The 49 Bus

By John W Prince

Oh, hi. Yes, sure, you can sit here. Crowded isn’t it? Yes, The 49 Bus is usually crowded this time of day. People going to work and shopping and the school kids, you know.

Yes, I’m pretty familiar with The 49. My husband, Carl, he drove this bus for over 30 years. Yes, he did. Thirty years, five months and eleven days. Drove it from the time he came home from the war—the Korean War, you know—until he finally couldn’t work anymore. Retired with full pension, although he didn’t live long enough after that to really enjoy it much.

I’m his wife Dora, by the way.

Yes, Carl, he just loved driving The 49, you know. Seeing all the people—he became friends with many of them—always meeting new people. Watching the kids grow up. To them he was “Carl The 49 Driver.”

Oh, look over here. See that little blue house on the Kerry Street corner? Yes, that’s the one. We lived there for four years, Carl and me. The house wasn’t blue then—it was green with white shutters and that metal garage thing wasn’t there. Carl saw the “For Rent” sign in the window from the bus one morning in September, stopped the bus, ran to the house and knocked on the door. In just five minutes he had looked at it, given the owner a $10 deposit and was back in the bus. Over the course of the day he made up that five minutes and turned the bus in on time. That was my Carl. Always on schedule.

We were living in a little walk-up flat Slocum at the time and it took Carl 30 minutes to get to work—when our old Chev actually ran. Carl had bought it secondhand—two-tone blue—and worked on it practically every Sunday after church. Anyway, we wanted a place that was on the bus line, you know. It was so much fun moving in and decorating and having a backyard for some flowers and a little vegetable patch.

And, oh yes, Carl got a hot lunch every day!

He’d call me—this was in the days before cell phones, of course—from the pay phone at the turn around. Three rings about 11 o’clock—I never picked up—neither of us wanted to waste that dime. I knew it would take him 42 minutes to get to our corner and I’d be out there waiting at the stop with a Thermos of hot potato soup and a roast beef sandwich. Carl loved soup, you know. And a thin-sliced roast beef on wheat with mayo, mustard and a touch of horseradish. Cut corner to corner. Ha! Six days a week—Carl worked overtime on Saturdays to make extra money—always the same thing for lunch.

On Sundays I’d ask him, “What do you want for lunch?” And he’d laugh out loud and say, “Anything but potato soup and roast beef!” And we’d both laugh. It was one of the little private jokes we always had together.

We were getting ready to move—the owner of our little green house was coming back from overseas somewhere—when I found out I was pregnant with Cowboy. Of course, that wasn’t his real name—his real name was Richard—Richard Joseph—after my father and Carl’s father. But he was such a good-natured, fun-loving and adventurous kid we called him “Cowboy.”

He was always in trouble. Ha! One time he turned off the main electric switch at Ellen Foster Elementary and it took them two days to figure it out. Nobody thought to check the switch. Anyway, the kids got two days off and Cowboy was put on a two-week suspension. Some girl turned him in. Carl was livid—at least in front of Cowboy. Privately he laughed until the tears came spurting out, shook his head and mumbled “What a kid!” over and over.

We wanted Cowboy to go to college—he was talented toward engineering, we thought—but Cowboy wanted to join the Coast Guard. Carl and I couldn’t figure it out. Nobody in our families had ever been Coast Guard. And we never thought Cowboy liked the water much. He’d hardly ever been in anything bigger than a rowboat.

By then Carl had been driving The 49 for almost 25 years. Some of the kids he’d driven to school had their own kids now. A couple of times the Company offered him promotions to supervisor or manager, but he didn’t want to be stuck in an office. He wanted to be out behind the wheel. He felt that his life goal was getting people to their stop safe and on time. He knew every pothole—could’ve driven the route blindfolded.

Meanwhile, I was enjoying my own career.

It started one day when I was asked to give a short talk at a church women’s club when we first moved to Dorset—a five-minute talk on kitchen cleanliness. I had never really thought much about it, you know. You wash your hands and wipe the counter and scrape the carrots. That’s all I knew. So, I went to the library and looked up some stuff. I was so nervous.

A woman in the audience liked my voice and told her husband who made TV commercials. So, I soon found myself in the “voice-over” business reading commercials into a microphone every week or so in a TV studio. And I didn’t have to dress up or even wear make-up. And the really great thing was that I got residuals in addition to the reading fee—every three months I got checks—a few pennies for every time the commercial ran somewhere. And since some of the ads ran nationally for months, this added up to good dollars.

