International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Bus
among road-weary part-time professors, adjuncts, Stu Hanagan, for
more than a decade, rode public transportation from school to school,
college and university, teaching composition and literature courses
to predominantly ambivalent general education students.
recently completed a Tuesday morning writing course at Illinois State
University at Chicago, Stu was uncomfortably wedged within an overflowing
throng of riders aboard the slow-moving and long-delayed southbound
82 Kimball bus, struggling to stay on his feet while maintaining his
limited personal space. His right hand firmly clutched the overhead
railing, supporting his entire body weight, while his left hand barely
maintained control of both of his bags, a lesson-note and grade book-stuffed
brown leather briefcase and a discount grocery store shopping bag crammed
to capacity with student essays. The print on the thick plastic bag,
an anti-status symbol, had worn away so thoroughly after years of use
that the Aldis store logo was no longer discernable. The volume
on the Kimball bus was intolerably loud; waves of chaos sprung from
every direction, as raucous high school students, finally set free from
a long day of lessons, terrorized Stus every sense. A misfit amidst
a sea of vital and rambunctious youths in loose-fitting coats, sweatshirts
and jeans, the round-faced, red-haired academic stuck out like the sorest
of thumbs, an overgrown Kew-pie doll stuffed into the old tan trench
coat he seemed to wear every season.
Stu grew increasingly obsessed with the position of his thick-framed,
wire-rim glasses, which slowly slid down his nose. He imagined worse
case scenario after worse case scenario, most involving shattered lenses
and an equally difficult bus ride to his optometrists office at
the Harlem/Irving Plaza out on the edge of the city limits, not to mention
the potential strain purchasing new glasses would have on his fragile
budget, especially given one of his two fall-term courses at ISUC was
cancelled due to budget cutbacks. His attention was somewhat mercifully
diverted when a bouncy teenage girl stepped on his typically untied
brown leather left shoe while pushing her way towards a group of friends
congregated near the rear door of the bus. Adding to the offense, she
shouted back to them, while mere inches from Stus ear, in a piercing
voice loud enough to make him flinch. He briefly imagined revenge on
the unsuspecting shoe stepper and all her peers, fantasizing about the
moment of victory he would savor when they, new college freshmen, found
themselves registered for one of his classes next fall. An unexpected
but characteristic gurgling chuckle escaped, inspired, as usual, by
one of his many privately amusing thoughts.
Stus brief moment of reverie was interrupted by a swift poke in
the lower back. The culprit was the sharp, bony elbow of the wild-haired
woman of about fifty nestled between him and an overstuffed shopping
cart that she had inexplicably wedged into the crowded aisle. He shot
a grimace over his shoulder but swiftly replaced it with a smile when
he made brief contact with the womans cold gray eyes. With his
glance just as quickly returned to his untied shoe, Stus thoughts
then fell upon another recurring fear: the perils of making his way
through the masses to get to the obstructed bus door to exit safely
at his stop. A plethora of awkward yet seemingly unavoidable social
incidents, no doubt, awaited him along the way. Not once in a lifetime
filled with bus rides had he failed make his stop, but such unimportant
practical realities never swayed him from his right to kvetch. Adding
to his anxiety was the reality of an even more demanding than usual
commute, as Stu had a late-afternoon job interview at a community college
in a far-flung suburb, some two plus hours and several transportation
Before he could embark upon this uninspiring adventure, he had to fulfill
his regular Tuesday mid-day obligation, lunch and grocery shopping with
his mother, a retired high school English teacher. Their weekly shopping
trip was of mutual benefit, as the use of Audrey Hanagans boat-size
Oldsmobile, which was a dull and dismal shade of maroon, made it easier
for him to get groceries back to his one-room apartment ironically located
somewhere along the stretch of Kimball upon which he was currently stuck.
In return, he helped his petite mother carry her shopping bags. Most
importantly, he provided her with much insisted upon companionship.
