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She’s a Mean Old H4 Bus 1: Marlin

It should have been a normal rush hour ride from Brookland Station, past Georgia Avenue, through Columbia Heights, then down through that damnable bottleneck—a place some of the drivers still secretly called Spanish Town, though it wasn’t much of that anymore. But Marlin noticed, as he worked the lever for the door and let people in all through Mount Pleasant, that something was powerfully wrong.

At Mount Pleasant and Irving Streets, the mean teenager (Marlin had been there himself and swore the kid was a gangbanger) got on the bus. Then, at Mount Pleasant and Hobart, the Asian guy (Marlin was sure he had two girlfriends) got on. He was the one always leaving gum on the seat. At Mount Pleasant and Park Road, the angry black girl with the quiet face (probably something to do with her always staring at the young Asian guy) got on, and she was the one who blocked the back door. At Eighteenth Street and Park Road, the old lady who could barely speak to him through her other language, but kept on speaking to him anyways when he was trying to drive (she was far too skinny for an old lady, even)… all of these people were his worst costumers,
and during a rush hour ride through Mount Pleasant, when there should have been enough riders to fill up the bus twice over, forcing him to leave more on the street, only four other souls except for himself were riding on the bus that Monday morning.

And, his bus was being fussy, it clattered more than usual, there was a hitch when he put the brake or turned, and he had to force through it… H4 wasn’t happy today. She was a refurbished bus, but already she was breaking back down. Marlin had seen a few buses through this stage. She couldn’t get to the point where she died in the middle of a trip. He would have to call it in, and they were going to put her down. It was as if she knew he was going to betray her, and she was trying to wrest out of his grasp as he guided them through their final paces together and eventually drive her home to the bus depot deep down on Georgia Avenue for the last time.

Marlin didn’t want to say to himself, even now that he accelerated down through Nineteenth and Park, that rare and wonderful intersection with no light to stop him, that, yes it was his bus making these strange people get on. Not fate, not an odd turn of a bunch of folks riding later than usual, and he would see all the others later on his return trip. The H4 was a bus that had a long, beautiful route through two extremes of the city, and he was also aware that it had been able to run late since before he started driving it almost a lifetime ago.

They all got down to Adams Mill Road and Klingle Road. A young mother, Carmelita with little Sofia—they chatted sometimes when she sat up front, but today “Hasta nos vemos…” he whispered as Marlin was suddenly filled with a chill and passed them by.  Somehow he knew, he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t let them on this angry, angry bus. All those mean people and then those two innocent? No, no, he wasn’t a superstitious man. Just being careful…

They all flew down Klingle Road, a mural on the right raced by in a colorful flip cartoon of characters celebrating the world with shared corn and hugging harmony, to scenes of tanks aiming on Tieneman Square protestors, a whale calf being shot at by a harpoon larger than its own mother, the whole universe destructing itself, and then a lone brown leg pointed toe at a soccerball, black and that ended. Marlin let his breath out, over the bridge, and when he was ready to take another, they found themselves in the worst traffic back up he had ever seen between Mount Pleasant and Cleveland Park. He fretted, pinched the bridge of his sweaty nose, then realized there was just construction going on, nothing sinister, and eased his knuckles over the steering wheel. But, his passengers were getting frustrated.

The bus rumbled its engine so loud, they started to quiet after it, curious. Marlin knew the lights outside were flashing in tandem when they shouldn’t have even been on, but he crossed his arms and ignored it. Another H4 bus, going back the other way to Brookland Station, was just then pulling out of the traffic, on that side of the road. He waved before moving on. Marlin returned the gesture.

“Oh, no, you’ve got that crazy bus.” No, this wasn’t a kindly hello. The man was getting serious. “Marlin? Is that you?”

“Yeah, hey Gray. How are you doing, man, it’s been a while.”

“No. You have to make them behave. That bus you have is crazy. I drove her yesterday. She’s going to break down or worse if you don’t get them to listen. They’ve got to follow the rules.”

Marlin laughed it off, waved hard for Gray to get going and cars were honking for him to go. But, this loneliness overwhelmed Marlin and his bad feeling that made him want to turn the bus in at the end of the day… He didn’t know why he tried it. What had to be Gray’s joke on him, but he unbuckled, got up and began walking down the aisle. The bus responded with an impatient lunge in engine noise as he took each step toward them.

