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My Bus Ride to… More Bus Ride: Part One Week!

28 Dec

December 28, 2013

part one logo

from June 1, 2008

I left Lafayette High School about a half hour late. I was traveling to Boston on a bus with thirty-four well-behaved kids. Their only problem was that, on the whole, they didn’t speak much English. I also knew only a couple of their names and some of them I’d swear I never even saw them around the school before.

I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t even my trip. This was a group of kids in a Saturday program that goes on educational trips. The program was run by Liz and Maria and they were on the bus, along with Ray, a para.

This was supposed to be a college tour. On Friday we were going to Boston, where we’d have dinner at the Hard Rock Café, then check in at the hotel. Saturday was college day. After breakfast and checkout, we’d drive to Boston College and walk around the campus and see the library, etc. Then we’d take a tour of Boston, have lunch, tour Harvard University,  (excuse me, Haavaad Univuhsity), and drive back, stopping in Connecticut to see Yale University and have dinner. Simple!

This turned into the Bataan Death March of Bus Rides. By the end of the trip I had compared the bus to those refugee ships that got out of Germany just before the war started. Don’t get me wrong, I had a very fun time, but even before we got to Stamford we were discussing which kids we’d eat if it were the end of the world.

I took the front seats on the passenger side. Liz had her usual spot in the seats behind the driver. Maria camped behind her and Ray was behind me. In fact, even know as I type I have a hard time looking to my left and not seeing Liz. We spent about 13 hours on the bus out of the whole 32 hour trip. That’s about 40% of the trip, making my time with Liz one the more significant relationships of my life. Even at lunch, where did she sit? On my left.

We were well-prepared. There was water and juice, and even sandwiches allegedly personally made by the Principal. But this being New York, of course we hit a glitch- traffic. So we left late, became later due to traffic, and then made an unexpected stop for gas somewhere in Connecticut. (This stop may have been made up by the driver just as an excuse to get out and pee.) This made us even further behind schedule.

We got back on the road. We’d been talking, laughing, and joking, and even though the weather was overcast we were in good spirits. We were probably all a little tired, but not much. It came as a little surprise then when, at some point on the ride, Maria wondered aloud “what would we do if it was the end of the world and we were all that was left on this bus with the kids?”

Up to this point I really had no intention of blogging this. It was all going to be a nice relaxing trip with a good bunch of kids and some people I like. The only notes I wrote were “pay credit card bill,” etc. But when I heard “what if it was the end of the world?” my blog-ears perked up.


Anyway, we were just outside of a gas station in Connecticut when Maria came up with her apocalyptic question.

Well, we were all, um, taken aback by this. More accurately, we all thought she was crazy. (In fact, we all know she’s crazy. But this one was far out even by her standards.) She had some idea of all of us writing this story. (I pointed out that I’m not a writer and got the reaction I expected from Liz) and we actually discussed what would we do. OK, Maria discussed it and we all went along on her crazy-ride. Of course, we’d have to turn the bus around to get back to Brooklyn to find Liz’s daughter. Maria was worried about the kids on the bus. They’d look to us for guidance. I pointed out that if the end of the world really came while we were on the bus, I was no longer a DOE employee and it was every kid for themselves.

Someone said that, if the end of the world really did come, and we were stuck on the bus, far from home, with 34 ELL students, then we may have to eat the kids to survive.

I’m really not sure which of us said it. It may have been Liz, but I am very afraid that it may have been me.

So that’s what we discussed. Which kids were too thin and would be thrown off the bus. (Chicken Wing would be the first to go.) Which kids had enough meat on their bones. Who would be dinner and who would be lunch. And we discussed what we would say to the parents. (“That was a very tasty daughter you raised. What did you feed her?”) We were sure we would be well-within our rights to eat them: Liz had permission slips! I’m sure that I read, somewhere on the bottom, that in the event of an emergency the parents give us permission to eat their children.

This went on for, I’m sure, twenty minutes at least. And while we were cracking up and divvying up the kids into meals, not one of them said anything to us. Oh, they heard us. Many of them even understood us. But none of them said a thing to us. I think they were afraid to. And for the next thirty hours or so, we would go back to this topic again and again. This is what happens when you put me and Liz and Maria together.