About mid-way through his normally brief commute, Stu spotted, weaving
slowly from the rear of the bus, one of the four adjuncts with whom
he had until quite recently shared a relatively small office. Donning
a spiffy murky red and black-pinstriped thrift store suit, the exceedingly
short instructor possessed a neatly cropped head of brownish gray hair
and a thick, fluffy moustache. Joseph Rabodo was known to most of his
students as Mr. Roboto, a fact he was rather fortunately unaware of,
not that he would have understood the reference to a cheesy song by
the Chicago classic rock group Styx. Stu was secretly perturbed by Rabodos
wont to force his basic writing class, largely populated with non-native
English speakers, to read Plato, Shakespeare and Homer. Stu was also
annoyed by Rabodos frequent references to his glory days teaching
at the University of Chicago, which he felt made little sense given
his less than lofty position as part-timer at a status-less state university.
Having vanquished the increasingly hyperactive mob between them, Rabodo,
as was his practice, stopped exceedingly close to Stu, close enough
to bump the Aldi bag with his left leg. Rabodos pants pocket jingled
as if full of change. In this already abrasive atmosphere, a social
obstacle of the most daunting variety, as Rabodo most certainly qualified,
was more than Stu could tolerate. His exit-related apprehension painfully
escalated. Stu checked his watch to discover that he needed to be at
his mothers five minutes ago.
"Stu, my friend, have you heard the news?"
"Uh, the news? What news?"
"Ah," Rabodo dubiously sighed before proceeding with the peculiar
air of calculated erudition that seemed to fill his every sentence,
"I assume you have yet to be informed of our esteemed chairpersons
most recent decision."
"Well," Stu chortled, "she doesnt usually consult
me on most matters."
"Strange. Im given the impression that you have the ear of
The insinuation irritated Stu, who took a deep breath and attempted
to mask his anger with a polite, if curt, response, "What would
give you that impression?"
"How soon we forget. Perhaps I can refresh your memory. At the
start of our current term, the two of you held a conversation about
. . . what was the exact terminology used . . . the cluttered
nature of our office space, which apparently left a distinct impression."
"Oh, she passed me in the hall one day and asked if it was comfortable
having four part-timers in one office. I do believe I said it was cluttered,
which as we both know, was an extreme understatement."
Stu strained his neck to see out the bus window, unable to identify
the location amongst a bevy of anonymous trees. "Did we pass Lawrence?"
he muttered to no one in particular, as with the bus now filled far
past capacity, it was too loud for Stu to hear the stops called over
the speakers. Meanwhile, a large, handsome and masculine teen in a bulky
red coat clumsily forced his way down the aisle, exchanging increasingly
heated words with a female his age, who had nestled between Stu and
Rabodo on her path through the bus. She was tall enough to shout back
accusations of infidelity right over the head of Stus now former
office mate, as her view of her male counterpart was unobstructed by
the diminutive academic. Stu struggled to overcome the obstacle she
in turn created, shifting his weight to wrap his head around the young
womans frame, "I didnt exactly complain . . . I mean,
we gripe all the time about how little space we have. I just answered
her . . ."
The teenage males husky, deep-throat yell drowned out Stus
defensive stammering, "Ive got enough authority figures in
my life without you repressing me!"
"Whats that Poindexter?" she laughed. "Not all
of us are in AP English."
"Quit your bickering, girl," he blasted, flinging a red athletic
headband that matched both his coat and the over-sized basketball jersey
that flowed from under the coat nearly to his knees. The headband overshot
its target, instead hitting Stu in the head and hanging on his face
until he twitched his nose thoroughly enough to let it drop to the floor.
Otherwise unbothered, Stu instinctively checked to make sure his glasses
were still in place.
The red-coated teen stopped to fetch the accessory as he bullied his
way past the adjuncts to resume his argument. Once the quarreling couple
cleared the area, Stu noticed Rabodo had transformed into something
resembling a sawed-off vampire, his beady brown eyes blazing with animosity.
