Strangers On A Bus.

nightbusThe Greyhound bus was packed on this particular evening, which was unusual. I’d ridden it half a dozen times or more and there’d always been just a few of us on leaving the station at ten o’clock at night. I’d take a quiet corner in the back and read, undisturbed. This night there were no empty seats and a man with straggly strawberry-blonde hair and an unevenly cut moustache slipped into the seat next to me. As the bus rolled on he started to talk.

“Man, this bus ain’t nothin’ like the old days. The old days were so good. You could smoke, you could drink. There’d be old ladies with big jugs of wine passin’ em up and down the aisle and they’d be carryin’ boxes of live chickens. Everybody smoked. Everybody drank. Everybody made so much racket. The bus’d go from side to side like this.” He leaned back and forth, pressing into me then pulling away. “You ever ride the bus in those days, man?”

“No, never did. I didn’t know it was like that.”

“That’s when ridin’ the bus was fun. Everything went on in those days man. All those ladies with their wine and everybody yellin’. You never knew what was gonna happen. I remember somebody got killed in the back of the bus. Got a knife stuck right in him. Nobody knew until the bus stopped and he was just left back there in the seat.” He looked around. “That could happen now too. It’s so dark in here. Somethin’ like that could happen and nobody’d know.”

The Ray Bradbury story The Town Where No One Got Off flickered across my mind. It’s about a chance meeting between strangers that almost leads to murder.

I had a large thick book with me and held it up as kind of a shield between us.

“Whatcha readin’?” he asked.

“A book by the Marquis de Sade.”

“Is it good?”

I narrowed my eyes. “It’s great. Everything goes on in it. There’s all kinds of torture and crazy sex. It ends with a massive orgy where all but a few of the characters get violently murdered.”

At the first stop most of the passengers got off and he moved to another seat.

Moral: Know your safe words.

Alternative moral: If you can’t join ’em beat ’em.

 

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Gina

    Well, I have to ask– is this a true story? I’m guessing yes, but with you it could go either way (this is not an insult, by the way). I’m glad you were able to out-creep the creepy bus guy. Well done.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I do have a very vivid imagination but this is a true story. And in case you’re wondering I was reading various works by the Marquis de Sade for my 18th century literature class. I would go on to write a paper about de Sade and then read it to a chapter of the Samuel Johnson Society. It was a little strange because all the members were in their sixties at least but they laughed when I said “penis” the first time and that made it go a lot more smoothly.
      After I was done we all went to dinner and the vice president of the society insisted on paying my bill because she said she had her own “deeply personal interest” in the Marquis de Sade.
      Also a true story.

      Reply
  2. kdcol

    Same question as Gina — True story? It’s great either way of course. (again stealing pieces of Gina’s comment!)

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      True story and I actually hesitated to put it out there, but, hey, let people think of me what they will. Maybe it’s better if I have a scary reputation.

      Reply
  3. Margot

    What an odd description of the bus in “the old days.” Old women passing around jugs of wine and carrying boxes of live chickens, along with lots of smoking, drinking and yelling? Sounds awful!

    Did you really feel like you were in danger with this man? Using your book to scare him off was pretty quick thinking on your part. Just curious—why was the Samuel Johnson Society interested in hearing a paper on the Marquis de Sade? I had to google both of them, by the way, and they seem like polar opposites.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It was the live chickens that got me. And I wasn’t sure whether I was in danger our not. It was hard to tell and I decided not to take a chance.
      The Samuel L. Johnson Society has a pretty broad scope and is really interested in any 18th century literature, which would include the Marquis de Sade.
      Fun fact: the word “sadism” is derived from his name.

      Reply
      1. Margot

        Yes, I came across that really fun fact after reading about how he tied some poor girl up, whipped her, cut her and then poured hot candle wax into her wounds. Interesting character he is. But he also wrote decent literature?

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          He wrote some decent literature and a lot that was pretty horrific. He spent most of his adult life in jail and used the time to write out his incredibly dark and disturbing sexual fantasies. Some were pointed critiques of his fellow aristocrats and philosophical considerations, but he was generally a pretty unpleasant character.
          I found him fascinating when I was young but I’ve outgrown that.

          Reply
  4. Spoken Like A True Nut

    It’s always nice when you have the right book at the right time.

    I’ve traveled with my giant hardcover Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales & Poems before and I can’t tell you how many awkward conversations that’s stopped before they started.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Interesting. I’d think Poe would start conversations, but then I’ve always been a fan. And I might be too shy to strike up a conversation with a stranger even if they are reading The Tell-Tale Heart.

      Reply
      1. Spoken Like A True Nut

        I think it’s less the content and more the size of the book that keeps the strangers at bay. I guess they figure if I’m carrying around an author’s entire collected works, there’s a good chance bringing it up will get them a full-blown academic lecture when all they wanted was a polite chat.

        That or they’re slightly unnerved by my malevolent snickering as I read The Cask of Amontillado for the hundredth time. You never can tell.

        Reply
  5. Sandra

    You win. Glad you got the last word in. That guy didn’t have too much more to say other than ‘ladies and their jugs of wine.’ And you know he didn’t know who the Marquie de Sade was…Ok, neither do I, but that’s not the point…we were talking about him and those women with their jugs of wine 🙂
    Please write a novel Christopher. I could read you for hours.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      The funny thing is I didn’t even know it was a contest. Imagine what I could have done to him if I’d had time to prepare.
      I’m also surprised you didn’t know who the Marquis de Sade was. I thought everyone knew the term “sadism” originated with an 18th century French aristocrat who had a thing for leather and whips. It frightens me to think I learned that sort of thing from my friends when I was a kid.

      Reply
  6. Ann Koplow

    At this point, I can’t tell you whose writing I enjoy more — yours or Bradbury’s.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I can’t tell you how much of a compliment that is because it’s Ray Bradbury who made me want to be a writer in the first place. To be compared favorably to him leaves me weak at the knees.

      Reply
  7. Gilly Maddison

    A scary reputation is definitely an asset. Big respect for out-weirding a weirdo! Your stories are very entertaining. They are such a change from reading about what flippin’ lipstick is best for the over 60s. We all know it’s green anyway.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      My motto has always been that when the going gets weird the weird turn professional.
      And I appreciate the lipstick tip. My sixties are still a few years away but it’s never too soon to be prepared.

      Reply

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