Know your bus numbers

I have a paranoid but helpful habit when I travel: When I get out of a taxi, I always memorize the number of the cab, just in case. For example, right now I see two cabs off to my right, lined up at Mt. Auburn Street at JFK in downtown Cambridge, where I’m sitting on a park bench in front of Peet’s Coffee. One is Cambridge 119, the other is Cambridge 129.

I usually remember the cab number for only a minute or so at best, but I figure that gives me enough time to make a call if I suddenly remember I left something on the seat. (Yes, this is a Know Thyself lesson.) Now I’m going to do the same with buses.

Because a few minutes ago, soon as I got off the #77 bus at Chauncy Street, I knew I had left my wallet on the seat, under some cast-off newspapers. In an instant, the whole sequence of events replayed in my mind: How had just walked out of the bakery with a fresh cappuchino and picked up a free paper. How the bus pulled up almost immediatly, so I had to hurry to pull my Charlie Card out of my wallet while stuffing the paper under my arm and holding my coffee while getting on the bus. How I stuck my wallet in my mouth like a beagle chomping a stick while I held the coffee in one hand and used my other hand to press the Charlie card onto the card reader, and doing that while the bus lurched forward. How I felt good about keeping my balance while working my way back to the seats behind the rear door. How I set down my wallet on the aisle seat, moved some newspapers off the window seat and onto my wallet, then set the coffee down on the papers before setting my bag at my feet, all while sitting down at the window seat and starting to read a sports story in the newspaper and taking my first gulp of coffee.

Now the wallet was on the bus, and I was on the sidewalk, breathing the fumes of the departing 77bus.

So I did the only sensible thing: I ran after the bus. Stops are frequent on Mass Ave, so maybe I had a chance of catching this one. I began to gain as the bus approached the stop at Cambridge Common, but the bus had the light and zoomed right through the intersection. Then it did the worst thing: it leapfrogged another 77 bus way down near Church Street, turned left to burrow into the ground under Harvard Square, and went out of sight.

Then I spotted two other busses approaching Mass Ave on my side of Cambridge Common, so I ran up to the first one and jumped on as the driver let off a passenger. Between gasps I told him what had happened and asked him what I should do.

“Stand behind the yellow line,” he said. “It’s safer.”

I moved back.

“Did you see the number of the bus?”

“It was a 77 bus.”

“No, the number on the bus. Every bus has a number.”


“Was the driver a white guy or a black guy?”

“White, I think.”

“Okay. Hang on.”

He drove the bus down the ramp and past the stop under Harvard Square, to emerge on the far side, facing a series of busses queued up across the intersection, ready to start their routes.

“See? Two 77 busses in the back there. I think the second one is yours.”

I jumped out, ran across the intersection, and knocked on the door of the first 77 bus. The guy let me in. I told him what happened, and he waved toward the back. I looked. Sure enough it wasn’t the right bus.

So I got off through the back door and went to the bus the other driver said would be mine. The driver, who was white, said “Yes, I remember you. Check back there.”

I did. The pile of papers was right where I left it, with my wallet under them. The driver was impressed.

“Wow”, he said. “It was really there.”

“I knew it was”, I said, and re-told my part of the brief saga.

“Glad it worked out for ya. Doesn’t always happen.” he said. “Have a good day.”

“You too,” I said, and got off the bus. It was #4109.

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3 Responses to Know your bus numbers

  1. Jerome says:

    nice story, Doc and glad you found it!

    just before reading this, copied this quote from moderoom literary quotes on my iGoogle page….

    “Know thyself! A maxim as pernicious as it is ugly. Whoever observes himself arrests his own development. A caterpillar who wanted to know itself well would never become a butterfly.” –Andre Gide

    have been attempting to develop the same sort of habit when it comes to the “drivers” who harass me and other cyclists as they pass, bellowing things like “get on the sidewalk!” or “get off the road!” or “what are you, crazy?”

    the first reaction, learned from driving (once did that daily 😉 is to bellow back, but it’s much more useful to note their plate number

    then, when you catch up to the cretin at the next light, you’ve got a handle to address them with, one that they know very well leads to the police, and there’s a chance at “education”

    if they were really dangerous about it, you can remember it to put on the list

    the other night it was a guy in a Ford Escape who thought bellowing “get off the road!” would be enhanced by holding up his leather badge holder with its really real looking badge attached

    did bellow back “you don’t even know the law!” at that one, at which point he high-tailed it, showing his plate number as he receded into the distance

    though surely if was to do anything with it, in this current state would have been labeled the ‘perp’ for my trouble

  2. John Cass says:

    This is the same reason I always carry two sets of car keys. After the last time I locked myself out of my car and had to wait several hours for a locksmith, I had a second set made. Good tip.

  3. Doc Searls says:

    John, you must not have a Volkswagen. While I like our ‘new’ (used) 2000 Passat, my main gripe is that the keys cost more than $300 each and can only be made by the company. It’s a lock-in of a high order and a damned rip-off. That’s why I have extra keys for everything but that damn car.

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