So the slow ride to the end of the world went on and on and the day became night and we all became tired and the wheels turned and the driver drove and we went on and on and at some point we realized that we were over an hour late for our dinner reservations. We were scheduled to be at the Boston Hard Rock Café at 8:45. Somewhere close to 10:00 we wondered “our reservations were for when?” So Liz called the Hard Rock where the girl offered to “rock her world” and Liz, rather than taking her up on what could have been a very interesting offer, merely asked about our reservations. The girl put her on hold and when she came back, said that she’d “do her best” to seat us. As the driver pointed out, Friday night at the Hard Rock should be pretty busy.

It wasn’t. When we got there around 10:30 the place was empty. Seriously, it was about 85% empty. It was a lot of loud noise and overpriced food. (The Hard Rock Café’s motto: We promise you, the rock and roll customer, loud music and overpriced food. And they live up to it.) The kids sat in tables of 2 or 4 or 5 or 6, and in true ELL fashion, they rearranged the tables and seats. Don’t ask me why, but they did that all weekend. We went to the Hard Rock, they moved the furniture. We ate breakfast in the hotel, they moved the tables. I would have loved to see them in action at McDonald’s where the tables and chairs are bolted down. I bet they still would have tried. (And speaking of furniture, some of them wanted to bring a table with them to the hotel. I bet they were looking forward to moving it all around the room, taking pictures with the table by the door, then the table by the window, in the morning light, etc. What is with these kids and tables? It must be a non-English speaking thing. This is why we were looking forward to eating them)

The Hard Rock was fun. Ray had a corona and was disappointed that he couldn’t go out and drink more. Liz had a Margarita something-or-other and stopped at one (by the way, she sat on my left) and Maria and I had soft drinks. OK, Maria with a few drinks her scares me so I was glad she didn’t drink. Liz could have been really interesting with a few in her. Me? I didn’t need one. I was singing along to Green Day (Which song? Warning. “This is a public service announcement this is only a test.”) so you know that I was in a good mood. I even bought a Hard Rock t-shirt, so if I was willing to lay out $30 for what was basically a long sleeve tee I had to be happy.

So dinner was going along, and the kids were in no danger since we were full and not inclined to eat any of them, and eventually we noticed that the driver hadn’t returned and no one knew where the bus was. We got off the bus a block away from the place while we were stopped in traffic and Driver Raymond said he’d find a spot to leave the bus. After we were in the restaurant (OK, I know, it was the Hard Rock. I have a lot of nerve calling it a restaurant.) he popped in and told us what to order for him and went back to the bus. We had one kid who had nowhere to sit (and apparently no friends on the trip) so he was going to sit with the driver. The driver never came back and it became his job to protect the driver’s rapidly cooling food from the other hungry kids. We had no idea where the driver went. Liz called the driver’s cell but got his voicemail. (If Liz was calling to ask him what he was doing after the kids went to bed he’d have answered in a heartbeat. He was that kind of player.) We looked outside the window and saw another bus and wondered why our driver just didn’t park behind that bus.

So Liz and I went out to look for our bus. You may have noticed, or you will, a trend of me and Liz doing things and pairing off Ray and Maria. This was not accidental. First of all I like Liz and consider her a friend, not just a work friend, second of all Maria can be, um Maria, and thirdly, screw Ray. He and Maria work together all the time anyway (Maria: “Raaaaayyyyy.”) so it was a natural. Plus I think Liz and I wanted to be around the kids less than Maria did. Hell, the Indian kids henna’d her feet on the bus. There is nothing as good as leaving responsible kids alone, at least until the end of the world comes and you have to eat them. (When will that joke become old? Sooner than you think.)

Liz and I walked all over. We circled the place, walked around Faniel Hall, walked this way and that, that way and this, and returned to the Hard Rock only to find out that the bus we were looking at all night was our bus the whole time. (I know you saw that coming, oh Patient Reader.) Liz had the name of the bus wrong and I didn’t know it at all- hey, I knew it was big and white, give me a break.

