People tell me they like my bus stories. Well, I’ve got a million of ’em, and you’re about to get another one.
On July 3, the afternoon before the holiday, I was going to meet a friend downtown for drinks. Busing it, I waited for the 64 on Werk Road, allowing myself plenty of time to get there by 3 p.m. We were meeting at the Public Library downtown, where I could kill a little time before meeting my buddy.
No bus showed up at 1 p.m., then an additional 15 minutes passed by. Looking up Werk Road, I saw a woman waiting at the next bus stop near Boudinot Avenue.
“Are you waiting for the bus, too?” I asked the woman as I approached her.
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s late, but you did know it’s on the holiday schedule, right?”
“No, I didn’t,” I said.
“I didn’t either,” the woman said. “Found out about it this morning watching the news.”
The woman was busy texting someone on her cell phone, so we didn’t talk much. Finally around 1:30 p.m. the bus showed up. I took a seat near the front. The woman with the cell phone went to the back.
The 64 made its way up Werk Road, turning right onto Harrison Avenue. Each bus stop had plenty of people waiting, with most of them also not knowing about the holiday schedule.
“Where you been?” one passenger asked the bus driver while getting on. Another one said, “I’ve been waiting for an hour!” A teenage girl said, “Hey, man, you’re fucking late.”
The bus driver calmly attempted to explain that the bus was on the holiday schedule, but most passengers didn’t pay attention. They were just pissed.
The bus was making a lot of stops that in turn slowed the bus down. Looking at my watch, I still had more than 40 minutes to meet up with my friend for drinks.
The mood of the bus didn’t improve much when passengers got on at McHenry Avenue. One of the passengers getting on was Irene. We met last year when I was working on a story and have sort of become friends.
Irene didn’t seem that angry about the bus being late despite the fact she had to wait for an hour. It was good to see her.
We were busy making small talk, so I didn’t pay much attention to the guy who got on at Hopple Street close to Camp Washington Chili. He was older and thin with gray hair. He had a sad-sack look about him. He was sitting opposite Irene and me.
The bus turned right onto McMicken Avenue. That teenage girl who got on at Harrison Avenue was looking at the older man’s coat.
“You got bedbugs,” she told the man. “Did you know you got bedbugs all over you?”
The man didn’t respond to what the girl was saying — he just kept looking straight ahead.
“You got bedbugs! He’s got bedbugs!”
Some other young girls sitting in front started screaming and raced to the back of the bus. Other passengers started examining their clothes to see if any bedbugs were on them.
I looked at my watch. I only had 20 minutes left to meet my friend downtown.
The bus was now crowded — standing room only. With all the people on it, the bus was beginning to feel hot and uncomfortable.
As new passengers got on, they would see that empty seat next to the older man and sit down. Each time, other passengers would yell out, “Don’t sit there!”
The older man didn’t seem to take notice of any of this. It was like he didn’t know what was going on around him. I started to feel bad for him with all this disrespect. Did he really have bedbugs?
“Sir,” I said. “Do you feel anything biting you? Do you have any bite marks?”
“No,” he replied. “I don’t think I have bedbugs.”
I looked at my watch again. I had seven minutes left to meet my friend.
“Why don’t you call him on your cell phone?” Irene suggested. It was a good idea if only I'd remembered to bring it.
The man who might have bedbugs got off at Findlay Market, as did a lot of other passengers. I looked at the man’s seat and didn’t see any bugs crawling on it. But aren’t bedbugs really tiny?
Irene got off a few stops ahead of me. When the bus turned on Liberty, I pulled the chain to make my exit.
While racing to the library with about a minute to spare, I thought I felt an itch on my right arm.
At a crosswalk, I thought about the holiday bus schedule and the man who might have bedbugs.
What was supposed to be a relaxing bus ride with plenty of time to spare had turned into a nightmare. I envisioned only in a matter of days, my living space would be crawling with bedbugs. I would have to throw away my bed, sofa and chairs. I would be infesting my building with bugs.
When I saw my friend waiting for me in front of the library, I thought to myself, full of self-pity, that if anybody needed a damn drink, it truly was me.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]