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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