We got back on the bus and felt like it was all just a great big tease. (Not you, Liz, the trip. Ha ha, it’s a joke, I’m so dead.) We drove almost 6 hours to Boston, got  out and went straight into a generic Hard Rock, walked around the market for almost ten minutes (during which Liz and I were offered carriage rides, violin serenades, and asked to donate to some kind of charity) and saw one of the best place’s to eat, Durgin Park, right across the street. All this time to a great place and I was in a rare mood, and I had to get back on the bus for what turned out to be a 35 minute ride away from Boston to the hotel. (As I look back on it, better for Liz, because if I got her on a carriage with some liquor in her….)

So we were back on the bus and I knew we were staying outside of Boston but I had no idea it was so far. Lowell is about 35 to 40 minutes outside of town. I really felt like I was cheated. Here I was in a town I love and with people I like for only an hour and then I had to leave. Hell is sort of that kind of tease.

We rolled into the “city ” of Lowell and I was all motor mouth. On and on, yada yada, about how if Lowell is a city then so is my ass, they’re about as big, and even funnier stuff. Or at least it seemed it was funnier, hey I was tired. I am from New York, and in all seriousness, Lowell may technically be a city, but they have a lot of nerve advertising that fact. The center of town was a flashing yellow stop light and a Dunkin’ Donuts.

We were scheduled to be there at 10:30 but actually arrived at nearly mid-night. The hotel was nice. So nice that I decided to be a pain in the ass. On the phone, the woman promised Liz there would be cookies waiting for us. (Again, here is a woman coming on to Liz, even going so far as to bake her cookies, and nothing comes of it. Nothing!) So after Liz got the keys, I started ball busting about the cookies. Really, I was out of town, tired, and having fun. Who cares if a hick from Lowell has to suffer? But I got the cookies. I think she spit in mine.

We got the kids to their rooms where the immediately moved the tables, and went to the room I shared with Ray. (I waited for a knock on my door all night. Maria never showed.) Nothing went on with Ray. We were in (separate) bed and asleep almost as soon as the door closed. It did occur to me, sleeping across from a strange man, what a gay town Boston is, with neighborhood’s called North “End” and “Back” Bay.

Next morning we got up and breakfasted. The kids were amazed by the ducks and, after moving around the tables, ran out to take some pictures of the rather bored looking bird. Seriously, there was little they didn’t taker pictures of. All the way up there was not a bridge, truck, tree, or blur that didn’t get snapped. It is really too bad film is gone or Kodak would have made a fortune.

We left the hotel (late) and it started to rain. Maria, the weather Queen, guaranteed that it would stop and hold off until at least three o’clock. She was sure. She knew. She would do it.

Eventually we got to Boston College. “Eventually” because we had some trouble finding it. And by “us” I mean “Driver Ray.” Let’s call a spade a spade- he didn’t know where he was going. The highlight was when he made a u-turn across trolley tracks on a very narrow street. Well, we were over an hour behind schedule, didn’t know where to enter the college, and Driver Raymond had no idea where the Museum of Science (our next stop) was, so we cut BC off the list and moved on, driving 35 minutes back to Boston. “Kids, if you look out the right side of the bus, you’ll see Boston College. Everyone see it? Good, we’re going back to Boston.”

That was the first of the about 5,097 colleges we saw on the tour. Pass by MIT? Check, we saw it. Stamford School of Advanced Auto Repair? It counts. See that billboard for CSI? That’s good. Hey, that car has a bumper sticker for Louisiana State University. Put it on the list. Did I say that we were a little punchy?


We got to the Museum of Science pretty much on time, and they had, inexplicably, a statue of Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemzki. (No, my head didn’t just hit the keyboard, that’s his name.) It was here that Liz and I found (and survived) the Total Perspective Vortex.

From Wikipedia: The Total Perspective Vortex, in the fictional world of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is the most horrible torture device to which a sentient being can be subjected. Located on Frogstar World B, it shows its victim the entire unimaginable infinity of the universe with a very tiny marker that says “You Are Here” which points to a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot.

