I feel like I have lived my whole life on a bus.
At least, it seems like I spent the entire spring vacation in a bus, car, train, cab or other vehicle of transportation. Of course, there are compensating advantages to mass transit--you meet some, ah, let us say, interesting people.
Like the woman on the train from Princeton to Hoboken, both in New Jersey. Do not ask me why anyone of sound mind and body would leave Princeton only to go to Hoboken. Neither is one of your basic Top Ten U.S. Cities. In any case, she was from Creighton College, Neb., and she was on her first trip east, to see New York City with friends. She'd been born in Wyoming--down-home, God-fearing Wyoming--and it was only a matter of time before the rural Fundamentalist began discussing religion with me, your basic, run-of-the-mill New York liberal Jewish atheist.
Like most Fundamentalists, she believed that God intervened directly in her life to help her on the path to righteousness. In her case, she had wanted to go to Oral Roberts University and she had all the qualifications requisite thereof--good grades, good extracurriculars, good interview, a belief in the correct religious dogmas--but for some inexplicable reason, the good folks at ORU saw fit to reject her. So she went to Creighton, met a lot of good people, began to learn about life and see God's place in it. Finally, one day she had a divine revelation and understood--Jesus had manipulated the admissions data to get her rejected from ORU so she could go to Creighton.
It takes all kinds.
But, to return to our point of departure, I was leaving New York to visit a friend at Princeton and I had it all fastidiously planned. Get on the subway at 10 a.m.; get on 11 a.m. bus out of Port Authority Bus Terminal; get to Princeton by noon, bop around for a few hours and meet my friend at 3. Yeah, tell me about it. The NYC subways being the NYC subways, I got to Port Authority at 11:30, about 10 minutes before another bus (on a different bus line) was schedule to leave. Not too bad, I would only lose about a half-hour of imbibing the essence of Princeton.
Just as I was at the very steps of the escalator to the upper bus level, I hear "Excuse me, my name is Jim. Have you heard about God?" (God? God who? Sorry, can't place the name.) Now, my mother taught me always to be polite, and I figured I could spare a minute to entertain the guy, but I didn't figure on the persistence of the Hare Krishnas. Try as I might I couldn't break away until I had agreed to both buy his book and open my heart to Krishna's message. Book in hand, eyes glancing feverishly at my watch, I headed for the departure gate--only to run head on into a representative of another eastern mystical cult. I turned tail and headed up the other staircase, and arrived just in time to see the orange paint of my bus fading slowly into the distance.
Okay, so I'll take the noon bus. It left at 12:30 (an omen, which I missed, of things to come) and reached East Brunswick, N.J., by about 1 p.m., whereupon all but three people got off the bus. Thinking quickly, I figured they were all going to a convention in East Brunswick, so I held my seat and looked out the window as the bus started up again. We reached the next station and the bus driver yelled, "Last stop, everybody off." I inquired politely what had happened to Princeton, the alleged destination. "Shoulda got off last stop, buddy." "Well, why didn't you tell me?" "I announced it over the friggin P.A. system." Either I fell asleep for those five seconds or this guy is bucking for contestant on To Tell the Truth.
In any case, I found myself on the road from Wherever to East Brunswick, valise in hand and afternoon at Princeton slipping rapidly from my grasp. Now, I hadn't paid much attention out of East Brunswick, but it had seemed like about a two minute jaunt to the last stop. Having successfully completed high school algebra, I figured that translated to a 15 minute trot back, in time for the next bus. I should turn in my high school diploma, because when half an hour had passed and no bus station appeared on the horizon I began to revise my estimated time of arrival upwards, once again.
I reached East Brunswick, after ripping my valise (worse, it was my brother's) and ruining my pants in a strange looking mixture of indeterminate composition in a shopping center along the road, after 2 p.m. The next bus, scheduled for 2:30, came by at a quarter to 3, and I once again made the mistake of assuming the fun was over. Sources say East Brunswick to Princeton is a 40 minute ride, but this guy was making all the local stops.
A sweet old lady walked to the front of the bus and asked to be let off "by the mailbox at the corner." Another lady appeared just as the bus resumed speed, and asked to be let off "at the Gulf station." I know I should respect my elders, but if there was more than 20 yards between the mailbox and the gas station, I will eat my tennis shorts. Then again, I'm the one who figured on reaching the campus by noon.
I reached my friend's dorm by 4, muttering incoherently about Kafkaesque experiences and razors and warm water. That's six hours, count 'em, and at that rate I could have made it back to Cambridge, although I have no idea why anyone would want to return to school early. Nothing in New Jersey is worth six hours of bus travel. Except maybe the Meadowlands Raceway....
That night I left Princeton to spend the night with Harvard friends in northern New Jersey, absolutely obsessed with the fear that New Jersey trains would be anything like New Jersey buses.
I reached Newark without incident (except for the aforementioned encounter with the woman who had received The Word), but when I got there, my friend, who had vowed to pick me up at 9 p.m., had not yet arrived.
A half hour passed, a phone call to my friend's home yielded only a "I don't understand it, he left over an hour ago" from his father, and finally a car slowed down and glided over to the curb. Eagerly I bounded over, dragging my busted valise (memories of East Brunswick floating through my head), only to find the occupant of the car was not my friend but a paunchy, middle-aged, businessman-looking Oriental gentleman who asked, "Can I give you a lift somewhere? Is anyone coming to get you? I could take you wherever you want to go. Do you want to get in?"