Sunday, May 26, 2013

Two Maniacs

"I’m gonna talk to you… and you’re gonna kill yourself"

As you might imagine, some "bus people" are not...well...normal. Consider, if you will, the case of Jaunty Motoring Cap Man:

On Friday, May 24th I was dropping off the only passenger I then had on board at that moment on the Oh North. A man (wearing a jaunty motoring cap, oddly enough) was waiting to be picked up at the same bus stop. I had seen this fellow around the system before, but hadn't had the opportunity to engage him in conversation. As a rule, I try to avoid most opportunities to engage in conversation with my passengers, but it's not always possible, given the nature of the job.

As my deboarding passenger stepped down to the ground, he said to me, "I hope you have a good Memorial Day weekend." I thanked him and he went on his way without another word to myself  or JMCM.

When JMCM came on board, he was muttering something about someone having said something rude to him. I figured he must be talking about the recent passenger, but I was sure I hadn't heard that one say anything to him. I asked him who he meant and he indicated the guy who had just left. I then asked him (against my better judgement) what the man had said to him, and he replied, "He said 'I hope they drill a hole in your head, kid.'"

If you alternately say "I hope you have a good memorial day weekend" and "I hope they drill a hole in your head, kid", they have a similar cadence, even if they don't match in number of syllables. They even kind of rhyme in a weird way, at least to my tin ear. Certainly songwriters have made worse rhymes, especially those who end paired lines with "rain" and "again", and nobody says anything in protest.

I knew right away that the man I now had on board was a schizophrenic, and a paranoid one at that. I mean, if a normal person thought he heard a stranger say to them, "I hope they drill a hole in your head, kid", they would either assume that they had misheard the stranger, or conclude that the stranger was a maniac spouting nonsense. No one but a crazy person would take such a statement at face value.

I offered the opinion that perhaps he had misheard the gentleman, but he persisted in his belief in the man's hostile remark. He added, "That's why I'm saving my money so I can get the heck out of this town. Everyone's so rude here." He went on to list some of his qualifications as a good citizen undeserving of such abuse, which included paying his bills, refraining from graffiti and taking his medication. If that was him on his meds, I would hate to see him without them.

I decided to try not to say anything further to this maniac, except to answer his subsequent questions in as friendly and succinct a manner possible, lest he auditorialy hallucinate one of my statements as something threatening. I hoped that he wouldn't be going far. Unfortunately, as it turned out, he was going to the TC, but whether by design or accident, he had gotten on the Oh North on the outbound half of its loop, so I got to enjoy his company for far longer than I wanted to. Fortunately, other people soon began to board, so I wasn't alone with him for too long. Even in broad daylight, crazy people make me nervous.

This put me in mind of another maniac I once had on board, this time without the cheerful rays of the sun to ameliorate my discomfort. I was driving the local O Town X-AA route. It was the last run of the day, and dusk was rapidly approaching. At County Center I picked up a befuddled and twitchy fellow. He was heading to the ORM on the far side of town, which meant we would be getting to spend a lot of time together. He was then and remained my only passenger for the rest of the night.

Shortly after getting under way, he said something about his face probably being familiar to me. I had to tell him that I couldn't recall having seen him before. He said he was well-known to other drivers. I was wondering how to take this, and decided to just let it lie. Soon he said, "I'm sorry" - just out of the blue. While trying to keep the fear and trepidation out of my voice, I asked him what he was sorry for. He said, "For being a bad person". I had no way to know if he was good or bad, but I was quickly beginning to suspect the latter. I tried to lightly assure him that he was alright, to which he averred that he most definitely was not.

Now I was really nervous and just wanted to get the ride over with as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, while hurrying might seem like a good way to keep a bus on time (it isn't), it's absolutely impossible when ridership and traffic are light. Leaving a time stop early is one of the biggest no-no's a bus driver can commit. It's right up there with crashing the bus or outright murdering passengers.

While the technology does not (yet) exist to prevent bus drivers from committing such heinous acts as accidents and homicide, we do have a means of preventing "running hot", as we call it. Well, I shouldn't say that it prevents hotness (something bus drivers are generally lacking anyway) any more than security cameras can prevent murder, but we drivers are remarkably slavish to the threat this particular technology presents.

You see, we have a type of GPS (Global Position System) in the buses, and a little screen which tells us how late or early we are running. This alone wouldn't be enough to stop the occasional driver from cheating a bit on a time stop. However, our vehicle tracking system has sophisticated software that can send the information that a time stop was blown off to our overseers at the TA. I call it the snitch-ware. We may not always like our jobs, but we like them better than unemployment.

So I had to bide my time and perform my run within the time constraints, maniac or no. As we went along, he kept muttering dark comments about how deserted the town seemed. When we were passing through the infamous South Side...

"So this is South Side? Apparently I misjudged Mos Eisley"

...he commented on how very empty the streets looked. This was in direct contradiction to observable reality. South Side is usually teeming with pedestrians going to and fro on nefarious errands (many residents can't afford cars and/or they lack valid driver licenses) at all hours of the day, but especially after dark. As night was quickly falling, the neighborhood was putting on its usual carnival-like atmosphere.

Pedantic busybody that I am, I couldn't let such an obviously incorrect statement go unchallenged. I forget what exactly I said, but I basically refuted what he had said, albeit in as polite and unchallenging manner as I could. I think I said something along the lines of "Oh, it looks pretty busy to me." To which he cryptically replied, "Not anymore. Not anymore." He just had to say it twice, like some kind of demented Poe bird, just to heighten the ick factor.

Thankfully, the ORM is conveniently located in South Side, so raven-boy soon disembarked. The next day I saw him wandering back and forth along the same few blocks of South Side's main thoroughfare - all damned day. I was afraid every time I saw him that he was going to want to board my bus and resume our scintillating discussion of the day before. I was very grateful that he didn't.

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