New York New York doesn’t let me get too comfortable. Just as I start thinking I knew my way around there is a twist to the system.
I caught the cross town bus in mid Manhattan to go to Central Park to meet friends. In Queens, you have to punch a ticket in the machine by the driver before you take your seat.
On this bus, the ticket validating machine appeared to me to be out of order. There was cardboard blocking the ticket slot.
Momentarily thrown, I stood staring. The driver said in blunt New Yorker style, “you need get your ticket outside the bus”.
Good people drive buses
I jumped off the bus saying, “sorry, sorry. I didn’t know…Sorry”. All delivered in classic English style i.e apologising for something whether it’s your fault or not.
To my surprise, the bus driver then waited for me as I struggled at the sidewalk ticket machine to work out which button I was being instructed to push. Once I figured it out, not before tapping the screen several times, I stepped back on the bus, and loudly thanked the driver.
A few stops later, another bemused out of towner got on. The driver again had to explain how to validate the ticket, pointing her to the machines on the sidewalk.
One of my fellow passengers, who’d recently boarded the bus and hadn’t seen this scenario played out five blocks earlier said under her breath, ‘she won’t know what to do’.
She was implying that the driver wasn’t being helpful.
I don’t know what it was that made me want to strike up a conversation with this particular woman, say opposite me, but I did and here was my opportunity. I lent forward and said the driver was very helpful and would wait.
The bus stayed put as we all waited for the elderly woman to validate her Metrocard. The confused woman took a while – as I had – to figure out which button to push before returning to the bus to continue her journey.
I smiled at the woman opposite, “We forget how helpful most people are,” I said, “we just remember the bad stuff.”
We then struck up a short chat about my visit. Well, to be fair it was mainly me talking. I wanted to have a conversation with this stranger.
She asked where I was from. I told her I was staying at a friend’s apartment nearby and that I knew how lucky I was. I also said that as much as I enjoyed visiting the place, I couldn’t live in Manhattan.
I explained, telling her that one of the things I’ve loved about staying in Queens is the fact that you can see the sky as it appeared from my experience that most apartments in Manhattan seem to have views of a brick wall.
She looked at me and smiled, “you have to be REALLY rich to see the sky in Manhattan.”
I asked where she was from. I think she replied Long Island. I was beginning to be distracted and I’d missed my stop.
Distracted because I didn’t want this exchange to end, but at the same time the bus was now traversing Central Park and I really needed to get off.
Relunctantly, I stood up and said, “this is my stop”, or something memorable like that. Then I got off the bus vaguely aware she was stepping off too. I think I said, “nice to meet you, have a good day”. But I didn’t look round at her. Seriously, I came over a bit shy and confused by the encounter.
Seconds later, she was gone and I was strolling towards Central Park to get on with my day (aka relax in the sun).
As I walked, I had a little smile, remembering how I felt as I talked to the stranger on the bus. And that’s what she’ll remain as I didn’t ask her name.