Little buds of spittle embedded upon the right corner of his lips as
his rant continued. "Stuart, one can only assume that when an officer
of the faculty union mentions the cluttered conditions of their office
space and a few scant days later, a veteran professor with University
of Chicago credentials is so unceremoniously asked, nay ordered, to
vacate the premises of an office he inhabited for over seven years,
that perhaps the day of organized labor has not yet gone gently into
that good night!" Holding his index finger in the air as if to
indicate one minute, Stus focus once again drifted
towards the back door of the bus. "With all due respect, Professor
Hanagan!" Rabodo exclaimed.
His attention reclaimed, Stus head twirled back around. "What
is this about anyway, Joseph? Whats the news?"
Rabodo sighed an anguished sigh. "Earlier today, our chairperson
visited me in my new office space, a glorified bullpen populated by
graduate assistants and student aides, to inform me that my assignment
for the spring term had been reduced to a grand total of zero courses!"
Stu felt a twinge of concern, even camaraderie. These were tough time
for part-time faculty, who were offered little to no protection from
the cold-hearted bureaucratic bottom line. When cuts came, they were
the first to go and the last to know.
"Yes," Rabodo huffed, his intensity increasing with each passing
word, the beads of spittle now violently and unpredictably projecting
outward. "My only class canned, under more than dubious circumstances,
according to rationale sketchy at best. And here I am, among the most
senior of part-time composition faculty, more senior than even you,
I dare say." The implicit threat in his message most certainly
registered. Rabodo took a deep breath and lowered his voice for emphasis.
"Alas, while I may have rubbed shoulders with the best and the
brightest at the University of Chicago, Ive never had the privilege
of hobnobbing with Union President Ronald T. Forrest, the bloated buffoon.
I guess I dont possess the caliber of clout that you do."
"Clout? Are you serious?" Stus composure finally flew
the coup. His voice rose even louder simply to climb above the din of
the closely contained crowd, cracking under the strain, as it was prone
to do in those rare circumstances in which careful efforts to keep his
real emotions under wraps failed. "Sure, Ill talk to Ron
for you, but you should know that all my union position means is that
I have to endure mind-numbing meeting after mind-numbing meeting, where
blowhard professors ramble on, disregarding the scant few words I happen
to get in edgewise, meanwhile putting my very job at risk with the administration."
A deep breath punctuated his rant. His voice splintered into a high-pitched
squeal as he added a final question. "Do you realize that the last
person to hold my office got fired?"
Rabodo opened his mouth to reply but was upstaged by the frenzied caterwauling
of the woman with the shopping cart. "My pass! My bus pass! Someone
stole my monthly pass!" Her hands desperately scanned the pockets
of her coat, shirt and pants. "Its gone. It was stolen."
The woman turned about to face a tall young man with even taller hair
wearing a long and tattered gray coat and thick plastic-rimmed glasses.
Though he appeared to be in his late teens, it was questionable as to
whether or not he was still in high school. Her cold gray eyes grew
wide and stern. "It cost $75! $75!" She began to nod slowly,
repeatedly. "Yes. Yes. It was you. You took it. When you brushed
up against me, not even saying excuse me."
With his hearing shielded by his mp3 player, the young man was initially
oblivious to her accusations, a glazed look about his face. Finally
taking notice of her emphatic gesturing, he ripped the buds from his
ears and began to understand the charges against him. "Lady,"
he replied, shaking his head and shrugging his fragile-looking shoulders,
"Let me check your pockets," she said, reaching to handle
the young man.
"No way." He squirmed to avoid her clutches, his torso swaying
back and forth while his hands retained grasp of the overhead railing.
Rabodo unexpectedly wormed his way between the two, maneuvering with
even superior control of the railings, shifting hands deftly like a
child with talent on the monkey bars. "This happened right in my
line of sight, and I can at minimum confirm the heart of this womans
story. You did graze this woman, young man."
"So? In case you didnt notice, this bus is pretty freakin
crowded. Did you see me take her damn pass?" The edginess of his
voice and demeanor betrayed the fragility advertised by his long, thin
and delicate, almost feminine, features.
"No need to get foul. However, no, I cannot say I did. May I ask
your name young man?"
"OK, Brandon." Rabodo turned to face the accuser. "Madam,
where do you normally keep your pass?"
