I rode the bus home last night. Chrissi had said maybe she could pick me up from work. That’s all right, I said. And by the time it was a possibility, James was already sleeping, and you know waking him at that point is laughable.
So, no problem, I head for the bus platform after teaching my last class.
Just in time for the early bus. I’ll still have to walk a half-mile to get home, since it takes a slightly different route than the other one, but no problem. Just happy to be done for the day.
Only the bus doesn’t show up.
Now the schedule says 15 minutes to the next one. That can’t be right.
It was right. Somewhere in the rainy mist of Eugene, an EmX bus was lost to the world. Perhaps it had coworkers, friends, family, who mourned it. But we didn’t have the time.
Its replacement showed up fifteen minutes late and the mostly-student crowd and I crowded into the bus. Last time around, some old lady had looked pissed at some young lady who kept swearing. This time around, the proper lady in brown slacks was replaced by an old guy I crammed in next to in the back row of the bus. He asked another rider if anything was going on at Hayward Field. The compatriot said no, and he thanked her.
As it turned out, there was more happening on the bus than on campus. We sallied forth down Franklin and finally entered Glenwood, having lost a few riders at the two stations before leaving Eugene. This turned out to be a good thing, as that meant there were fewer oiled-up sardines in the final count.
I looked up from my phone when several people in the middle of the bus began screaming in unison and shoving each other out of the way. I saw shining liquid cascading down in a screen from the roof in the middle of the bus.
“The emergency exit?” I asked the universe. Had the seal broken and the rains come piling through? Maybe some idiot had pushed it upward.
“The hydraulic fluid!” yelled the man next to me. He teetered at that, and my heart started giving me conflicting instructions.
The bus stopped, fortunately at a station, the one next to Planned Parenthood, and the bus driver asked us to “de-board, please.” I thought that sounded like such a formal way to say, “get the hell out of there.” Anyway, no need for directions, friend. I followed the crowd outward, making sure not to touch anything, anywhere.
We stood on the platform and embraced the rain as the cleanest fluid that might be falling from above. I turned my back on the crowd and looked at the bus’s midsection: through the windows I saw the wall of fluid continued to fall from the accordion-folding rubber section of the bus. Apparently to turn something that big you need a bunch of blood in its veins. Like a whole lot.
I looked at the road and saw the liquid flowing out onto the black highway, mixing into the rain to find some camouflage for its oily arms and waist.
Something about it reminded me of Delillo’s White Noise and I didn’t want to hang around to see an environmental disaster in the making, so I left the crowd and footed it to the next station.
The rain wasn’t so bad then, but it was dark and muddy puddles substituted for sidewalks. The next station had one figure waiting for the next bus. I thought about telling the man there it might be awhile for the next ride, but I didn’t. I thought one of the other refugees behind me might do that anyway. But I didn’t hear anybody speak as I kept moving forward, so then I thought about the Bystander Effect and realized I was part of the human problem.
Halfway to the next station I called Chrissi to explain my circumstances. James was asleep, so she felt torn between her love and her husband. I quite understood.
Halfway over the Willamette bridge, I realized how high I was and how deep the water was and how dark and cold. You think, in the movies, whatever, people dive into water all the time and they don’t drown. If they do it’s because they were lazy and they’re stupid and shocked easily by freezing water and darkness.
But I realized as I involuntarily hung up on my wife and stopped to stare at the water, that if somebody were to push me over, or if a car got lazy and walked over the sidewalk and gave me a nudge, then my shoes and coat and backpack and belt and hair would do the rest. I kept walking but geez.
The rain picked up. I was completely soaked at this point. Then a bus drove by and I kicked myself for not waiting at the last stop.
A couple more blocks and I was into Springfield, making progress. Another bus rode by. Wow, they really did send help. This time I run and run and catch it at the station.
I hopped aboard and took it to the stop nearest my place. Still a half mile to walk.
So wet now, there’s nothing for it but to run home.
As I arrive, I see another bus stop across the street; I could have waited for that one. I could have skipped the dash to the station, and then the second wet-run home if I’d been patient.
You can’t know these things.
James infuriated with me when I arrive, for coming home at an inconvenient hour.
Inconvenient for me, too, kid.
He forgives me. Chrissi smiles. Not a perfect day, but pretty dang close.