I have to get to Sirius Radio in Manhattan to do an interview for the Martha Stewart Channel. For me, the best way to travel to Midtown is by bus. It’s not a good idea to go on the air stressed out after slaloming through insane New York traffic. In my opinion, New Yorkers are among the nation’s worst drivers. Its not that they don’t know how to drive. Its just that they ignore the rules of the road. I once saw a guy do a u-turn on Broadway to snag a parking spot. The fact that an ambulance was careening down the street didn’t seem to faze him. The last place you want to have a heart attack is in Manhattan.
Since the weather’s suddenly turned cool, I put on a black pullover to complement my jeans and black shoes, grab my keys and start walking to the bus stop. As I round the corner my pulse quickens – the bus is early. So I break into a run and cover the two blocks to the stop in record time. As the passengers are piling onto the bus I catch my breath and fumble for fare money. As I’m doing so I see a pair of glasses sitting on top of a newspaper. Next to it is a saran wrapped bundle of chocolate chip cookies.
“Someone forgot their stuff,” I say to a passenger climbing onto the bus.
“Those were here when I got here,” he says. “Can you believe someone forgot that kind of stuff?”
The glasses are styled for a man and look prescription and expensive. The cookies look homemade. But there’s no time to do anything about it. I have to get to the studio on time. I leave the lonely looking belongings behind and get on the bus. But as I settle down in my seat I can’t help but wonder, why did this person leave those things behind? What’s the story here?
My first thought is that the man was probably talking on his cell phone or playing with a computer whatsis and just plain forgot. I read somewhere that all the texting, web surfing and smart phoning we do is wrecking our attention spans. We’ve offloaded our long-term memories onto data servers and our mind just can’t keep up with the megabytes of information we get bombed with everyday. No wonder thousands of motorists are injured or killed every year because they’re jabbering into their latest and greatest cell phones.
Or did the man forget his belongings because he was suffering from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that life throws at all of us? Maybe his kid is failing in school, his mom’s sick or he got bad news from the doctor. Maybe his retirement portfolio is tanking or he’s living in a house worth less than he paid for it. In these tough economic times he could be worried about losing his job. Or maybe the man doesn’t have a job. He could be one of those unemployed guys who hides the fact he got laid off by going though the pantomime of a daily commute. I’ve met a few guys like that. They go into the city and set up an office in Starbucks. Maybe my unknown man can ill afford to lose those spectacles.
But what about the man’s cookies? Maybe he does have a job and there’s a party at his office; for someone’s birthday or to congratulate the birth of a child. I can only think that his wife whipped up the chocolate chips as his contribution. Why not just buy something? Maybe the couple is watching their dollars and cents. But then again, nothing says love like homemade baked goods. I hope the man’s fellow cubicle dwellers are worth the effort. Then again, they might be angling for his job, smiling and smiling at him in the hallway, but still villains.
But I’m putting my money on a broken heart. This guy could have been dumped or is facing a nasty divorce. A couple of years ago I ended a relationship with a girl and it fucked my short-term memory for months. I lost my keys, misplaced my wallet, forgot appointments and what day of the week it was. I even left my iPhone in a restaurant. I thought I was going crazy. My memory eventually returned, but I know I could’ve done what Bus Stop Guy just did. Loneliness maims the mind and soul.
As my bus rattles down the street, I look to see if anyone’s running back to the bus stop, praying his stuff will still be there. I hope so. People will steal anything. My neighbor has the ski rack ripped off his car roof in the middle of the night. But even if he retrieves his stuff, if the guy has a job, he’ll be late for work. Maybe that’ll be the straw the breaks the camel’s back and his boss will shit can him in favor of a kid who’ll work longer hours for less money. A deep dark pit may be opening up my forgetful man’s stomach right now. We live in uncertain times and everyone is feeling the heat.
My bus plows though the Lincoln Tunnel and we pull into the Port Authority Terminal. When we come to a stop, several people leap out of their seats and rush to the exit, cutting several people off. That burns my onion. One guy, a business looking type, unwittingly clocks an old lady with his briefcase. I leap out of my seat and, just before he can smack her again, grab his bag. That earns me a pissed off look. But the guy doesn’t say anything. Maybe’s he’s just preoccupied too.
Just before I get off the bus I check my pockets. Yep, all my stuff’s still there. I take the escalator down, head over to the Eighth Avenue exit and hop into a cab. As I watch the people outside my scratched window flow by, I wonder how many of them are present in the here and now. Am I? Sometimes we get so wrapped up inside our heads that the little things that make life worth living pass us by. And there’s no data server or gadget to help us with that.
I go up to the studio, slip on my headphones and the engineer does a sound check. I’m on in a minute. But just before the host gives me my cue, I think about that man’s glasses and cookies. It makes me sad. I’ll never know what happened or what Bus Stop Guy’s about. It will be forever out of my reach. And that’s what drives me crazy sometimes. I passed a thousand people on the ride over here and I’ll never know what makes them tick. It makes me feel small.
The light goes on and I start talking into the mike. Hundreds of thousands of people have read and heard my story over the years. But now the only story that concerns me is the one I will never know.