On The Midtown Bus With The Master Himself

4 min read

This is a short travel story. It only runs the distance of a bus ride from Second Avenue and about 65th Street, down to Saint Mark’s Place in the East Village. In New York City. 

Though its time-frame is compact, this journey still has a workable beginning, middle and end. It begins where it should and ends right on the dot, just like a bus schedule. It times out perfectly.  You’ll see.  

I lived in the East Village but had a job up in the mid 60’s. I usually took my ten-speed to get to work and probably had, without exaggeration, two to three near death experiences on every morning commute. And then again on the evening run back to the Village. New York drivers really didn’t believe in the bicycle back then. 

But I was 20 and it was fun to weave through and race past the snarled, steamy traffic. 

However, it was winter and the winds and frozen slush on the roads took my usual bike ride a few degrees north of suicidal. So, this day I sprang for the bus.

The configuration of the bus was two long plastic benches, so everyone faced each other. After work, I caught the downtown bus and found one of the few remaining spots on the bench. I loosened up my coat and settled in for the drowsy overheated, stop and go schlep to downtown. 

Do Wha Diddy

Except… whoa… as I looked up, seated right across from me was this incredibly beautiful woman. Just sitting there like a precious, little diamond… on the bus.

I stopped scratching myself and took in her radiance.  She was Asian, wearing an expensive suede coat with fur trim.  She was older, maybe 28, maybe even 31.  She was stunning and she was on this crappy bus with me and my fellow lumpen passengers. She so clearly belonged in a taxi, or a limo, but here she was seated right across from me. 

Ahhh. If only I was a different person. I was never really good at picking up girls. Especially when I had time to think about it. I would come across with a lot of false starts and a dumb, slack-jawed look on my reddened face. 

But this girl… this Woman… forget about it. She was so in another league. I couldn’t even imagine smiling at her.  I could just see the bus driver spotting me, staring at her and insisting I leave immediately.       

So I just comforted myself with occasional peeks at her gorgeousness as we bounced along, down past the 60’s, stopping at about 59th Street. 

That’s When this Guy Gets On

He’s sort of fat with an ugly brown winter coat and stupid shoes. He doesn’t walk so much as shambles along. But… he instantly spots her and slows down like a big cement mixer - his bulk swaying to a stop right next to where she is seated.

Then, without missing a beat, he nods to her. She stares straight ahead; not at me of course, but somehow just over me.  How do women do that?

As the bus starts up, he begins speaking to her like it’s no big deal– the usual boring platitudes: ‘Crazy weather… You live around here?... My name’s….’  Just a complete load of garbage.

I hate this guy.

She hangs onto her icy gaze, holding steady just over my head. I’m thinking this is so pathetic and I feel sorry for her. 

Plus, this guy is ugly. And he is old. He’s got to be in his 40’s… maybe even 45! How does a guy that old have the nerve to speak to such a young, beautiful woman? But he doesn’t let up. It’s just a constant stream of gibberish.  Amazingly, this goes on for blocks.

My fellow passengers are starting to look up from their newspapers to watch him:  

1.      Because there is really nothing better to do.

2.      Because his is the only voice on the bus.

3.      Because he is so unrelenting.

4.      Because no one can quite believe this is happening.

I look around at the others and note the interest on their faces. All of us are being sucked into this… what? Scene? Recital? Exhibition?  

Of course for us, it’s an unexpected time out from a predictable bus ride.  But it is something more– I just can’t quite figure out what. 

Something Is Definitely Happening Here

We’re probably down to the mid 40’s now and as some people get up to leave, they still follow the guy’s constant patter to the Woman, trying not to miss a word, even as they reluctantly exit.  

New passengers get on the bus and seeing us all gawking at the guy and the girl… soon join us.  

We travel block after block. He just keeps talking - nothing fazes him. The whole world is watching. He doesn’t care – that’s how superb is his focus.    

Then he lowers himself just slightly, getting a bit closer.  He’s gently asking her questions.

“Have you seen…. ?”.  “Do you like… ?”. 

She still ignores him but I’m starting to fall under his spell.  I’m losing track of time or the fact that I’m even on a bus.  

But then he says something – I can’t quite hear what it is – and suddenly there is an abrupt shift. 

