I am but a lonely traveler. One man existing amidst the commuting masses, each of us navigating the interstate in an attempt to escape the shackles and chains of our employ and find our peace in the place nearest and dearest to our hearts. Home.
My chariot is the Route 375 express bus, an accordion-shaped vessel with mysteriously stained seats, a potpourri of varied body odors, and a suspension that exists only in the imagination.
Our driver? He is a stoic veteran of the roadways. With greased-back black hair and an eye so lazy it collects welfare, he is the ultimate possessor of fates. The determining factor between on-time arrival and late pick-up fees at child care. His skill, or lack thereof, can mean the difference between stepping off the bus in daylight or the darkness of night. Never has so much power been bestowed upon someone with a uniform so uninspiring.
On this day, the air is remarkably clean. Brisk, but unseasonably warm. I set foot on the 375 with a spring in my step—one not seen in many a month. My workday is done, and I am less than one hour away from enveloping myself in the special brand of heaven that exists in the connection between couch cushions, a remote control, and my television-numbed mind.
As always, I secure a seat at the front of the bus. All slights to the plight of Rosa Parks exist unintentionally, for I am a staunch believer in the “first on, first off” rule of the express bus. I have, and will always, believe that the back row is strictly for clueless suckers, socially retarded extroverts, and those pathetic souls hoping to avoid their wives for a couple extra minutes a day.
As I settle into my seat, open my book, and tap my toes to the sound of the Stray Cats “Sexy & 17” on my now-blaring iPod, the 375 starts and stops along her shadowy downtown Minneapolis route. At each stop, tired, disheveled commuters file onto the bus with facial expressions so bleak that replaying video from 9/11 could only liven up the mood (too soon?).
Up to this point, the seat to my left has remained open. Trying not to draw attention to the open seat, I coyly slide my work bag onto the seat in the hopes of discouraging oncoming commuters from planting their oversized asses next to mine. Rarer than an all-you-can-eat California Condor dinner, an empty neighboring bus seat is worth its weight in gold. That simple empty seat allows you to stretch out and spares you the discomfort of serving as the landing pad for some random woman’s excess leg fat.
Then, in the blink of an eye, the dream dies. Walking on to the bus in slow motion, as though she was in a Michael Bay movie, the largest woman in the history of XX chromosome matching makes her presence known. She is Gigantor, the long lost twin of Andre the Giant and the killer of unwatched cheeseburgers.
Gigantor gazes upon the rows of occupied seats in disgust, as if the bus-riding world has conspired against her kind for centuries. Imagined oppression aside, few open seats remain, and even fewer seem capable of housing her sheer immensity.
Then, as if tipped off by a co-op of my cruelest enemies, she stares in my direction. She eyes the empty seat to my right as if it were slathered in cheese and she was made of crackers.
“You don’t want to sit here,” I think to myself. “My bag is on the seat. There are plenty of seats in the back of the bus that don’t have bags on them.”
My internal dialogue fails to convince even myself, and Gigantor begins her labored journey in my direction.
Hoping to discourage her approach, I attempt to soil myself. It is a risky move, pooping one’s pants, but few other ideas are able to enter my fear-riddled mind as the beheamouth closes in. But, alas, I am unable to conjure the internal reserves needed to bring my plan to fruition.
Once at the open seat, Gigantor flashes a horrific smile, as if to say “Please remove your bag from my seat before I rip off your right arm and use it to clean my Prius-sized ear.” Obliging out of fear, I put my bag on the floor and turn my attention back to my book. Eye contact with Gigantor is not forbidden, but it is also not encouraged.
Gigantor settles into her seat with the grace of a sinking aircraft carrier. Her meaty elbows push me aside, almost as if she thinks I am about to steal the rebound that will complete a triple-double. She is Kevin Love to my Earl Boykins.
Her smell is intoxicating, but only if you use don’t know how to use the word “intoxicating.” In reality, she smells like a sweaty athletic supporter filled with blue cheese and rotten crab meat.