"Right here," she answered, pointing to a wide and deep pocket
on the front right side of a battered blue pea coat that had more than
a few hand-sewn patches strewn across its exterior.
"Well," Rabodo speculated while twirling the ends of his moustache,
"certainly the young man would have had access to the pocket as
he passed by."
"That doesnt prove anything," the accused shot back,
appearing more anxious and agitated with each passing moment.
"A little defensive, dont you say?" mumbled the woman,
somewhat over Rabodos shoulder.
Rabodo appeared emboldened by his part in the drama, his posture sharpening,
his voice gaining confidence. Observing him, Stu felt pangs of resentment,
even anger. If Rabodo had assumed the role of prosecutor, Stu felt it
only fair that someone play the part of defense council. "Excuse
me," he interjected, addressing the young man. "Do you attend
"Yeah," he bristled. "Whats it to you?"
Stus eyes scrunched together as he scratched his scalp. "Well
. . ." The bus came to a sudden stop causing those standing in
the aisle to lurch forward. Stu very nearly lost his feet, barely keeping
hold of his bags. The Aldi bag briskly struck the knee of a small, hunchy
older man wearing pink sweats pants and holding in his lap a not-quite-the-same
shade of pink backpack with rainbows and unicorns adorning the front.
Stu did a double-take at the sight of the man whose every other feature
and accessory, such as a round neatly shorn head, a gruff gray sweatshirt
worn with no coat, and walking stick befitting his age, contradicted
the image projected by the pink flourishes. Stu offered an apology,
but the man gave no response save for a bright-eyed, contented smile.
"Why should we take his word on anything?" the would-be victim
"Son, would you mind showing us your school ID?" Stu requested.
Brandon sighed, rolling his eyes, but eventually complied, pulling a
billfold from an inside pocket of his unbuttoned coat, taking out the
ID card and handing it to Stu.
"Well," Stu proudly concluded, flashing the card to the other
interested parties, "Von Stueben students receive reduced fare
passes to ride the CTA. What reason would a high school student have
to steal a monthly pass for adults?"
"To sell it. Probably for drugs."
"Oh, come on, lady," Brandon protested.
"Look at his eyes . . . and that hair . . . and that jacket!"
"Look at your eyes . . . and your hair . . . and your jacket!"
"Regardless of his purpose," Rabodo chimed in, "monthly
passes are certain to have some value on the black market."
This time Stu couldnt help but roll his eyes. "Do you mind
if I take a look at that ID?" Brandon balked as Stu handed it over,
but he couldnt do much to intervene among the press of people.
"Ah, hah!" Rabodo preened. "So much for young Brandon.
Isnt that right, Geoffrey Parker? Thats Geoffrey . . . with
Caught in a lie, Geoffreys face reddened.
"Arrest this boy! He stole my pass!"
"Im afraid that might be in order," Rabodo affirmed.
Suddenly, the bus swerved to the curb, jarring all participants in this
drama and eliciting a collective moan from the other weary riders. The
driver, very clearly a large person, even whilst viewed seated, unbuckled
his seat belt and slowly rose to his feet to reveal a mountain of a
man of at least six-feet six inches and easily 300 pounds. Slightly
out of breath from the task of transporting his sheer bulk through such
a cramped space, he groaned and squeezed his way through crowd with
great difficulty. Unable to proceed all the way to the discussants,
he spoke with a booming, frustrated voice that easily projected the
necessary distance. "OK, somebody give me the short version."
Everyone involved in the controversy went to speak, but Rabodo was quickest
on the draw. "This lady claims that this young man has taken her
"He bumped me," she confirmed, pointing at the young man.
"Thats when he grabbed it."
"Hes in high school," Stu countered. "He has no
need for her pass."
"But he could be looking to pass the card on for profit,"
Rabodo offered, "and he lied about his name, which is Geoffrey
. . . with a G."
The driver peered at Geoffrey and scolded him with a stern nod before
addressing his accuser. "Where did you get on the bus, mam?"
"Bryn Mawr." It was one stop before Stu got on at Catalpa.
"I was shopping at the Korean marketthey have an ointment
I need for my gout. No one else has it."
