Saturday I spent the entire day looking for a suit. Sunday I went to a local barber and fulfilled mom's dream of a regular haircut. Sunday night I summed up the courage to utilize an old Bic disposable razor, and on Monday morning I actually went to the dentist and had my teeth cleaned. Needless to say, I did everything I possibly could for the sake of an 11:00 am job interview, but there's a thing called plans and a whole other thing called life and I don't think either of them have been properly introduced.
I had set the dentist appointment up on Friday. It was imperative, I told him, that I'm out of the office by 9:30. He assured me the entire process would take about 20 minutes. All I had to do was get to his office by 9:00 sharp and he'd have me out of there by 9:30. This was especially important to me because in Brooklyn, N.Y., when at the mercy of the MTA, timing is everything.
By 8:00 in the morning, I was firmly planted at the bus stop. I wasn't taking any chances. I allowed a full hour for the twenty minute ride the MTA usually takes 50 minutes to do.
Buses are extremely interesting. You never know whether or not they're going to actually stop at your bus stop. They're supposed to stop, but they don't always stop and on those occasions that they do stop, it's merely to let somebody off. They don't open the front door to let anyone on the bus and by the time you get to the back door, it's already closed and you're left standing there, looking for the next one.
Buses don't seem to run on any particular schedule. They're supposed to come every 5 to 10 minutes apart, according to the expensive bus schedules the MTA has posted at every stop, but they never do. Sometimes, they come in bunches, usually stopping at the stop across the street from yours. Inevitably, you do get a bus, but you don't get a seat. I'm not complaining, mind you. Standing on the bus is three steps up from standing at the bus stop, and if ever there is a seat, you won't catch me taking it. I've already learned that when a young man finds a seat, an elderly person finds a young man to stand over and glare down upon, mumbling expletives under their breath and sending a light rain of spittle down upon you. No seats for me, by golly.
When I board a bus, I just look for a place to stand. Picking the proper place to stand is very important because bus drivers all over Brooklyn have a bus route pool going: the driver who spills the most passengers in a day, wins. Employees of the MTA will never admit this, but I know it's true. I've yet to ride a bus with a light-footed drier -- when it's time to apply the brake.
Anyway, I was in the dentist's office at 9:05.
I left the dentist at 9:33.
I walked the three blocks to the "N" train, purchased a copy of The New York Daily News, and a token. Then I pushed my way through the turnstiles and walked down the flight of stairs with the chipped blue wooden sign over the doorway that read, "Manhattan," in white painted letters.
The platform was crowded with people. I thought this a little unusual. Rush hour trickles down to nothing by 9:00 am and it was now 9:40. I feared this was indicative of a delay. I nervously glanced at my watch. I like the "N" train. It's never taken more than forty-five minutes to get Midtown and with this in mind, I opened the paper and started to read.
I was finished with the Sports section by 10:00. I leaned over the edge of the platform and saw the twinkle of lights up ahead in the distance. A sigh of relief escaped me. I turned to the front of the paper and started on Page Two. I heard the train rushing into the station and watched as it zipped right by me on the express track, which was unusual considering the "N" train has no express train through this part of Brooklyn. I told myself there was really no reason to start pacing up and down the platform: I still had a 15 minute cushion.
I turned back to the Main Section. I was somewhere in the middle of Page Three when it occurred to me that some of the people on the other side of the platform looked a lot like some of the people on my side of the platform, only the people they looked like were no longer there. It was now 10:10. I was justifiably alarmed.
I walked back upstairs to the token both and approached the gentleman, tucked safely behind the vault sized door of his bomb-proof little cubicle.
"Where's the train?" I asked. "I've been waiting downstairs for forty-five minutes."
He looked at me from behind the spectacles that slid down the bridge of his nose and asked a suitable question: "Which train?"
"The Manhattan bound train," I replied.
