Simple Things, Important Things

In a conversation I had once with my sophomore English teacher, Mrs. Przeslawski (so many teachers in the Detroit suburbs had ponderous Polish last names), I observed that the bell had just rung and that several students in the hall would be late to class.

“They’d better run,” I said to her.

“Oh no,” she said. “No. Never. They’re seniors. These are all seniors’ lockers around here.”

I didn’t follow.

She squared her face toward me and gave me a serious look. “Seniors never run.”

It is a lesson about pride I have carried with me through all my life. Better to come late to class quietly and calmly, with dignity, and suffer the consequences, than to arrive sweating and breathless.

To this day, for example, I never run for a bus.

I will turn a corner and see my bus barrelling through the green light toward me, careering toward the stop ahead. There are enough people at the sign that the time it takes for the bus to stop, for a few people to exit, and for those people to enter, I could easily make it in time to board myself. Only if I ran. Which I never do.

Once, and only once, since moving to New York did I run for the bus. And when I got there, the doors closed in my face, and the driver blithely drove away. New York bus drivers are merciless, but I can’t argue. If he stops to let me on, it could give others behind me time to reach the bus and further delay all of us.

So the bus comes and goes. I continue walking to the next stop, glancing back over my shoulder, coolly, calmly, knowing another will come soon, and I won’t have to break a sweat on my morning commute.

Other people, however, do run. From a precarious stance in the aisle, hovering over a woman with too much luggage or a man with halitosis and a dripping umbrella, I often see out the window someone tearing around the corner at a desperate gallop, panting toward the closing doors of the bus. They creak shut just as he or she arrives, and the best the hapless commuter can manage is an impotent bang-bang-bang on the windows all the way down the length of the vehicle, staring in with wild eyes and gaping mouth, or sometimes shouting something rather rude to the driver. I can empathize, but their effort is wasted: They are stuck at the stop anyway despite their run. They could easily have spared themselves the trauma.

Earlier today, as the Q33 was pulling away from the station at 74th and Broadway in Jackson Heights, a woman similarly reached the closed doors. She visibly chastised herself, or the driver, or fate, or the slow people on the stairs in the station a minute back β€” but she gave up the fight honorably and resolved to stand there, smiling, watching us take off.

The driver, a benevolent soul, glanced around him and decided it was safe to hit the brakes and open the door. He called to the woman, who was looking in the other direction.

“Hey. Hey, you! Come on. Get on!”

She snapped to attention and in one swift motion, she all but leaped aboard as the doors folded shut, and she was safe and on her way home.

She smiled radiantly, incredulously. She could not believe her luck β€” like a child who had just found the last Easter egg. “Thank you!” she said, dipping her Metrocard. She took a few steps in and grasped a pole at the front of the bus as the driver continued off the drive and the bus lurched onto the street.

Her reacton completely arrested me. It was so real and humble and grateful. I have never seen a driver stop like that, but it was ultimately a small, simple gesture, like holding a door. And she would have waited no more than 15 minutes for the next bus. But it obviously meant so much to her. I was totally charmed to see something so small matter so much and deliver such delight.


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the untallied hours

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