by Mary King
It was the ethanol that did it, of course. Ethanol, or in other words, just plain old grain alcohol. Homegrown fuel, they said. Improved air quality, they said. Cheaper than diesel fuel, they said. But as so often happens it’s what they didn’t say that made all the difference.
Well, there went the last passenger of the night. Midnight straight up, and time to head back to the garage and a couple of cool frosty ones. The bus driver thought, not for the first time, that the new automated announcements sounded a lot like a dog barking. And for all the attention people paid to them, they might as well be a dog barking.
“Please report any unattended bags or suspicious activity to the bus driver,” the automated voice intoned.
Fat lot of good it would do them if they did, the driver thought to himself. In the event of an emergency, he’d be the first one out the door. Smiling to himself, he made his turnaround at the town hall and began the long trip back. This was the best part of the day: no complaining passengers, no screaming kids, just him, the bus, the open road, and...
“We skipped the light fandango...”
Oh, what the blue hell was that? Someone leave a radio when they got off?
“Turned cartwheels ’cross the floor...”
He brought the bus to an abrupt halt and walked back to investigate. Nothing. He scratched his head. “What the christ,” he said aloud.
“Best goddamn rock and roll song ever written,” a voice said and then hiccupped.
The bus driver looked wildly around him. “Seriously, what the christ!”
“Stop requested,” the voice giggled, and then began to sing again:
“One of sixteen vestal virgins who were leaving for the coast...”
The voice sounded oddly familiar to the driver. Where had he heard it before? “Oh no,” he said, “Oh, hell no...” as the answer came to him. After all, he’d been listening to it ever since the new buses came out, listening to it day after day as it announced the stops and warned the passengers to be wary of packages and each other.
“Please bag any unreported activity to the suspicious dus briver,” the voice chortled. “Dus briver,” it repeated with a giggle. “Dus briver, dus briver, dus briver...”
“This isn’t happening,” the driver thought to himself. “I know it isn’t happening because if it was happening, then I’d be going nuts and I’m not going nuts. I’m not.”
The voice spoke again, slurring its words a little now. “I love you, man,” it said. “And I’m not just saying that because I have a tank full of ethanol. I mean it, I love you, man.”
The driver had had enough. “Shut up!” he screamed. “Shutupshutupshutup!!!” He sank into one of the plastic seats and put his head in his hands. Then:
The driver, head in hands, tried to ignore the voice. But then, a little more insistently:
The driver gave in. “What,” he said in a tired voice.
“Dude, I think I’m gonna hurl...”
Slowly, the driver stood up. He was smiling as he removed his uniform cap and placed it on the seat. Next, he removed his jacket and unknotted his tie, placing these items one by one neatly on top of his cap. He stood in the middle of the bus and looked around him.
“Could have retired in five more years,” he said to himself. “Just five more years.” Laughing sadly, he climbed down the bus stairs for the last time and stood looking up at the starry sky.
“Dus briver,” he said. “Dus briver.”
Copyright © 2005 by Mary King