My old Volvo was ailing earlier this week. When the engine was cold, it would hesitate or misfire in second gear, causing the car to repeatedly jerk like it had a bad case of hiccups.
Before work I dropped off the Volvo at the car repair shop. The mechanic called me at midday and said he was having trouble diagnosing the misfire problem and needed to keep the car for another day. My car is twenty-five years old, and by now every engine part falls short of its specifications. It's not easy for a mechanic to distinguish between parts that are truly faulty and parts that are merely old and degraded.
At the end of my work day I logged on to the Regional Transportation District website and determined the schedule for the bus to the nearest light rail station. From there I could take the light rail to within a mile of my house. It was a simple itinerary.
I walked to my bus stop. The sun was going down and snow was falling. As I watched for the south-bound bus, a biting north wind picked up and blew snow in my eyes. I pulled the hood of my jacket tight around my face and faced the other way. Before long I heard the bus pull up to the bus stop. I turned, hopped up the stairs into the bus's warm interior, put my money in the collection machine, got a transfer to use on the light rail, and found myself a seat in the middle of the bus. About a dozen riders were scattered throughout the bus.
According to the website, the bus ride would take 28 minutes and end at the light rail station -- plenty of time for a short nap. I closed my eyes and sank into a state of cozy semi-consciousness, only dimly sensing the intermittent light from passing suburban strip malls. My body lazily rocked in the seat in response to the bus's stops, starts, and slow rumbling turns.
Suddenly, I was roused by the bus driver yelling: "Everybody off the bus. End of the line." I looked out the window. It was a dark residential street. There was no sign of the light rail station. A Hispanic man, now hurrying out the door, and I were the only passengers left on the bus. The bus driver leaned out from his seat, looked back at me, and sharply repeated, "End of the line." Apparently he had sized me up as a bum wanting a warm, dry place to ride out the snowstorm. I left the bus. It roared away.
I had no idea where I was. Through the falling snow I saw the lights of a large strip mall about a half mile away. I headed toward it. As I approached, I saw the usual strip mall stores and restaurants: McDonald's, Home Depot, Chili's, and so forth. However, the mall layout for these stores and restaurants seemed all wrong. It was like a bad dream: familiar things were assembled in an unfamiliar pattern. I had the chilling thought that I could be anywhere in the Consumer States of America.
Fortunately, I maintained my presence of mind. My watch showed that I had only been traveling for twenty minutes. I couldn't be badly lost. I walked past the strip mall and kept walking until I recognized a major east-west street. Then it was a simple matter to find a bus stop and catch a bus toward home. Forty-five minutes later I was safe and sound in my humble townhouse.
Missing your bus is bad. Catching the wrong bus by mistake is worse.