I have been having car trouble for about two months now. I’m not going to go into that whole story because honestly it is a doozy of a blog post all on its own. Suffice it to say for the past two months, every morning when I got in my car I have had serious doubts about whether it would start. That has been problematic for many reasons, including:
- I nanny so unlike other jobs, “my car wouldn’t start” is not a valid excuse for being late to work – especially when you are picking a 3-year-old up from preschool as I do every day at 11:50 a.m.
- I speak the language of car repair about as well as I speak the language of hair stylists or the language of ancient Mesopotamia. When I take my car into the shop I know how to say hello and ask where the bathroom is and that is about it.
- I can’t just leave my car at the shop during the week and even using a loaner car is not a great option because of the need to switch out two car seats and answer a million questions about the new car situation from kids. For those of you who don’t know, answering the question of a 3-year-old does not stop him from asking it again. And again. And again. And then coming up with 20 more variations of the question and asking them each about a dozen times. It is amazing the lengths one will go to to avoid this cycle of questions. Also the people at the school start to question if you’re actually the nanny when you keep showing up in different vehicles.
So the fact that I am flying out of town tomorrow and will be gone for six days seemed liked a golden opportunity for someone to finally figure out what the heck is wrong and maybe even, if the stars were truly aligned, actually fix it. Several places have tried and failed at this task already so I decided to take the recommendation of one of the dads I nanny for when he suggested his friend who is a mechanic. This meant dropping my car off at this guy’s service station tonight after my class got over at 7:30 and somehow finding my way home from there.
And that’s how I found myself standing in the dark, in the rain, in an unfamiliar place, waiting for a bus that I wasn’t sure would ever come.
Let me just start by saying that I am not a novice bus rider. When I moved five miles off campus without a car at the end of my sophomore year of college, I mastered the town’s bus system and spent two and a half years riding it at least twice a day. When I moved to DC without a job and was working for minimum wage at Target, you better believe I took the bus that was less than half the cost of the metro, even if I did have to wait on a semi-shady corner late at night sometimes.
The problem is, there is a huge difference between taking a certain bus that you are familiar with and trying to take a new-to-you bus for the first time. Buses are like people: each one is different, each one has its own quirks, each one takes a different path on its journey, and each one is operating on its own schedule – although they all make appointments they don’t keep.
Just like you can’t predict how a person will behave the first time you meet them, you never know just how a new bus works until after you’ve taken it a couple times. You may think you’ve done your research on the bus, but you can never understand how it really operates until you experience it for yourself.
So once I saw that the service station was about equidistant between two metro stops and not really walkable to either, I began mentally preparing myself for a super exciting new bus adventure. I thought I had accepted the fact that it was going to take forever to get home, but I still ended up underestimating just how long forever can be.
My troubles began when I got in my car at George Mason after class and realized that somehow my phone battery was down to 4%. Since I use my phone obsessively all day every day this is a regular occurrence, but I was a little worried because I knew I was going to need my GPS app just to get to the service station. It was a harrowing trip, but I pulled into the right place with my brave little battery hanging on at 1%. Sadly, this meant my ability to alleviate boredom was extremely diminished, which would play an important role in ramping up my frustration and impatience with the whole situation.
My only tiny beacon of hope at skipping the bus scenario was that someone at the service station would give me a ride to the metro. But when I showed up at 8 p.m. and saw that there was only one employee still there, that hope was extinguished. Scowling at the rain, I crossed the street and started walking down the block to where I thought I remembered the bus stop being when I had done my research online the night before.
Then something that is so rare as to be considered a miracle happened: just as I approached the intersection where the stop was supposed to be, I saw a bus approaching. Perhaps the gods favored me after all! I started jogging and frantically looking around for the bus stop sign. I sprinted towards what I thought was it and got there just as the bus pulled up.
And kept going.
A closer inspection of the “sign” revealed that it was in fact a crosswalk signal. In my haste to get there in time, I had run right past the actual bus stop and blew my one chance at an easy ride home. Getting there just in time to watch your bus drive by is so much worse than missing it by several minutes: it’s the sharp, lingering, self-critical pain that comes from having a miracle be snatched right out of your hands and being left to wonder where you went wrong. Of course in this case I knew exactly where I went wrong and was left to wonder how I could have been such an idiot.
Thus began the wait. In the dark. In the rain. I was soon joined by several others, all who were clearly much more experienced in this bus system than me. All I could think was where were these people 10 minutes before when I needed them to be here so the bus would stop? After about 20 minutes I got desperate enough to try and wave down a cab – and for how much I hate cabs in every way that is possible to hate them, that is VERY desperate. Of course each of the five or so cabs that passed by could sense my hatred and desperation, not to mention my poor hailing technique, and therefore refused to stop.
Waiting for the next bus when you’re not sure when it’s supposed to come is kind of like looking for water in the desert (Okay, without the threat of a slow death by thirst – unless you count my thirst to be home). When you know when the next bus is coming you can relax, have a seat (that is if the bench isn’t soaked from rain), pull out your phone (that is if the battery isn’t dead). When it could come at any second you are constantly on high alert, shifting around for the best view, and jumping when someone else moves in a way that might indicate they have seen it.
All you can do is squint and peer into the distance for as far as you can see, trying to catch a tiny glimpse of that oasis. After a while, you start to see them even when they aren’t there. After waiting at that stop for about 30 minutes, I could have sworn that every single pair of headlights headed in my direction belonged to a bus – until they got about 100 feet away and I noticed they belonged to a Honda Civic.
About 50 minutes after seeing that first bus pass me by, the next one finally came. I got on and barely suppressed the urge to laugh hysterically when the bus stopped and waited for an extra minute just to make sure they weren’t leaving anyone behind.
Happily I did experience a different kind of transportation miracle later that night: I caught the metro with no wait on a weeknight! Two hours and 15 minutes after I left school, I’m home and can finally get started on that packing thing. Sadly, I have to be at the airport tomorrow at 5 a.m., before the metro even starts running.
I already called a cab.