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Vignettes of the Month Stories from Heinz Hammer's first book: Routes, The Lighter Side of Public Transit
Ready, Set, Go!
Some buses leave the garage at 4 a.m. to commence service and do not return back until well after midnight. Therefore, it is necessary for drivers to change shifts while the bus is on the road and passengers are on board. The location where one driver takes over and the other departs is called a relief point.
Driver John Wallace was waiting for his bus at the corner of Hastings Street and Homer, a relief point in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. The relief was scheduled for 2:26 p.m.
Shoppers were eager for bargains in the large departments stores close to where John was patiently waiting for his coach to arrive. He was about to go on vacation after this short shift of two hours and twelve minutes. Naturally, he was in a great mood.
He was humming his favorite tune when he noticed a brand new white cane abandoned on the sidewalk a few yards away.
With a smirk on his face, John's sometimes morbid sense of humor took over.
After picking up the cane, he put on his sunglasses, even though the sun was nowhere to be found that day. Some pedestrians walking past John looked somewhat surprised at the sight of a bus driver in full uniform holding on to the bus stop with his right hand while leaning on the white cane and gazing into the sky.
The same sight greeted Trevor Turner (not his real name) as he wheeled his bus over to the stop, glad to be finished for the day. Trevor had known John for several years and was familiar with his zany sense of humor. Playing along with John, he pulled the hand brake, walked down the steps and gently grabbed John's arm. Trevor then guided him into driver's seat.
The audience was largely made up of elderly people, who watched the well-acted performance with mixed feelings. Some people were laughing, other scrambled for the back door to safety.
"Well, I have to leave you now," remarked Trevor after securing John carefully into the seat and wrapping his hands around the steering wheel.
"Are you sure you are all right now?"
"No problem, man," John replied. "Just tell me when the light turns green and I'm on my way."
A woman in Vancouver, Canada, who carried her cat to the bus stop, asked to bring the feline on board, but the driver politely denied her request.
The operator, who does not wish to be identified, had a reputation for always presenting himself in a cool, polite and professional manner. His firm negative response to the woman's plight was received with much disgust.
"It's only a few blocks," the woman tried to reason.
The driver refused to budge on company policy.
At first, the lady turned away, seemingly content to walk the distance. Suddenly she changed her mind and ran back to the bus.
"You know, you can stick this bus up your...." she began to say.
The operator remained calm.
"If you can do the same thing with your cat I'll gladly take you along." he retorted.
Minnesota 1, Chicago 0
Mike Royko of the Chicago Sun-Times related the tale a
few years ago of a feisty Senior citizen.
Irving M. Naiditch, 83, boarded a Chicago bus and saw a
sign pointing out that senior citizens could ride for half fare.
When he dropped his quarter into the fare box, the driver
demanded identification. Naiditch took out an ID card.
"You need a special CTA card," said the driver. Irving did
not have the Chicago Transit Authority card because he lived in
Minnesota. He was in Chicago to visit his two sons.
"The sign doesn't say anything about a special card," he said to the driver.
"It's the rules," the driver responded. "Put in another quarter
or get off the bus."
One privilege of old age is being stubborn.
"Give me my quarter back, and I'll get off."
"I can't. It's in the box. If you don't get off, I'll call the
Irving refused to budge and the driver called the police.
Two squad cars pulled up to the scene.
"I'm the desperado," Irving said. Then he and the driver told
"That's what you called us for?" one officer asked the driver.
Another policeman told Irving he would give him a quarter.
The stubborn senior shook his head.
"Why should you give me a quarter? The bus driver has to
give me my quarter."
The policemen huddled for a few seconds, and then asked
Irving where he was going.
"Downtown, to have lunch with friends," he said.
"C'mon," the policeman said. "We'll get you your ID card."
The officers took him to the CTA office, but the people
there would not give him an ID card - he needed a picture.
"What about his quarter?" the cop asked. The bureaucrats
conferred, and the decision was made to refund Irving's quarter.
When Irving arrived downstairs, the policemen asked him
where he was going.
"To see my friends," Irving replied.
"How are you going to get there?"
"On the bus. And I'm only paying a quarter."
"Good luck," said the policeman.
Irving got on the bus and dropped a quarter into the fare
"I'm a senior citizen," he told the bus driver.
The driver looked at him briefly and nodded. He didn't
know how lucky he was to be a sensible man.*
*Courtesy of the Chicago Sun Times Inc. 1989
Aim - Fire!
In the 1930's there was a well-known conductor by the name of Billy. He was known for his sharp wit and sense of humor.
