It takes a certain kind of temperament to be a bus driver. My uncle told me that. He drove city buses for forty years and during that time he saw some crazy shit. Women going into labor, couples getting into explosive arguments, people pulling knives on each other, the full spectrum of human experience crammed into 30,000 pounds of steel on wheels. You have to have an even keel, he used to say. People are depending on you to get where they’re going, and your job is to keep the bus moving no matter what’s happening inside or outside of the vehicle. And there was one guy who exemplified this attitude better than anyone else he ever met.
Larry was a stocky white guy with a ruddy complexion, curly brown hair, and a thick moustache. When he smiled you could see the edges of his smallish teeth under his lip and his eyes winked into little black lines. He smiled a lot. Wherever he went he carried a beat-up old Rangers travel mug with most of the coating worn down to the white plastic, and he’d sip out of it now and then and make a pleased noise afterwards. He’d says things like “the road knows, buddy, the road knows” and never explain. If anyone ever needed to trade shifts or called in sick, he’d be the first to volunteer to cover for them. And his bus was always on time.
So one night when my uncle was still in training he’s riding along with Larry. It’s a pretty quiet winter evening and Larry’s pointing out some of the issues with wrangling a bus through icy city streets, and my uncle’s taking notes, trying to sift the actual advice from the philosophical digressions. There’s hardly any passengers all shift. Then they’re coming up on this stop, and in the distance my uncle can see this bundle of rags shaped vaguely like a person sitting there in the glass bus shelter, shivering like a thousand rats are squirming underneath. He kind of assumes that Larry’s going to drive right past because it looks like a homeless person just hanging around so he’s kind of surprised when the bus slows to a stop and Larry pulls the lever to open the front doors.
The heap shambles forward and makes its way to the steps. It pauses there, and this pair of crazed yellow eyes stares up at the driver.
I have… none of your currency, this rasping voice says, and my uncle’s like, ok, he’s gotta pull away now, we’re not supposed to let people on if they don’t have the fare. But Larry surprises him again and tells the guy to come on in with a big dumb grin on his face. The more the merrier.
So the guy climbs aboard, and the best my uncle can hope for at this point is that he at least has the good grace to move to the back of the bus, but no, he deposits himself in a seat across from Larry right near the door. And the guy kind of stinks, too, but not like a normal homeless smell, more like a campfire. He reeks of it, but it doesn’t seem to bug Larry one bit.
Anyway, they keep driving and to my uncle’s horror the guy starts talking again, in that voice that sounds like steel chains being dragged across a parking lot. The guy thanks them for stopping then explains that he’s not of this world, that he’s a demon who got waylaid and that’s why he doens’t have any money. Great, my uncle’s thinking, the guy really is nuts. But then he says he knows nothing in this world is free, so he offers Larry anything he wants in return for his kindness. Simply name your heart’s desire, he tells him, and he will provide it. Larry says no, that isn’t necessary. I’m just doing my job.
The demon offers him boundless wealth, a king’s fortune, and Larry laughs. What do I want all that for, he asks. I’ve got a union job and a pension, I’m set. So the demon suggests that Larry might want sensual pleasures, a harem of beautiful women who will obey his every command. I don’t think my wife would like that very much, Larry says with a chuckle. What about power? He could be a political leader, rule over everything he sees. Well, I tell you, I wouldn’t know what to do with it, Larry replies.
My uncle’s kind of freaking out at this point. The guy’s a maniac and maybe he’s even dangerous, but Larry just keeps driving, smiling and shaking his head in response to all of the guy’s offers.
At this point the demon is kind of lost for words. He spots Larry’s battered old travel mug and says that at the very least, he could replace that for him. This? No way, pal, Larry tells him. This is my most prized possession. I got this when my ma took me to see the Rangers in the playoffs back in ’72. No sir, I don’t need a thing, but it sure is nice of you to offer.
By then they’ve been driving for a couple of miles and the demon — the lunatic, my uncle thinks — pulls the cord to call for a stop. He gives a little wave to Larry as he gets off and thanks him again, and the bus pulls away.
So now my uncle is seething. Not only did Larry break the rules, he endangered the both of them by letting an obvious psychotic onto the bus. The two of them just sit there in silence for a while, until Larry finally breaks it by asking him if everything’s ok.
No, everything is not ok, my uncle explodes. We’re not supposed to let people on the bus if they can’t pay the fare! And besides, that guy could have been dangerous! He stank to high hell and was pretty clearly a psycho even before he started talking!
Larry doesn’t stop the bus or turn back to look at my uncle. He just says, with the same pleasant tone he always has, buddy, I dropped that guy off twenty minutes ago. Why are you still carrying him around?
That’s the kind of temperament I mean. Maybe Larry came across some Zen writing at some point in his life or, more likely, he just came to the same kinds of conclusions as countless people throughout history have about how to get by in the world. You lend a hand when you can but you don’t make a big deal out of it. You help people get where they’re going.
But maybe you’re wondering if the passenger, the one with the creepy yellow eyes, was for real. Or maybe you’re just wondering what was going through Larry’s head when the guy was offering him anything he wanted. Was he just playing along, humoring a sick man? Or did he believe that this strange passenger really was who he said he was?
Well, if Larry had a thought one way or the other on the subject, my uncle was never able to get it out of him. Truth be told, I don’t think it mattered to him. He had a job to do. His work wasn’t particular glamorous or exciting but, but it meant something to him and he was able to put it down at the end of the day. His work was essential, yet nearly invisible. The Master said, If you close your mind in judgements and traffic with desires, your heart will be troubled. Larry’s heart, I’m sure, was rarely troubled.