It happened again on the way back from my improv class. On Tuesday night, at around 10:15 PM, on a 43 Masonic bus headed south, I found myself in David Lynch territory. I’ve long believed that the true San Francisco nutjobs can be found in the so-called affluent neighborhoods, and yet, stupidly, I remain puzzled why the “safer” lines in the City prove to be the strangest. (My previous MUNI tale, if you will recall, happened on the 7 Haight.)
I climbed aboard Bus 8662, flashing a smile and my Fastpass. The driver gave me a lengthy leer and stared down at a paper bag I was carrying. My crime? Holding a bag containing an overpriced pita. How dare I take home a long deferred dinner! On his bus, no less!
I was delighted to find one of my classmates on board the bus. So I said hello to him, complimenting him on the progress he had made in the class. As I was getting situated in the double seat across the aisle from him, the bus took a curve through the Presidio at about 45mph, tossing me back into the adjacent seat like a potato bug flicked over by an eight year old.
“Well,” I smiled after my rebound, “this should be an interesting ride.”
“A BUS IS A VERY POWERFUL THING. THERE’S A LOT YOU CAN DO WITH IT,” boomed a flat and ominous voice from the front. “I SHOULD KNOW. I’VE BEEN DRIVING A BUS FOR TWENTY YEARS.”
For some reason, I thought that this had come from some passenger who was experiencing a harmless bout of psychosis and had somehow confused himself for the bus driver. Someone whom I could quite easily ignore while my classmate and I chatted. But when this statement was followed up with diabolical laughter and a sudden shriek of the brakes, causing us all to lurch violently forward, I suddenly realized that the man who had uttered these words was, in fact, driving the bus.
“HAVE A NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICE EVENING,” he said to some passenger exiting the back door, sounding distinctly like an undertaker who hadn’t left the mortuary in years. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
The bus suddenly grew terribly quiet as this dawning realization settled in. The driver was fond of jerky transitions between lanes, unannounced slams on the brakes and gas pedal, and slight weaving in the lane he was driving in. Thank goodness there were very few cars on the streets.
We were at the mercy of a maniac. I began watching other passengers getting on the bus and they were utterly terrified.
Clearly, there was only one thing to do.
“So anyway,” I said nonchalantly to my classmate, “great work tonight!”
Suddenly, I heard diablolical laughter from the BACK of the bus. One of the passengers, an inebriated, long-haired and quite possible homeless man in his late thirties, had cracked!
Now I should note that my classmate and I were sitting in the middle of the bus. And at each pole of the bus’s axis, there was a maniac! One a driver, one a passenger. It was the perfect metaphor for MUNI’s problems. I wondered if we were part of some psychological experiment, perhaps an homage to Milgram that involved game theory and kinesiology. But then I recalled the MUNI assault that went down on Sunday. Clearly, if I was driving a bus after that, I’d be more than a little frightened myself. But taking it out on the passengers?
“IS ANYONE TAKING NOTES?”
My notepad was in my pocket, but I didn’t need it. I wouldn’t be forgetting this bus ride even if Alzheimer’s struck me down. The number 8662 was clear as a bell — its white permanent digits nestled within the black expanse of the front, where the driver was laughing and weaving and presumably cradling either a .45 or a Zooka Pop Pistol.
I witnessed a cab pull in front of the bus. The driver skirted the bus around it.
“DID YOU SEE THAT CAB? I COULD HAVE DRIVEN RIGHT INTO IT. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
The drunk at the back laughed again. Clearly, he had found his soulmate. I decided to laugh along with them. After all, shouldn’t psychotic laughter come in threes?
“Well,” I told my classmate, “if I have to die this way, you’re a standout guy to leave the earth with.”
I then asked my classmate if he was a religious man and if he wouldn’t mind a non-ordained, self-declared minister baptizing him in the event of his untimely death.
I pulled the cord for my stop and wondered if the man would actually pull over. To my amazement, he did.
I wished my classmate long-term health and safety.
“HAVE A GOOD NIGHT. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”
“Good night! Good therapy!” I responded in my best Shakespearean theatrical tone.
The pita, incidentally, was quite tasty.
© 2006, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.