Carl and I took our first real vacation on my “Ad Money.” We went to San Francisco. 1989 it was. We rode the trollies up and down the hills, saw the Golden Gate Bridge, had dinner in Chinatown, toured Alcatraz and got locked in a cell. Carl roared laughing and it echoed through the whole place. We stayed in this funny little hotel—The Avon—our room was so small that Carl said you had to go out into the hall to change your mind. He was a joker, Carl was, you know.

We even went to that long, winding street and stood at the bottom at twilight watching the car lights go back and forth as they came toward us. I said, “It’s beautiful.” Carl put his arms around me, pulled me close and said, “Not as beautiful as you.” And he kissed me. Right there in public for God and everyone to see. I was so embarrassed. But it was nice, too, you know.

We went a few other places with my Ad Money—Maine, one time and Colorado. New York City and one winter we went to Mexico for a week. But I still think that San Francisco was my favorite.

You know, I thought that driving a bus around in a circle day after day for over 30 years would be incredibly boring. But Carl convinced me that every day was different. He felt that his passengers were in his care and he had to look out for them. There was an old man who used to fall asleep on his way home. Carl would stop and go back and wake him up to get off. One time a young woman seemed to be frightened of the man she got on with. Carol watched them in the mirror and was convinced that the woman was in trouble. There was a yellow flashing emergency light on the outside of the bus and Carl turned it on. Next thing you know two big policemen jumped onto the bus and when Carl pointed out the couple the man surrendered. Just gave up right there. Turned out he was trying to kidnap his ex-girlfriend. Carl probably saved her life.

Another time—oh, and this is a classic—a very pregnant woman got on and pretty soon Carl could tell that labor had started. Well, he rolled right past the last few stops, turned five blocks off the route, and came to a screeching stop in front of the City General emergency entrance. They got the woman off the bus and when her baby came—a boy—she named him “Carl.”

The bus company wanted to give my Carl a medal or something, but they couldn’t. They had all of these rules about drivers leaving their route for any reason. And Carl was five blocks off route, you know, going to City General. They said he should have gotten the police involved to help the woman. How could he have done that?

Anyway, The Daily Chronicle got hold of the story and Carl got the recognition he deserved, and the Company had to write him a letter of commendation. Ha! The power of the press!

I know, I know, I guess I talk a lot. And you are probably wondering why I’m on this bus with so many memories and where I’m going today. Truth is, I’m not going anywhere and it’s because of the memories, you know. I got on at the Downtown Plaza and I’ll ride around the route until we end up back at the Plaza. It doesn’t cost me anything. The Company gave me and Carl a lifetime pass when he retired.

No, I ride to celebrate and remember. Today I’m riding to celebrate Cowboy, our son, you know.

He did well in the Coast Guard. He loved it. Became a rescue diver. He’d jump out of a helicopter into the ocean in a storm to help boaters. Imagine! Jumping out of a helicopter! He didn’t even have a rope to lower himself. Anyway, they were rescuing some Hollywood celebrity and when Cowboy got aboard this luxury sailboat the celebrity guy panicked and grabbed him and they both fell. Cowboy got twisted up in some ropes and drowned. The celebrity, naturally, lived. He still makes movies—action hero movies—but I know that he’s a sniveling coward and my Cowboy should still be alive. It’s been 25 years now. And it never hurts any less, even after all of these years.

Cowboy and Carl were very close. Cowboy would come home to visit and they’d go to the park and play catch. Just tossing that old baseball back and forth was the way they communicated. They didn’t need to talk much. The baseball carried their conversation—smack into one glove. Smack into the other glove. They’d come home with big smiles and sit on the back porch with their elbows touching and have a cold beer.

Sorry. Had to dab at that little tear.

Next month I’ll ride The 49 again for Carl. The cancer took him. Seven years ago next month. Cancer is never pretty, you know.

So, I ride The 49 Bus and talk to complete strangers. I often wonder how many of the people who get on and off ever knew Carl, or remember him. Even if they don’t remember, or didn’t know his name, he touched their lives. They got to their destination because he cared. Summer. Winter. Rain. Snow. He even drove one time when he had the flu. He looked after his people. Even if they never noticed him.

So did Cowboy. And now they’re both gone. So, I ride in their memory. It’s their memorial.

This your stop? Yes. Sure. Have a nice rest of your day. Thanks for listening.

Oh, hi. Yes, sure, you can sit here. Crowded isn’t it. Yes, The 49 Bus is usually crowded this time of day. People going to work and shopping and the school kids, you know.

Yes, I’m pretty familiar with The 49. My husband, Carl, drove this bus for over 30 years. Yes, he did.


4 thoughts on “The 49 Bus”

  1. Another charming example of “everyone has a story.” And you told it so well. Rarely do we realize the impact we have, or can have on others. Every day presents a new opportunity.

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