"Your ointment?" the youngster laughed, earning a dirty look
from the woman.
"No one needs to know about your ointment, mam," the driver
retorted. "Listen, I dont have time for this. This bus is
loaded, loud, and late, Im just about to lose my mind up in here.
Son, give it to me straight. Do you have the pass?
"He probably passed it on to one of his druggie buddies,"
said the woman, repeating the charge while looking away. The crack inspired
a raised eyebrow from the driver.
"Fine. Did you take the pass?"
"Absolutely not . . . I think this lady is a bit nuts."
"Thats rather unnecessary," Rabodo scolded.
"This is unnecessary, man!" Geoffrey shouted. "This whole
thing is messed up!"
The delayed passengers were losing patience. A stream of hisses and
jeers flowed their way to the front of the bus.
"Where did you purchase your pass, mam?" Stu calmly quizzed,
hoping to put matters back on track.
"At the Jewel, like I do every month."
"OK," he accepted. "I still buy mine at CTA headquarters
downtown, which is right near one of the schools where I teach. My students,
who I often meet here on the 82 Kimball, tell me I should purchase it
online, but I dont have a credit card. Joseph, where do you purchase
"Well, generally speaking, that is to stay on a normal month, I
purchase mine at the grocery store, the one nearest my place of residence."
"What about this month?"
Rabodo took a measured look at Stu before responding in a flat, stern
tone, "The same."
"I say the least we can do is chip in and give this poor woman
some bus fare. Anybody have any quarters?" Stu shifted his eyes
about before settling his glance to Rabodo. Stu nodded at his colleague,
whose eyes blared yet again only to quickly dull.
"Not so fast," the driver reluctantly clarified. "Ive
got to fill out a report on this. We might have to call the cops."
Hearing mention of the police, Geoffrey bolted, attempting one extremely
futile escape, only succeeding in plunging into the teen in the big
red coat after tripping over his girlfriend. Geoffrey landed on the
floor of the bus with a sickening splat. The chain reaction caused by
the collision toppled a few riders and did much to escalate the hostility
of the trapped masses. The intimidating teen in crimson clothing swore
at Geoffrey, this time intentionally sticking to simple language, words
no more than a few syllables, in hopes of sounding hard, "Ill
smash your face in. . .Ill bust you up . . ." The shrill
sound of his girlfriends laughter drew both his attention and
his ire back to her. "What now?"
"You a fool, Tim. You a fool."
The driver sighed and then begrudgingly renewed his efforts to pass
through the crowd, trudging his way forward until he towered over the
young man sprawled across the floor. "Thats it. Were
going to have to contact the cops." He extended his right hand
to the accused while reaching with his left for the walkie-talkie holstered
on his belt.
With the crowds attention focused on the scene a few feet away,
Stu pressed his chest very near Rabodos, and in one swift motion,
fished the womans pass from his fellow instructors front
coat pocket and let it drop to the ground before covering it with this
untied left shoe.
"HQ?" the driver spoke into the receiver. "Well
need a squad car to Kimball, a few blocks shy of Lawrence."
Stu very subtly shifted his shoe back and forth, in an effort to make
the card appear trampled on before kicking the pass a few inches away.
"I know this may sound so obvious as to be silly," Stu called
out using a precociously innocent tone, "but did anybody bother
to check the floor? Maybe she dropped it."
The drivers face went blank, as he dropped the walkie-talkie away
from his ear. "You gotta be shittin me," he sighed.
"Nobody looked around? Damn!"
"Nope," Stu explained.
The driver shot a menacing look at Geoffrey. "Stay put, or I swear
. . ." His chest heaved with each belabored breath as he dragged
his mammoth frame back to the scene of the crime. Anybody see it?"
He called to all within earshot.
"But he took it?" protested the victim.
"I concur. This is a wild goose chase," Rabodo complained,
"a pointless delay. The young man has as much as confessed!"
The devious comments inspired a scolding gaze from Stu, but Rabodo quickly
averted his eyes.