[It must be noted at this time that Gigantor is not just some chronically obese human being. Instead, her extreme size is evenly spread across an expansive frame, almost giving the illusion of a freakish muscularity. If you can picture Randy from “The Christmas Story,” overly dressed in winter attire by his mother and ready to bust at the seams like an over-ripened blueberry, then you have a small inkling of what Gigantor is all about. Her hands are as big as the catcher’s mitts used by those about to catch a knuckleballer for 7-plus innings. Her legs are so big that it is rumored that the Keebler Elves sold their place in that old tree trunk and bought three high-end condos in her right leg. I could use a simile or metaphor to describe her neck, but let’s just go with “fucking huge.”]
Thirty minutes into the ride home and my life is hell. Gigantor has decided to fall asleep in her seat. Unfortunately, the natural jostling of the bus as it weaves in and out of traffic has caused a natural weight shift, causing Gigantor’s massive frame to pin me against the interior wall of the bus. My attempts to signal my discomfort (a passive-agressive annoyed cough) fall upon deaf ears as the giant sleeps.
At this point, I rationalize by convincing myself that being crushed to death has to at least be preferable to burning to death. This brings an odd kind of peace.
While I am unable to call my family and tell them I love them (my phone is in my inside coat pocket and my arms are pinned), I ask God to forgive my poor church attendance and watch over my loved ones. He does not answer, but I take that as a yes.
Just then, fate shines a light upon my weary soul. Gigantor awakes from her slumber with a yawn of such scale that the migratory patterns of four separate species of birds are altered. She reaches into her purse—a giant bag most likely fashioned from the skin of a gutted elephant or three—and pulls out a cell phone. For a moment, I empathize with Gigantor’s condition. After all, punching the numbers on the cell phone’s keypad with those huge slabs of finger-meat, must be on par with sewing a button on a blouse using a screwdriver and rope.
Gigantor’s phone call with her husband lasts approximately five minutes, but between the internal injuries caused by my body’s unnatural compression and the effect of Gigantor’s odor on my nasal cavity, this is only a broad estimate. Prisoners of war have often stated that time ceases to exist in moments of prolongued torture. I am a P.O.W. on this day. Regardless, as we pull into the Park & Ride, I sense my freedom is near.
The bus pulls to a stop, and the doors swing open. The weary, but excited, travelers rise to their feet and form an exit line. I put my book in my bag, adjust my posture, and prepare to do the same. Unfortunately for me, Gigantor is engrossed in the process of rifling through her bag to find her bus pass. Her unpreparedness and unwillingness to rise from her seat until the pass is found, keeps me from joining the line of exiting commuters and drops us behind the “first on, first off” order of things.
By this point, the needle on my anger mater has eclipsed any previously documented levels. No words of apology leave Gigantor’s lips, although it is obvious that she is aware of my impatience regarding her actions. Then, as if prodded by angels, she pulls the long-lost bus pass from the bag, gives me a smile, and stands to leave.
As we walk towards the front door of the bus, I breathe a sigh of relief. My ordeal is near its conclusion, and I am mere minutes away from the safety and comfort of my car, and eventually, my home.
I step off the bus and set a speedy course around Gigantor towards my parked car. As I pass her, she utters the first four words of the entire trip in my direction.
“Have a nice night.”
I turn and return the kind words.
With my car started, I sit for a moment and ponder this afternoon’s adventure. I had encountered Gigantor and lived to tell about it. But was that encounter really as bad as I had made it out to be in my mind? Was Gigantor an evil monstrosity dead-set on the ruination of my commute? Or was she simply a misunderstood creature searching for understanding and sympathy? My cracked ribs and internal bleeding would tell you one thing, but my conscience may very well tell you another. I remain conflicted.
Regardless of Gigantor’s faults, however, she will never take the mantle of Route 375’s wickedest traveler—The Smiling Austrian. But that’s a tale for another day.