by Ken Stewart
As I boarded the intercity bus at the start of its two-hour trip to Manhattan, the bus driver must have noticed my white cane. He communicated verbally with me as he boarded just ahead of me after his rest break at the nearby Burger King. His words were not essential information, but seemed to be his way of offering a bit of additional guidance about the location of the door and his readiness to accept customers. The ticketing transaction, too, hinted of an enlightened service provider. With few other people on board during the early minutes of our journey, there was some conversation between us. Later in the trip, I could hear him several times from my seat a ways back from the door, that he was more attentive to other boarding customers too than is usual bus driver conduct. One final action at our destination also distinguished him from usual driver conduct. He advised me, without me asking, which way to turn to reach the nearest stairway down from the very long stretch of curb space in the terminal's arrival area. Having learned his first name earlier, I was able to respond, "Thank you, Chris."
In all of the 20 years or so traveling that route weekly, I had never submitted a commendation to the transit company. No driver ever deserved one. Chris did, I decided. I was pleasantly surprised when I telephoned New Jersey Transit. There was a specific person who received complaints and compliments. I reported the exemplary behavior, and was glad I could identify him by name. Just the route number and the day and time of the run would have been sufficient to identify him with certainty.
Several months had passed, when I was sitting in that Burger King one evening, 15 minutes into a two-hour wait until the next bus, having apparently just missed my intended one by a whisker. I sat at a table along a side wall, far back from the bus shelter, listening to Newsweek magazine on my cassette player. I felt a tap on my shoulder and noticed a man standing beside my seat. I pulled off my earphones to hear a question, "You going to the city this evening?" Supposing him to be a fellow traveler seeking schedule information, I confirmed my plans. I was delighted by the stranger's next line. "Come on. I'm ready to leave now. I'm the driver ... running real late. Had real bad traffic tie-ups on the way up."
Only then did the voice begin to sound familiar. It was Chris! He had spotted me among the Burger King patrons and remembered. As we boarded his bus and I completed my expressions of gratitude, he confirmed that he indeed was that same "Chris." I did recognize his voice. Then I learned that he recalled our one previous encounter, and realized that I must have been the customer who had turned in a commendation for him.