Though still not looking at him, she sort of nods to one of his questions. 

Feedback!  She’s giving him feedback.  She’s not only acknowledging his presence, she’s what…  she’s acknowledging him! 

This guy… this guy just takes it in stride. He’s not especially encouraged by her response, just as he wasn’t previously discouraged by her lack of response. He’s just calm, even and… steadfast.

He compliments her coat and seems to know something about fashion… something about style. I can barely follow. It’s a language I don’t understand. It’s like watching two adults speak when you’re a child. I can only catch the easy words like, “the” and “I” and “and”.

We’re in the mid 20’s now. I’m getting trancey with the drone of his voice. We all are. It’s actually somewhat calming. She’s getting used to it too, because… she turns to look at him!  

I figure, OK this is over, now that she’s looking straight at him and sees how old and ugly he is. But no. She’s holding his gaze and nodding even more. Then… she speaks to him… nicely! I wet my pants a little.

As I mentioned earlier, I am only about 20 here and don’t know a great deal about women. But now I realize I know nothing about women. 

I’m wondering, is it just me, or is everyone else going under his spell? I look around at my fellow passengers and I swear some of them are leaning forward to get closer to this unfolding pas de deux.  (At 20 I have no idea what pas de deux means, but I do know a dance is clearly evolving before my eyes.)

We’re all looking at her now, waiting for what might happen next. The bus is bouncing along and as we get down to the high teens, we hit a big bump in the road. Surprised, she laughs!  He laughs. They laugh!

I think the rest of us do too. My God, we’re rooting for him. 

So this is what it’s like to be in your 40’s? It’s not so bad. Suddenly, my world creaks open a bit.   Maybe there are some possibilities in that whole gray, murky thing that comes after your 30’s….

She’s smiling now. Everything’s changed. What had been a dumb, creepy routine for her has transformed into something for which even she wasn’t ready.

What’s Yaw Name?

Though the guy already told her about 30 blocks ago, she now looks at him and asks what his name is.  This practically takes my breath away. 

He doesn’t blink, doesn’t react, he just calmly tells her, like he knew the question was coming. He is so cool! 

I love this guy 

I wanna be him when I’m 45.  

We’re down to about 12th Street, when he coolly pops the question: “Do you like Chinese?”. 

Their eyes lock. “Sure…”, she nods.

“I know a great little, place right near here.  Wanna get something to eat?”

She smiles, “Yeah”. 

I notice the bus driver watching on in his rearview mirror. He helpfully pulls the bus over at St. Mark’s Place. She stands. The guy escorts her to the exit door and they leave together, as if… they were a couple with dinner plans.    

We smile, we applaud, we rise from our seats to better see them walk down the street together. We look at each other – the bus driver too -  to make sure we all witnessed the same thing. We have. We have shared something today bigger than a bus ride and we’re all happier for it. 

It is only then, after our collective bonding, that the bus driver swings the bus back onto 2nd Avenue.

Just a few blocks later, 4th Street is my stop. I have completed this ride. And I have seen a story completed from beginning to end. At least from my perspective.

Wha Happened?....  

As I walk to my building I reflect on all I have learned today. The guy was truly fearless; he didn’t care what other people thought of him. He was focused, determined and couldn’t be distracted from his goal.

From the moment he saw her, he willed it to happen. He thought nothing of putting himself on the line.

We often hear coaches and motivators exhort us to, “Never give up! Never give up!”.  We nod and decide that we will never give up… but we usually do.

But this man knew the secret to not giving up. It is… to not give up.

Be simple, calm and persistent. And if possible, make it fun. But never give up.  

They probably had a really nice Chinese dinner. I could see him ordering many dishes, not to gorge on but to sample a variety of tastes just to make the dinner more fun. I’m sure he got her phone number.

Would she see him again? How could she not? As beautiful as she was, how often did she find herself in the presence of a master?    

If I could have somehow located this guy - this ugly, old guy - and sat at his feet, absorbing the life lessons he tossed off so easily, I would have gladly quit my job and done so. I would do so today.

How could I not? After a lifetime of gurus and experts - for that short bus ride – it was the only time I got to be in the presence of The Master himself.

  Jon Lapidese is a travel copywriter and blogger.