One day a rather large lady boarded the streetcar after shopping at the market. She was carrying a big bag of oranges. When the streetcar started moving, she lost her balance a little and a few oranges toppled out of her bag onto the floor. It was difficult for her to pick them up, partly because of the swaying and rolling motion of the streetcar and partly because of her size.
Suddenly a distinctive sound could be heard coming from the lady's rear end. Everybody heard it, including Billy. People pretended not to have heard anything. but from the back of the streetcar Billy's voice came through loud and clear.
"That's right, lady. If you can't catch 'em, shoot 'em!"
Hastings Street in Vancouver, British Columbia is a major
east-west artery. This street has six lanes and has one of the very
few trolley express lanes in North America. The trolley wires
overhead are strung out in two sets - one for the regular service
close to the curb and the other exclusively for the Hastings
Express. The latter is strung above the number 3 lane, which is
the one closest to the yellow center line. A bus drawing power
from the express wire is physically unable to reach the curb
because the poles are too short. Consequently discharging
passengers from the center lane is out of the question because
traffic on Hastings is very dense at the best of times. Drivers are
required to announce the fact that nobody can get on or off the
bus while the coach is traveling on the three-mile stretch of
Transit supervisor Marty Williamson recalls the following
story. It was related to him by his bus-driving uncle. The
story was confirmed by the lucky driver.
Operator Mike Walker was his usual self that day, happy
and content. He is one of those people who seems to be born
to drive a bus. He enjoys his work and the people, and on this
particular day, had not a care in the world.
At Main Street, the last stop before becoming an express,
he turned around and heralded the required announcement.
"The next stop is Kootenay Loop!"
Perceiving no movement on his bus among his passengers,
he pulled out, negotiated the switch to enter the express wire,
and started his journey to Kootenay Loop.
After about three minutes, he noticed a man getting up
from his seat and coming forward.
"Oh no," Mike thought, "I sure hope be doesn't want to
"Excuse me, I have to get off" the man said.
"I'm sorry, sir, but this is an express service and I cannot
let you off until we get to Kootenay Loop," Mike replied.
"You don't understand. I have to get off."
"You don't understand, sir. I cannot let you off even if I
wanted to. The bus can't make it to the curb. Just sit down and
I'll put you on the local bus coming back when we get to
The man seemed complacent for the moment and sat down.
After a few seconds, he was back at the operator's side.
"I'm sorry, but I have bad kidneys," he confided, "and I have
to get off the bus."
Mike was getting a little impatient.
"I understand your problem, sir, but it's just physically
impossible for me to reach the curb. It would be very dangerous
for both of us if I let you out in the middle of the road. Please
sit down. We'll be at Kootenay Loop in just a few minutes."
Resigned to his fate, the man sat down.
When they came to Nanaimo Street, the bus had to stop
for a red light. Relaxing for a moment, the driver glanced
around, observing a few girls walking in their mini skirts. He
routinely checked on his passengers through the rear view mirror
and noticed that some of them were also enjoying the fabulous
Vancouver summer scene. Some were dozing comfortably, while
others seemed lost in their thoughts.
A movement in the rear stairwell drew Mike's attention. A
man seemed to be doing something and there was the faint
sound of running water.
"Oh, for Heaven's sake," Mike thought. "Just what I need."
This was not the first time someone had urinated on
his bus. He was familiar with the associated aroma. An
idea occurred to him, and be reached down to activate
the back door. After all, this was an emergency if he
ever saw one; at least it was to his passenger. The back
door opened. Now the fellow was tinkling out into the
street. It was not a particularly pretty sight, maybe, but
to the driver it was a lot better than having a smelly
As Mike was quietly observing the odd
phenomenon, be noticed activity in
the lane right next to the open
door. He spun around to have
a better look, because
the convex mirror gave
a very small and
distorted image of
what was really
happening. A white
red seats had
pulled up next
to the bus.
Because of the
the car top was
down. The driver
unaware of the open
door right next to him, because he was admiring the girls on the
sidewalk. The passenger's mini waterfall traced a path up the
hood, over the windshield, over the driver's bead and into the
back seat as the car came to an abrupt halt. After that, it took
the driver only a fraction of a second to realize what had come
over him. He leaped out of the car with an agility seldom
demonstrated by mortal man and grabbed the passenger by his
lapel, yanking him off the bus.
The traffic light turned green. Mike Walker briefly
pondered his best course of action. After about half a second,
he decided that discretion was the better part of valor. He
reached down again and closed the back door. Mike left the wet
affair behind him, and took off toward his destination,
abandoning his weak-bladdered passenger. The fellow was
desperately trying to zip up his pants while being held and
spread across the trunk of a convertible. The damp motorist
verbally enlightened him about socially acceptable behavior.