The machine was originally invented by one Trin Tragula in order to annoy his wife. Because she was forever nagging him for having no sense of proportion, he decided to invent something that would show her what having a sense of proportion really meant. Unfortunately the shock of being placed in the Vortex destroyed her brain, but Trin Tragula’s grief was tempered by the knowledge that he had been right and she had been wrong. The Total Perspective Vortex had proved that in an infinite universe the one thing sentient life cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.

 Liz and I stood in front of a model of the Earth. We pressed a button and a tiny lit up, with a sign reading “You Are Here.” Next was a model of the solar system, with a tiny light and a sign, then the galaxy, then finally we stood in front of a 3D model of the universe. I pushed a button and a tiny light came on with a sign reading “You Are Here.” I was prepared to die, happy, but luckily, my mind survived and Liz and I moved on, safely away from the Total Perspective Vortex, to the famed Boston Duck Tour.


My Bus Ride to… More Bus Ride Part Whatever, Here’s The End

15 Nov

from June 9, 2008

I was walking through a light rain to a burger joint I had never been to before. Really, that’s a metaphor for my life if I ever heard one. (You figure it out.) I was just a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to buy a Yale mug to match my Harvard mug. Who would ever believe that I almost sort of saw those schools without mugs? Now the Harvard mug would have no mug to trash talk up in my cupboard during the annual Harvard/Yale football game.

We crossed the street and my keen eye spotted a New Haven Welcome! place that had Yale mugs in the window. My keen eye even recognized that it was open. My dull brain didn’t get the memo and I kept walking. It was now taking orders from my stomach, which said “to Hell with the keen eyes, I want a burger.” Well Liz, ever the brains of the operation, put two and two together, managed to get four, and we went into the store and purchased Yale mugs. In all honesty, I think Harvard has the better mugs.

Harvard may have the mug advantage, but Yale has the Indiana Jones advantage.
Harvard may have had the advantage of being open when we were there, but Yale has the normal toilet and toilet paper advantage.
Harvard was where we had a hard time finding a candy bar, and Yale has the burger joint advantage.

Harvard 0, Yale 3.

I would have walked a mile through a hailstorm to avoid getting on the bus, so a couple of blocks in a small drizzle to Louie’s Lunch was nothing. After taking a wide detour around a vicious dog we were there.

Louie’s Lunch is what you might get if you took a hundred-year old tavern and converted it to serving burgers and pie. It is old and wooden and looks like it was around when John Smith first took Pocahontas to a cheap motel and became the first guy to write “John Smith” in a hotel register in Jamestown. They seem to be famous for their burgers.

A Louie’s Lunch burger is made right in front of you. They take ground meat (beef, I assume) and whack it into patties. They then chop up onions and whack it into the beef and mix it all up. Don’t like onions? You may not have a choice. It goes sideways into some sort of burger cage and the cage is put, still sideways, into some kind of countertop brass thing that seems as old as the rest of the place and may at one time have been used to heat horseshoes. While that’s going on, a couple of plain and ordinary pieces of white bread are prepared. One has semi-melted “cheese” spread on it while the other has a piece of lettuce dropped on it. The burgers come out of the horseshoe thing and put on the bread, and the whole thing is wrapped up in wax paper.

All four of us there, meaning that the kids were alone on the bus with the driver, and let him put up with them for awhile. I’d had enough.

While the burgers were working we also decided on four cans of Pepsi and pie, which was more of a production than you might expect. First of all, Maria asked a million and one questions, a few of them relevant and a couple of them germane. (I admit I didn’t help when, after the old guy claimed to have the second best apple pie I just had to know who had the first.) The guys behind the counter were an old guy and a young guy and they had clearly polished the act over the years. The old guy was the long-winded story-teller and the young guy rolled his eyes and smirked at the proper points. The young guy was the (so he claimed) grandson of the original Louie. The old guy was just some guy who worked there. Maria used to work at Nathan’s in Coney Island and somehow the hot dog place got mentioned. I made the mistake of saying “You’ve got a Nathan’s original right there” and pointed down at Maria, and the yakitty yak yak was on. I learned a lot about Maria’s days as a corn girl and came to the uncomfortable realization that she may have served me some hot dogs when I was young.