"What is this?" called out the little man with the pink backpack
as he collected the pass from the ground. He smiled widely, as before,
while waving the small rectangular card in the air.
"Ill be damned," cursed the driver while retrieving
the pass. "Here you go, mam," he said with a sneer, immediately
starting his way back to the drivers seat, mumbling and muttering
all the way.
Rather have been right than regain an item she couldnt afford
to lose, the woman railed against the outcome, shrieking in denial.
Once the shock settled, her hysterical resistance softened to red-faced
shame. "Ive never done this before," she shared weakly,
regretfully, fighting back tears.
"These crowded buses are pretty stressful," Stu sympathetically
replied. "I lose at least one winter hat per week. Thank goodness
they are only a few dollars at Walgreens. Hats are one item Im
not all that comfortable picking up at the Village Discount Outlet."
"Im more of a Unique Thrift Store gal," she blew her
nose into a well-worn hanky. "Village is cramped and too messy
for my taste . . . not to mention the awful smell."
Slightly jilted, Stu crinkled his lips and pretended to look out the
Without uttering a word, Rabodo followed Stu off the bus once it finally
arrived Lawrence Avenue, despite the fact that Stu was heading for the
westbound Lawrence bus stop, which was across the street from the Brown
Line station where Rabodo needed to board a downtown bound train. Faintly,
he finally asked, "How did you know?"
"The change. For bus fair," Stu answered, initially engaging
his colleague with eye contact before quickly disengaging. "Nobody
has that many quarters in their pocket unless theyre also hauling
a load of laundry. If youre paying for the bus with change, you
clearly dont have a monthly pass of your own, despite your claims
to the contrary. Given that they cut your course load this term and
all your classes next term, you may not even be able to afford one.
Lastly, there are only two stops where someone catches the 82 Kimball
after leaving our building: at Catalpa, where I got on, or at Bryn Mawr,
where the woman got on. Since you werent there at Catalpa with
me, you must have boarded at Bryn Mawr, meaning you had an opportunity
to snatch her pass before I ever spotted you on the bus, probably soon
after the two of you boarded, as it couldnt have been before since
she obviously used the pass to get on."
"But how did you know I put it in my coat pocket?"
"Somewhat of a lucky guess. It was either there or in your pants,
and clearly I had no hope to reach into those pockets without attracting
An extended pause fell between them, something that struck Stu as a
first in all his dealings with his talkative colleague. "Dont
assume I did it for you," Stu explained without acknowledging the
small but steady feeling of something remotely close to guilt that also
influenced his actions. "Some innocent high school kid was about
to get hassled by the cops. Besides, having to stand witness to the
crime would have destroyed any chance I had of getting to the suburbs
for this stupid interview."
"Um, yes," Rabodo uncharacteristically sputtered, "The
thing is . . . do . . . do you recall the series of missing staplers
in our . . . my former and your current office?" Finally regaining
his sense of linguistic command, he continued without waiting for a
reply. "The truth is I have, shall we say, a bit of a problem,
dating back to my stay at the University of Chicago when I discovered
the pure, unadulterated pleasure of pilfering Plato from the campus
Stu, who had expected an apology not a confession, resumed his fallback
stare at his now both untied shoes. Rabodo regretfully sighed, "There
is nothing to fear, however, as the ISUC English Department bullpen
has but one stapler, stored at a common desk where every item smaller
than the paper cutter is secured by a metal chain!"
"Mothers groceries wont carry themselves," Stu
nervously interrupted, uncertain how to respond to Rabodos revelation.
With no bus in sight, he began to once again cross the street, walking
away from the bus stop, as it was only a slightly more than ten minute
walk to his destination. As before, Rabodo gave chase. "Id
say Ill see you around the office but apparently not anymore,"
Stu explained without looking back. The awkward attempt at a farewell
was not intended as rude but was no doubt received that way. Stu realized
his mistake and stopped to face Rabodo. "Sorry," Stu shrugged.
"You know what I mean."
"I do," Rabodo solemnly concluded, finally allowing Stu to
escape without pursuit.
© Michael Hammond April 2009
michaeljhammond at yahoo.com
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.