"There's no service to Manhattan. You gotta go to the other side and take the train to Coney Island. When you get there you cross back over to the side and take the train to Manhattan."
There are times when my mind is like the hollows of an empty cavern. Things have a way of echoing.
"There's no service to Manhattan?" I asked.
"What d'ya got? Wax in your ears? There's no service to Manhattan!"
"Why couldn't you have told me this forty-five minutes ago? I have to be somewhere at 11:00!"
"You didn't ask me forty-five minutes ago."
"I shouldn't have to!" I screamed, "Why haven't you posted a notice? You have a board back there. You're supposed to write, 'NO TRAINS TO MANHATTAN.'"
"And I would!" he screamed. "But the marker I'm supposed to write it with doesn't work."
"Well why don't you tell people!?!"
"Look, mack, I sell tokens. That's my job. Now get the hell out of here, 'cos you're interfering with my job."
"I want my buck and a quarter back," I said. "You've blown my appointment. You failed to provide me with the service I paid for. I want a refund."
"What are you, some kind of Liberal?"
"What?" I asked. His line of questioning threw me.
"It's just like a Liberal to blame somebody else for their problems."
"I want my token back."
"For your information, the MTA doesn't have to refund anyone, anything. Now get outta here before I call a Transit Cop."
"Call one," I challenged. "Pick up the dang blasted phone and call one!"
"Get lost, kid!" he yelled.
"Call Transit!" I screamed.
He lifted the receiver off the hook in the booth, pushed a button and yelled: "The damn thing doesn't work!"
It was then that I knew the true meaning of the letters MTA: More Trouble Ahead. I left the station in search of a cop and, as luck would have it, here was one coming up the street.
"Officer," I yelled. "Would you follow me please?"
The Officer followed me into the station and I explained what happened. He listened, nodding in all the right places. Then he led me outside and proceeded to explain that he was a City Cop. He understood my predicament, but it was a Transit problem and that would only mean one thing.
"It's not my jurisdiction."
"It's not your jurisdiction," I said. "Is there any justice left in this world?"
"Just sneak on the bus and go home," he said.
"Wait a minute. Are you telling me to sneak on the back of a bus?"
"No!" he said. "I'm not saying that. Don't tell anyone I said that, but you know."
I walked to the bus stop. I didn't know what to do. Did two wrongs make a right? Wasn't I entitled to a free ride? Some twenty minutes later, the bus pulled into the stop. I climbed on and walked right past the fare box.
"Hey buddy," the driver began, "a buck twenty-five."
"I'm not paying you a dime," I said and stood my ground.
"You want me to call a cop?"
I ignored him.
The bus driver ran off the bus. He waved at a passing cruiser. I watched the cruiser hit its lights and siren and make a screeching U-turn to pull up in front of the bus. I was shaking. The City had declared war on fare beaters. I was facing arrest.
Some kid stood up and offered to put a token into the fare box.
"Sit down!" I told him. "If you pay my fare, I'll break your arm."
The two cops followed the bus driver onto the bus.
"That's him," the driver said, pointing.
The forward cop reached for his cuffs when a third cop suddenly appeared. It was the cop I approached in front of the train station. He had walked to the back of the bus.
"Is it your jurisdiction now?" I asked.
"Let him ride," the cop said to the bus driver.
The other two looked at him and all three left the bus. The driver climbed into his seat and the bus was on its way. I was vindicated; so overcome with joy I went sprawling to the floor as the driver pulled into the next stop, punching that break.
"You want to hold on," he said.
"Sure," I told him and wondered if I could get a piece of the pool.
was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lives some of the time. He makes his home in Bradenton, Florida when he's not in Bangor, Maine, Tidioute, Pennsylvania, or Cortland, Ohio.
He's written for New York Newsday, "had a paragraph in the Village Voice once," The Bangor Daily News, The Cortland Home Journal, and a host of other lesser known publications.
Currently, Jon is working on a novel about elves and dwarves.