“Here, read a schedule—Miss, you’ll need a bus schedule, the rules are there on the back. You’re the one I always have to tell to get out of that back door, aren’t you? So you, especially you, better read it.” The young black woman screwed up her face at him.

“Please, everyone… just try to follow the rules,” Then, Marlin’s authoritarian anger built. The anger that made people swipe their cards again and get up out of the priority seating for senior citizens and disabled persons. The anger that made people do what he wanted even though his hands and his feet weren’t ever free to enforce a thing. It erupted, “What are ya’ll gonna do on this bus, now, if the doors get locked and we’re stuck here? Or if this engine shuts down. You see how she already is? So, stop yellin’, stop playing that music out loud. And you—you move down the bus when there’s a standing gap and more people need to get on. Really, it’s as inconsiderate as shit, and I’m tired of repeating myself to you—and sir? Young man!”

A teenager twisted safety orange earbuds in tighter, the pum-pa-pum-pa-pum of an aggressive reggaeton beat raised and thumped loud enough for the old lady sitting nearby to refasten her jacket and edge away. His hoodied head ducked lower, the row of seats ahead of him obscured exactly what he was doing, but Marlin shouted now that the boy had better stop tagging that “Nazi or gang shit on his bus.” The boy’s felt marker slipped, clacked between his sneakers, then rolled downhill, down the blue aisle to clack-clack against faded plastic bench at the back of the bus.

“Follow the goddam rules, before some goddambody gets hurt… okay? Goddamit, Gray you’re making an ass of me again, aren’t you? Gonna get me in trouble…”

Marlin went and sat back down. He could see in the mirror set above his head and the ‘On the bus, it is unlawful to…” sign, that almost every single one of his worst passengers had a smart phone out now, taking pictures of him sitting there angry and idle, thumbs tapping rapidly… even the old woman had flipped open her version and was speaking rapidly in some language to somebody out there about what just happened on the H4 bus of all places.

Someone commented audibly to the person sitting across the aisle from them, that this was worse than the one METRO employee who was texting and crashed a train. This guy yelling profanities was sure to get fired…

Marlin sighed, then tightened his seatbelt. DC people may not shout back in public, but they would ignore the voice of the city worker or the service man, more often when it was a brown face (a native’s face, he knew—maybe they didn’t know). And then he was the one speaking a different language they could ignore. They behaved as if they were entitled to their own customs and they were on vacation here in DC and nothing they did anywhere in the city really mattered. Those vikings—even if they weren’t leaving again for months, or years, or never, the DC riders would resume clacking their phones, breaking the rules, setting their fires, eager to get on their way downtown to do more pillaging.

At the height of his anxiety, flexing fingers and wondering another time if he could radio in before those emails, texts, tweets, pictures gone up on Facebook got to his supervisor, to the world… Marlin’s bus shut off its own engine. He swore that it did. He tried to restart it several noisy times, and now people were beginning to speak up for themselves, asking if they could please be let out to walk the rest of the way uphill to Cleveland Park station. “No, I cannot just let you out into traffic to get hit by five damned cars…”

Then, with his hand mid-air before a final reach, the dashboard flared to life, everything blinking, but then the bell chords started pulling themselves, the automated bus voice began speaking tongues in horrible soothing rapport.

Stop requested. Connecticut Avenue and Klingle Road. Please, step away from the rear doorwell. Para todo los pasajeros, visita a metro-open-doors-punto-com y recibe todas las noticias de… Stop requested… Do not run after the bus; the bus cannot stop for late passengers. Stop requested…

Marlin unlatched his seatbelt fast, leaned out into the aisle. He was shouting something, but he could not hear himself. For help? For them to finally help him?

His passengers were finally getting that ride of their lives. People were falling down. They were yelling at one another. White, billowing exhaust rushed into the cabin when someone in the back kicked open the emergency window.

Please, do not stand in the rear doorwell.

That one quiet, angry girl, she fainted.

When she awakened, she and Marlin were alone, and that angry H4 bus had completely transformed the pillaged Washington world outside into something so other…

1, Busdriver Marlin :: 2, The Quiet, Angry-Faced Girl :: 3, Love, After the Deer Apocalypse :: 4, Moises “Emperor Crush” Romero :: 5, Screaming in Spanish :: 6, His Hoodie :: 7, Amazonia :: 8, Behind the Waterfall :: 9, The Cricket Queen :: 10, Don Juan’s

1 Comment so far

  1. Anonymous

    I thought it was a mean ol' world. I had no idea it was a mean old bus. Excellent read.

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