The Bus and Us

By Ted Gargiulo – This loner’s last solo odyssey began on April 12, 1979, with the purchase of a Trailways Bus pass. Never could I have anticipated the sort of transforming adventure I was in for.
I was living in my dirty little hometown of New York City at the time, busting my hump 9-5 at a print shop on West 23rd Street, where I’d worked since 1970. I had recently taken some time off to pursue a career in theater, stretch my legs, see the world – the sort of romance every restless, uncommitted actor/writer needs to explore before the soft plaster of youth hardens into middle age. After four years of chasing shadows, the romance soured. I ran out of steam and ended right back in the same blue collar rut I’d tried to flee.
Yet the wanderlust never left me. One Thursday evening, my boss asked me if I wanted to take next week off. Only one week? (He owed me two.) What could I plan on such short notice? Then it hit me: a bus trip!
I had one friend in Nashville, another in Detroit, both single guys like me, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. Thought they might like some company. That night, I did some quick calculating, made a couple of calls, then walked to the Port Authority Bus Terminal from my apartment and bought my pass. I was good to go. The next day, I brought my travel bag to work with me. Soon as I knocked off, I headed back to the terminal and caught the 5:30 bus to Nashville. The long, companionless trek was not unlike dozens of others I’d taken before. I sat, stared out the window, popped Dramamine, tried to read, slept a lot. Spent a memorable (albeit brief) time with both sets of friends. I dreaded going back home. However, it wasn’t until that day – April 20, 1979, to be exact – that my real adventure began.
My friend in Detroit had driven me to the Trailways terminal downtown. We walked into the waiting room and took a seat. That was when I saw her for the very first time, standing directly across the room from me, at a pay phone – the beautiful lady who would one day be my wife, the queen of all my tomorrows. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Little did I know then that she had seen me through the large picture window of the terminal when I turned the corner and entered the building. She told me later that she just knew, the moment she saw me, that I was the one for her. Sorta takes your breath away, doesn’t it? I thought I was so clever, stealing glances at her while her back was turned, not realizing that she was watching me through the reflection of the window. What a sneak! I was boarding the bus to Cleveland, when I noticed her getting on behind me. My pulse quickened. We sat across the aisle from one another, but I acted cool (I think) and pretended not to notice her. To this day, my wife contends that had she not uttered the first hello, there’d have been no future for us. That, dear readers, is simply not true. I’d have said something…eventually.
She asked if I wouldn’t mind hoisting her bag onto the luggage rack. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige. Imagine! The girl hadn’t known me five minutes and she already was having me doing stuff for her. You’d think we were already married! Her name was Jann. She lived in Maryland, had flown to Detroit to visit a girlfriend. United Airlines then went on strike and she had to take a bus back. Just so happened, she was en route to Cleveland to visit her sister in Garrettsville before returning to Maryland. I, too, was headed for Cleveland to catch a bus back to New York. So, here we both were. If that wasn’t a masterpiece of divine engineering, I don’t know what is!
I was so caught up in the chemistry of the moment, I don’t even remember the conversation. All I know is that Jann did most of the talking. Jann insists that I did most of the talking. It figures that her version of the story would be different from mine.
What we do recall is that incredible moment when we held hands across the aisle. That Jann, always a step ahead of me, had set me up – oh yes she did! Told me her hand was cold. “Here, feel it,” she said. So I reached over and held it…and she kept it there a little too long before withdrawing it. See, this is the part of the movie where music starts playing from out of nowhere, and the angelic voices sing Ooo-aaahhh. There was definitely chemistry going on here, unlike anything either of us had felt before.
Suddenly, we were in Toledo. We had only 30-40 minutes between buses, and time was running out. It was now that I realized that I wasn’t traveling alone anymore.
The bus to Cleveland was packed. I had to find us two seats together, even if it meant bribing somebody to switch places with me. (Forget being cool.) Finally, I spotted two seats way up front. The driver had draped his jacket over one of them. I politely informed him that I was removing it.
The rest of the trip was a rhapsody of eyes and sighs. I couldn’t bear for it to end. Once in Cleveland, we separated, but promised to keep in touch. I knew one day Jann and I would be together again. We had to be! But riding back home that night without her was the longest, loneliest journey of my life. In the space of a few hours, something inside me had changed forever. A flame had been lit where no fire had ever burned before. Verily, my wandering days were over. And the best years of my life had just begun.

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