Down the Road a Piece
Ah, those old bus tales
“How would you like to drive one of our tourist buses?” Ed said, the day he first called me.
I’d known him for a couple of years through another job I’d held. I hadn’t expect this.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you know all the trails in Acadia National Park,” he responded.
A strange reason to be offered a job driving a bus, and, to date, I’ve never driven the bus on a trail. Although, at times, some of our rougher roads could better be called trails than roads.
Ed loaned me a bus. I hired a teacher. And before too long I had passed the bus driver’s test -- likely because not once did I back over the man who administered the test.
So my career has gone from preacher guy, which ended because I got tired of all the fighting among ministers and churches; teacher, which ended because I grew weary of bureaucracy; and news reporter, which ended because I forgot how to spell and never could remember names -- or something like that.
So, in another hour, I leave to finish my split-shift day of driving people here and there.
But along the way has been a bit of fun.
Like the deer I routinely see along part of my route through Acadia, the deer who have never asked to ride the bus but who like to stop and stare at me.
“Hey,” I sometimes say to them, “I can’t help it. It’s what I do. What do you do? Eat, roam the woods, stare at bus drivers.”
Only a couple have ever answered me, and, since they didn’t get on the bus, I won’t mention them -- or what they said.
It’s what a ranger said that makes this next story happen. I had driven a bunch of conservation types, members of this or that group, up Cadillac Mountain so they could be instructed on how to keep tourists from walking on the rocks. That’s easy; there are so many signs atop Cadillac telling you where you can’t walk, that where you can walk is on a path not made of rocks.
On the way down the mountain, I had been chatting with some of the group I knew from my other life -- outdoor guy, guy who wanders along trails, guy who occasionally trips and bangs or cuts some part of his anatomy. Guy who volunteers some for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, doing...well, I kind of forget, but I do something, something vital, and helpful.
The ranger, who was escorting the group, rose and from his against-some-transportation-department-somewhere-rules stood in front of the white line. Never, never, never stand in front of the white line. That’s what it’s there for, to never stand in front of.....it.
He explained to the group that it was difficult to get one of these buses up the mountain. I forget the reason, but it was difficult, he said.
Which is when I, the humble bus driver who knew more about getting buses up the mountain than did the ranger who had never gotten one up any mountain, spoke up.
At the moment, we were halfway down the mountain. It was easy. Just shift into low gear, make sure you know where the brake pedal is, and enjoy the ride.
I said, “Actually, going up is not a problem. It’s going down.”
Those who knew me guessed I was probably not telling the truth and sort of sighed. Those who didn’t know me just stared out the window at the State of Maine resting quietly far away and pretty far below.
It’s kind of nice when people who know you know you don’t often tell the truth. You don’t have to do a lot of explaining. As for those who didn’t know me. We made it down safely.
A second bus experience that comes to mind has to do with a woman and her deer.
Each fall, after Seawall Campground closed, depriving us of a bus stop, I would drive the tourists into the Seawall picnic area, part of Acadia National Park across the road from the campground. I would drive around a circle at the far end of the picnic area from where they could get a close-up view of the ocean and the pounding breakers.
As I entered the picnic area one afternoon, a couple of deer were watching us from under a nearby apple tree. A woman asked if I could stop the bus while she took their photos. I stopped the bus, and, as she got ready to step down from the bus, I cynically commented, “You’d better take off that hat first.”
She didn’t, and before she got her picture, the two deer disappeared into heavy brush behind the tree. Disappointed, the woman got back on the bus, and I drove around the picnic area. As we came back out, the two deer were under the tree again.
“May I take their picture now?” she asked.
I stopped the bus and this time as she descended to the parking lot, I noticed she was not wearing her hat. She took the photos and got back on the bus.
I know some of the tourists wondered what I knew about deer and hats. I didn’t wonder; I knew. Nothing.
I know Mount Desert Island pretty well, having driven most of its roads and hikes most of its 150 miles of trails. And, it is an island, so there is a limit to how much one can know about it.
One morning, as I was driving through the national park, a man asked what I would do if my GPS malfunctioned and didn’t show me the route. (It doesn’t show the route, but it does show the next stop and the scheduled departure time.)
I responded, “I’d stop the bus, get off, look around to see if I recognized any of the mountains, get back on the bus, and finish the route.”
The man didn’t say anything more. Nor did I. Why would I have to get off the bus and look around? Why not just finish the route?
At a small ferry terminal to Swans Island, as I pulled in to make my stop, the bus stalled. It stalled and didn’t make it as far as the stop. It stopped at the top of the exit ramp from the ferry.
I walked into the terminal and addressed the manager, whom I knew well after trading barbs with her all summer.
“You see that bus out there?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“It’s broken down,” I explained.
“Can you move it” she asked. “It’s sitting right where the cars and trucks have to go up to leave the ferry.”
“If it would move, it wouldn’t be broken down,” I said.
“How long will it be there?” she asked.
“Not more than four or five hours until a tow truck arrives.”
She gave me her usual “I hate buses” look, and I walked back to the bus to await the replacement bus.
Which arrived in about thirty minutes.
“How long before it gets towed?” I asked the driver.
“About an hour,” he replied.
I didn’t go back into the ferry terminal.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at email@example.com.
Milton M. Gross copyright 2014