We were seated at what would have been the bar in the old days and was now the counter. From right to left, it went Maria, Ray, me, and Liz.

While Maria was talking she got suckered, or should I say she suckered herself, into a dice game. If Maria were in the middle of a stickup she’d be the one to call back the burglars to tell them that they forgot to take her purse. “What’s the matter? Isn’t my purse good enough? Don’t ignore me, I’m not like you people.”

For a couple of bucks (“or as much as you want to bet”) you get to roll six dice out of a Styrofoam cup. If they all match you win whatever the jackpot was at that moment. Neither of the guys was too sure what the jackpot was but they were positive it was big.

Maria put down two dollars and rolled. Two dice rolled right off the counter, where the old guy claimed it woke up the cat but I think that was just folksy bullshit. It didn’t matter since the dice on the counter didn’t match but they kindly gave her a re-roll, which she also lost. I can’t for the life of me explain why but she was going to bet again when we all just told her to stop.

The guys also ran some bullshit around the rest of us, asking Ray if he was with Maria and if Liz and I were married.

I am ashamed to say that I had no glib response for that one.

I still don’t.

I should have.

Well, by then my waders were covered up to the thighs after slogging through so much crap that we took the bags and walked back, happily, to the bus. In fact we were so happy to be out of Louie’s Lunch, I place I love but cannot stand, that it took us almost two whole blocks to realize that we never got the soda.

Ray and I walked back, mostly because we still had a long bus ride ahead of us and we would be thirsty, but also because there was a little part of us that just couldn’t stand to get back on the bus. The kids were on it, and I had spent the better part of six months sitting across the two front seats that day.

We went back in and this time the vicious dog was gone so I swaggered back in and announced “you forgot our sodas!” The old guy looked confused and told us that “the other guy must have taken the wrong bag.” I saw the other guy. He ordered one burger and nothing else and took the right bag. The wiseguy behind the counter never bagged any sodas. He figured we’d be on the bus and back in New York before we realized that he gypped us out of two sodas and would have been spending our $4 on God-knows-what and laughing all the while. Well he didn’t fool me and I got the sodas. I’m a New Yorker. I’m more afraid of Bommarito than I am of some New Haven burger-flipper.

We got. Back. On the bus. Again. And since it was humid I told the driver to put on the air. (“You got it!” I didn’t rate a “baby.” It had something to do with my biological plumbing.) We had our food, the kids had their food, no one was in danger of eating a student, and we were off to Brooklyn.

The burgers were very, very good.

We drove through the rain and darkness and some movie played on the DVD but when it ended we just left it dark. Counting colleges had turned into counting billboards. The driver took the long way home, and didn’t I just appreciate that? I sat in the front passenger side seat with, alternately, my legs over the barrier or my upper body hanging over the barrier. Either way, if Driver Ray stopped short I was through the front window and home faster than the rest. I have no conscious memory of what we talked about. We laughed the way people do when they’re very tired and everything seems funny, even the imminent end of the world and cannibalism.

We got back to Lafayette. I found that I had aged a month and Liz missed about fifty calls from her father, which made her happy. Ray left to go home and start packing his things because he’s moving, and Maria felt sick and Liz drove her home.

The kids were gone, Liz was no longer on my left, and I went home to a familiar bed and slept.

The next Saturday we took the kids to Great Adventure and had a blast, despite two kids passing out and Liz and I having to yell at some kids who, intelligently, started a food fight. My personal high point came when I was sure that I had lost my hat but I had actually been sitting on it the entire time.

Next week is a trip to Washington and I am not on that one. This will be the first weekend in three weeks I haven’t spent with Liz, and draw your own conclusions. I have been replaced by some Tom guy. A word to the Washington-bound: You will not get a single funny blog out of that trip, and if you come back and tell me that you had more fun with Tom than you did with me, I will know that you are only trying to make me jealous.

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