Local Author: Jonathan M. Purver
I’m experiencing a New York City crystal winter’s evening, the middle of a December whiteout in lower Manhattan and the tops of skyscrapers glow through white curtains of snow. Few cars are on Fifth Avenue, only the random bus in which I’m riding, red and green traffic lights reflecting into the windows and casting multicolored patterns on the inside. We’re traveling through the white tunnel of a snowstorm.
Outside is total quiet as we glide across an immense white lake with no top, no bottom, a schooner in the wind.
Christmas is near, and the passengers are in a festive mood. On laps are colorful packages, Bergdorf, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s.
The Jamaican driver begins to sing Christmas songs in reggae. He wears a red, green, and yellow wool cap, Rastafarian dreadlocks. One by one, the passengers stop talking and begin listening to the mellow syncopated sounds of his songs which fill the air. He has doubtless been driving since early morning, but his deep Jamaican voice overflows with passion. His songs are colors, rainbows of sweet sound. Never have we heard such richness in a voice, and nothing’s ever approached what we’re hearing as his music bypasses our ears and goes directly to our souls.
We travel now through the snow in our own separate world. From time to time, passengers board or depart. We realize something extraordinary and inexplicable is happening to us and that every one of us, each in their own way, is a part of a magical experience. I don’t depart at my destination but ride on for several miles so I can be surrounded by the music in this driver’s voice, and I suspect many others are doing the same.
This journey, this voyage, has become my destination. As the bus slows for me finally to depart, I tell the driver how beautiful his singing is. He smiles. I ask whether this is maybe his “day job,” surely he must sing professionally here in the city and, if so, where can I see him.
“No, mon. This be where I sing.” For a moment he strokes his neat beard. “Well,” he says, “I do sing in a choir of sorts.”
“Hey,” I say, “I’ll bring a date, and we’ll come and get ourselves a great Christmas concert courtesy of New York Metro.”
His laughter fills the bus.
“Well, mon. This concert is not courtesy of New York Metro. But I am truly glad you liked it. That’s why I sing. So you can feel the love.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” I say.
“My friend, mine’s a one night gig and only during winter.”
“So you don’t sing in the Spring?”
“Spring? No mon.”
“Will I see you again?” I ask.
“Can’t say. I’ll ask Simon to keep an eye on you.”
“You’ll like Simon. Dancer. Went out to Hollywood. Broke his ankle. Drove the bus for awhile, always studying how people move. Put together a small dance company and created a ballet called Route 42 based on travelers getting on and off a bus with a theme of life’s journey not being in a straight line.”
“Did he dance again?” I ask.
“Couldn’t. But he became a legendary choreographer.”
“Merry Christmas,” I call to him as I step down and out into the piles of snow.
“And to you, my friend,” he says, “and to you.”
We, all of us, were strangers when we boarded a bus on that cold white New York evening, but as each of us in turn departed from the joy of the music which for a short while had encircled us and brought us together, we weren’t strangers when we left.
The next week I phoned New York Metro to tell them I never thought I’d be calling a bus company to praise a driver, but here I am. After several rings, a woman’s voice answered, and I told my experience on the Route 42 bus.
“Don’t have no Route 42,” said the woman, “but, honey, we get some calls like yours ’round this time of year. Appreciate it.” I told her I didn’t understand. The woman paused for a moment.
“The driver,” she said, “that’d be Daniel. Man sure had a voice.”
“Daniel died couple years back.”
Many years later I lived in Hollywood, and for most getting around found buses quicker and easier than driving, and on a particular spring day my bus arrived and I climbed aboard. Seemed like a good morning for potato pancakes at Canter’s Deli. The driver looked more like Morgan Freeman than Morgan Freeman himself, with the same twinkle in his eye. Maybe it was, I thought for a moment, and he’s “getting atmosphere” for an upcoming movie. He is, after all, a method actor.
“That’ll be a dollar and ten cents,” he says as I reach in my pocket.
He slides his wire frame glasses lower on his nose and takes a long look at me.
“No, my mistake. That’d be just thirty-five cents,” he says, “you’re old. Like me.” He gives a grin.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Way it was meant,” he says as he ramps up, and the bus moves off.
At the next stop, the driver again examines me closely from under his wire frames. There’s a long pause after he lets on a few more passengers and they take their seats.
“Daniel says hello,” says the driver.
It’s now that I notice the Route 42 display above the windshield. “You’re Simon, right?” I say.
“Right. Daniel said to keep an eye on you.”
“There really isn’t any Route 42 bus, is there?” I said.
“For you there is. Most folks don’t see their Route 42 bus when it comes along. Too busy or whatever.” He smiled again. “But it’s there alright.”
“But I saw it.”
“You’re not afraid to see it,” he said.
“Do you sing in Daniel’s choir?” I asked.
“Sing? No. Sound like a frog. I was a dancer.”
I look up and see we’re in front of Canter’s Deli. The ride seemed only a few seconds.
“Hey, enjoy those potato pancakes,” he says.
“How did you. . .” I started to say, then stopped. “Never mind. Tell Daniel hi for me.”
“Sure will. That yellow pad you’re carrying. Write about a dancer who broke his ankle and couldn’t dance any more, then drove a bus for awhile and became a famous choreographer.”
“That you?” I said.
A close look over his wire rims and a sly smile as I step down to the street and the bus vanishes into the traffic.
I enter Canter’s and take my seat in a booth along the side wall on which are hung black and white studio photos of the celebrities who’ve eaten here, and the picture under which I find myself is of the opening night of a ballet called Route 42 and of a choreographer named Simon Brown and I know he’ll be keeping an eye on me.
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