Sunday, December 26, 2010
Hell's Bus Stop
Last week, I decided to go into New York City to have lunch with my daughter. She recently got a job with Blue Fountain Media off Union Square and that presented a gratuitous opportunity to celebrate. I love New York and I love eating—so combining the two is a happy event for me.
Normally, the most unusual experiences I have happen when I get into the Big Apple. Not this time.
As I was waiting at the bus stop in suburban White Bread, New Jersey, a tall, muscular man, dressed in leather like a biker dude—and sporting a scraggly beard and bad teeth—stood beside me in the frigid cold. I politely remarked on the weather and he responded by launching into a tirade about how his wife cleaned out his bank account while he was in the hospital having brain surgery. Apparently, she chose that occasion to leave him. He informed me that he had a brain tumor caused by Agent Orange, a toxic chemical used during the Vietnam Conflict to clear brush in the jungle. While it was somewhat unusual for someone to blurt something like that out to a stranger, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor guy.
His confessions, however, didn’t stop there. Next, he shared his experience of being a Vietnam vet and proceeded to explain how his job in Nam was to kill people who were traitors. He unfortunately went into gory details about it. The ewwww expressions on my face did not deter him. Okay, he was a sick, divorced guy who had killed people and liked to talk about it. How much more disturbing could it get? Wait.
He now recalled the day he returned from Vietnam. A protestor spit on him and he beat the man bloody. Okay, fair enough. Vietnam vets were not treated very well when they returned home. Still, his smiling description of the blood running down from the man’s face, perhaps, fell into the realm of too much information. He still took great pride and delight in reminiscing about it, despite the fact that it must have occurred at least 38 years ago. Could it get worse? Yes.
He followed that with tales of how, before getting sick, he had worked for the mafia trafficking illegal substances but was always respected by underworld bosses because he was a man of his word. He was Russian and Russians killed people who did not keep their word. (Good to know. I filed that someplace mentally as important to remember should I befriend someone Russian in the future.)
Like any good speech, he concluded his by summarizing his main points. He hated banks, his former wife, people who lie and the health care system. Well, okay, he had a point with the health care system. Nothing crazy about that.
During his long, rambling talk, a feeling of personal peril crept into my consciousness and slowly grew. I felt sorry for this man who was truly troubled, but I just wanted to go into New York and have a nice lunch with my daughter—without violence, death or brain tumors. I had been looking forward to seeing my daughter and talking about girlie things—relationships, fashion, chocolate. Instead, I felt as if I had been thrust into a Fellini film.
Naturally, this was the day that the bus driver chose to be 15 minutes late, prolonging this stranger’s disturbing monologue. A few times I chimed in with, “That’s too bad. Wow, is it cold today or what?” This did not slow him down.
Finally, the bus appeared in the distance and I took the opportunity to point and exclaim with heartfelt gratitude, “Look, the bus is here!” When the bus door finally creaked open, I stepped aside and told him, “You first!” He entered the bus without protest and I made sure he was seated before I gave my ticket to the driver and proceeded well past him to a seat in the back of the bus.
That was the last eventful thing that happened that day, except that on my bus ride back, the driver uncharacteristically passed my bus stop, leaving me with a long walk in the cold to get back to my car. Still, the frigid trek in the dark felt relatively benign, knowing that the mysterious biker dude was now safely roaming the streets of New York.