Full of it
Public transportation in earlier years was certainly not as burdened with rules and regulations as it is today.
Granted, rules are necessary, but they can also be broken. Life would be very dull if all rules were rigedly enforced at all times. Take the case of a farmer in Bonn, back in 1949. He had no transportation, but had to move a young bull from Geldsdorf to Lantershofen, a five-hour walk, but only 45 minutes by bus. The farmer was very fortunate when the driver and the conductor made the decision to allow him and the bull to ride on the bus.
Only the conductor showed some concern.
"I hope that your animal does not have an accident."
"No problem," replied the farmer. "He just went two minutes ago."
Anybody familiar with animals of that kind knows that no bull goes without bull---- for more than 30 minutes. Sure enough, half-way through the ride the bull lifted his tail. Luckily, the conductor was watching like a hawk. He quickly grabbed the farmer's hat and positioned it in a strategic location. The hat was filled to the rim.
Bull, farmer and hat departed at Lantershofen. Cursing and mumbling, the farmer emptied his hat.
"What's your problem?" asked the conductor. "At least you don't have to pay for a clean-up."
On the way back, the farmer boarded the same bus, this time solo. He was sporting a new hat. Smiling, he awarded the driver and conductor with a bottle of good schnapps.
"Let's drink to the hat!" he exclaimed.
Logical Language Lingo
New people in the country try hard to become accustomed to the new language and culture. The process of learning can, at times, be trying.
A young bus driver of Chinese origin, having been a good student, remembered his instructor's advice: "If you phone transit control, keep it short. They are very busy; just give them the essentials."
When our friend had to make that very first call to control, he remembered every word. After carefully planning his little speech, he was ready to convey the message.
"Control, my name is Chang. My bus 2117, location Main and 41st. Bus upside down, over and out."
The startled supervisor at the other end tried to find out more details, but the driver had hung up, so the panic began.
Police, emergency rescue units, fire engines, paramedics, and transit officials raced to the scene.
They found the bus parked at the side of the road, looking quite normal, just broken down. When the supervisor interviewed him, Chang told him that another operator had remarked that the bus had gone "belly up".
He merely tried to improve on such bad English.
Running on Time
Ethel Brewer from Dallas noticed at a small bus station in Northern Italy that two clocks only 10 feet apart showed different times. Curious about this situation, Mrs. Brewer asked one of the station attendants why these clocks showed different times.
"But senorita," remarked the surprised man, "why would we hang up two clocks if they both showed the same time?"
Need any Help?
An interesting site greeted a young ticket agent in 1976 at a railway station in Brussels, Belgium. It was around 06:30, when he spotted a charming and very attractive young lady. She was dressed like Eve in paradise - not a stitch of clothing covering her body. She hastily walked by him and headed toward a train destined for city center. The driver of the train was anxious to show his politeness toward the lady. He was a bit worried about the good reputation of the Metro and walked leisurely over to her and handed her his coat. Of course, he called the control center.
Brussels finest reacted spontaneously - very spontaneously - because within five minutes, nine police cars and five transit supervisors converged on the spot to welcome the charming lady.
Eric Pagen (not his real name) had been working nights for years. He was experienced in dealing with problems related to the work forced upon him by his lack of seniority. One of the best survival techniques he had developed over time was to ignore - within reason - whatever went on behind his back. He had learned to look the other way when somebody smuggled a bottle of cheap booze onto his bus, especially when the guy was six foot six and looked like Rambo.
Eric was driving the Granville-Victoria line, which takes approximately two hours per round trip. Arriving at the end of the line for the first time that night, he noticed a man sleeping on the back seat. Since it was a fairly quiet night, Eric decided to let him sleep it off. He based his decision primarily on the person's size, appearance and odor.
Eric calls it common sense, others call it "chickening out".
After another round trip, the jolly green giant was still sleeping. Again, Eric used common sense. This went on for almost the entire shift. On the last trip to the south end of Granville Street, when the sleeper was the last one on board, he decided to wake him up.
It would have been easy to just walk up to him and remove him from the bus. Instead Eric slammed on his brakes. His victim thundered to the floor with a dull sound, almost like a potato sack hitting the ground. Looking in the mirror, he noticed a bewildered head rising from the gap between the seats.
"Where the hell are we, driver?"
"Granville and 67th coming up, sir!"
"Thank God, I almost missed my stop."