This morning, without realizing it, I began to think about my trolley driver. Not like think thinking, nothing racy or scandalous, just a casual thought popped into my head.
The last time I saw him was Thursday of last week. As I slapped my ConnectCard against the orange pad on the fare machine, he cheerfully boomed, “An hour and forty minutes, then I’m done!” I already know that Thursdays are his Fridays (I’m learning a lot about him from the quick sentences he’s able to push onto me as I step onto the trolley everyday at 12:47PM) so I figured he meant that in that amount of time, he would be done for the week. I smiled and mustered up enough faux-enthusiasm for the “yay” that has become my signature response to his jubilant greetings.
Yesterday, I had a different driver. He wasn’t mean like the guy who yelled at me once for trying to insert a flimsy, laundered dollar bill into the fare machine, but he was no Resurrected Bob Ross, either. We feigned polite smiles at each other and then I took my usual seat in the back, where I read a book the rest of the way into town.
It wasn’t until this morning that I thought about it, the different trolley driver and what my regular trolley driver said to me last week. An hour and forty minutes. What if he was counting down to his retirement? What if that was my last ride with the out-of-place mountain man and his unruly facial mane? What if I never had the same driver again, no one to act happy to see me everyday at 12:47 on the dot, no one to make me feel like I was more special than the other commuters who just got a generic “hello” or “how’s it going?” and nothing fancy and personal like the time I went back to riding the tolley after Henry had spoiled me with two entire weeks of having a personal chaffeur and the trolley driver, his face all lit up around his gnarly gray cheek-shrubbery, cried, “HEY! HOW YOU BEEN?! I thought maybe you bought yourself a motorcycle so you could ride to work in style!” And I was mostly embarrassed, but also a little smug that he was paying attention to me and not the hoodrat in booty shorts who had walked on right before me.
And what if now he was retired and I would never get to say goodbye and wish him luck? And why do I even care? Other than it has been nice to be greeted by a friendly, now-familiar face every day when I step onto that awful trolley and begin my daily descension into the depths of Hell.
Yesterday, the new-to-me trolley driver didn’t happily honk his horn once. It was the quietest commute to work I’ve ever had.
Today, I was trudging along Potomac Avenue toward the trolley platform when a gruff, yet amiable, voice yelled, “Hello! Hey! Hello!” I lifted my sunglasses onto the top of my head and scanned the line of cars stopped at the red light. And then I saw him looking out of the backseat window of a black Blazer. My trolley driver!
I waved back and yelled an uncertain hello, because what do you say to your trolley driver when you run into him out in public, as a civilian, without the trolley intertubed around him? It seemed so weird and unnatural, seeing him without his forearm resting on the steering wheel of his long, publicly-sponsored carriage.
“I’m on vacation!” he yelled, his untamed mountain ‘fro looking even more carefree than usual, like stationary storm clouds suctioned to his pate.
“Oh really?” I called back and immediately felt stupid. That is the most worthless answer ever and I do it all the time, and all it does is force people to say “yeah” and what a fucking waste of time I just perpetuated.
“Yeah, look at me!” he cried, waving his hands over his body to illustrate that he was free, oh-so-free of his PAT Transit-mandated polyester-blend. His vacation wardrobe consisted of a denim vest with nothing underneath. It was at least buttoned, though. His arms were covered in tattoos, and I suddenly felt kind of perverse and voyeuristic to be seeing him in anything other than his brown Port Authority uniform, so I looked away real quick, focused on the nondescript broad behind the wheel instead. “I’ll be back in two weeks! On…” he paused for a second to think. “…the 27th! You gonna be there?”
I nodded and smiled. “I’ll be there,” I said weakly, swallowing a grimace. Yeah, of course I’ll be there. It doesn’t seem like I’ll be not taking the trolley any time in the near future.
The light turned green and we said goodbye. I continued walking to the platform, happy to know that he was returning on the 27th and I could go back to being the kind of person that a stranger is excited to see. Maybe I should use this time to put more words into my Things to Say to the Trolley Driver repertoire, other than “yay” “hi” and “I know right” (usually my response when he says something about the weather). I even called Henry to giddily brag about my encounter, to which he responded, “You’re so weird.” I think that, after 12 years, Henry still has hopes that I’m calling to tell him something amazing.
As I sat on the trolley, driven by yet another foreign-to-me face bare of any significant hair design, I wondered why my trolley driver was sitting in the backseat of the Blazer when the passenger seat was empty.
I guess when your job is to cart people around all fucking day long, sitting in the backseat might actually be your vacation.