself further in, put my foot on the floor of the bus, and, in the same movement, pushed myself further inside. Again I grabbed the center bar, but this time I grabbed the front wheel, too. Lifting then pushing I was able to slide the front of the bike in a few inches. Still not all the way in. I climbed further back. I grabbed the frame and lifted it once more and pushed. Finally it sat in the furthest reaches of the compartment, it's nose turned pitifully toward the ceiling and its handlebars outstretched to me in entreaty. Would I ever be able to get it out again?

I slowly backed out of the metal box. A tug on the top of my back pack stopped me short. A force was pulling me back toward the inside of the bus. I felt behind me to the top of my pack. Damn! It was hung up on the lip of the opening again. I climbed back into the bus to relieve the stress on the pack, bending over further, trying to make myself and my pack smaller. No joy. The metal edge caught the pack again as I backed out, and forced my momentum back into the space beneath the bus. I tried to turn around so I could go out front ways, but my pack wedged on the ceiling.

"Help!" I called to the driver. I could just turn my head enough to look out the mouth of the metal cave. I saw his legs, clad in their brown uniform trousers. They came closer to the opening and I relaxed, expecting arms to reach in and grab my arm, which I held out helpfully.

But the trousered legs bent at the knee and the mouth of the cave closed with a slam, then a click.

I was alone in the belly of the beast. Locked in. I panted in the dark, trying to resist taking the stale air of the cargo hold into my lungs. A greasy, dusty film encrusted the inside of my nostrils. I sneezed.

Was the man in that much of a hurry? To stow me with the bicycles and then walk away? I was still coming to the full realization of my situation when my body slammed against the metal wall. The bus had pulled away from the curb. I righted myself, checking for bruises or dents. I was OK. Then I looked at the bike. Hadn't budged. It was fine. I was the one without fenders or metal parts. Who looked pitiful now?

The bus' movement began to settle down and the engine sent a steady thrum through the floor. The tires whined on the asphalt of the highway. We were on our way. I pulled off my helmet and closed my eyes. Inhale peace, exhale fear, I told myself. After a couple of deep breaths, I opened my eyes and tested the hatch. It was secure. Inhale peace It would not fly open as we careened down Highway 119 at sixty-five miles per hour. Exhale fear.

The bus shifted and decelerated so fast that I slid toward the front of the compartment on my bottom. "Ouch!" My shoulders rocked against the wall and the bus came to a complete stop. A loud creak and a thud followed. Ah! We are letting on a passenger. This was my opportunity. I pounded on the door. "Hey! Get me outta here!" I paused. I heard the distant murmur of voices. I pounded again. "Someone's IN here!" I listened. Another thud and the bus accelerated again. My fate seem to be to ride this bronco all the way into town.

I tried to be Buddha. I tried to clear my mind. I am the bus. I am the bus. At each grinding halt and shudder of the vehicle's chassy, I imagined which stop or corner or traffic light we were at. After a slow turn, a careening shift from right to left, and then a bobbing dip that left the shocks echoing the motion for several seconds, I thought, Ah, this must be the community college. They never did fix that pothole in the parking lot.

Later, we stopped quickly and the driver shifted into neutral, letting the engine idle. Car accident? I wondered. Then I heard it. The distant rumble growing louder, and then what was usually an ear-splitting blare, a train's horn grew louder as it swept through an intersection. In my little compartment, the sound was more nostalgic than nasty. I thought of hobos jumping onto trains as they slowed down for mail pick-ups or track shifts. Stow aways in barren cattle cars with nothing but straw to keep them warm. Bloody luxury.

What is taking so long? I strummed my fingers on the floor of the compartment not seeing Buddha in this situation at all. Maybe there was a crow bar in the hold somewhere and I could pry the door open? Inhale peace. Exhale fear. I closed my eyes again and felt myself melt into the sides of the cage. I began lose myself in the inner rumblings of the bus and the thrumming rhythm of the passing rail cars. After quite some time, the bus began to move. But this time, my body swayed with the motion instead of against it.

The next stop, I knew, was Niwot, where we opened the doors twice, probably, I speculated, because, after the passengers had all climbed aboard and the bus was pulling back into the traffic, someone had pulled into the Park-n-Ride and, hailing the bus down, had run across two lanes of traffic. It was just going to be one of those days.

Yes. And isn't it wonderful? What a day could bring? Who knew I would end up riding in a cattle car when I climbed onto my bike that morning? I got comfortable then. I was on a ride. Might as well acknowledge it. I even drowsed a bit dreaming of crossing the country in a tin can. Several exaggerated stops and fast turns later, the bus made a wide slow turn and pulled to a stop. I waited for a time, my breathing very quiet and soft. Distant voices called, laughed. I heard a scrape of metal against metal. I opened my eyes, then shut them quickly against the blaze of daylight that rammed its way into my space.

After blinking a couple of times, I was able to make out the outline of a person in front of me.
“What the hell?” a man's voice said.

"Hi," I said and reached out my hand. The driver pulled me out and I stumbled to the sidewalk. My vision began to clear and I fell to my knees under the roof of the Boulder bus terminal

The driver squinted at me, his tanned face flushing. "Are you all right?"

I nodded. "No problem."

"I didn't realize... I musta forgot you were in there. We were running late and..."

I tried to stand up, but my legs were stiff and they wouldn't claim my weight. No matter. I sat down on the curb beside ol' Bessie, my bus, and smiled at the driver. "Would you mind?" I nodded toward the compartment.

"Oh, yeah!" The driver pulled out my bike and set it against a pillar. "There you are. Are you sure you're all right? Can I get you anything?" He grabbed my arm and lifted me to my feet. I felt a bit dizzy. "Come into the terminal." He looked around quickly and signaled to one of the security guards. "Hey, Mac! Grab that bike and put it in back."

The driver's breath came in ragged bursts as he half-carried me half-dragged me to the station waiting room. "That must have been hell in there. Why didn't you call out?"

"I did at first," I said. I smiled. Now I knew the entire truth. "But I kinda liked it in there."
__________________________
Ellen
Ever learning, Everlasting