Bus Driver Wisdom
A book, coffee, and porridge sit with me in an empty dining room. With no calendar appointments and no emails, it’s peaceful. This feels more right than the usual mornings. A gentle human who is the cook, attendant, and server moves effortlessly, lighting his way with his smile. I am going to miss this place.
We are tucked into a little harbor in Norway. The small town of Bergen has shuffled people and goods for a thousand years. The history is deep, and the people are lovely.
We were here for less than 24 hours. Four museums last night, local fare (don’t ask), street art, and a protest, all capped by Avatar Norwegian style. We won’t forget this day any time soon.
The trip has worked incredibly well — eight adventurous days of planes, trains, sleds, boats, automobiles, and an energetic cohort of huskies without catastrophic delays or cancellations. With our last leg home today, I am nervous. If anything goes wrong, we miss Christmas. Already, there is a potential issue - I can’t check in for our flight, and our assigned seats have disappeared.
May astute 12 year old travel partner shows up and, as he has done several times already this trip, tells me my timing is off and we are late. Given the ticket issue, we wanted to be at the airport early. He shakes me out of my bliss. I drop my head in silent defeat. He’s right again.
Living in NYC, we can get almost anything delivered. A ride or lunch comes quickly, while a llama may take a few hours - depending on traffic.
The front desk agent assured me that an Uber (sorry, no Lyft here) would be easy and fast. I flip to the app, and it tells me Mohamed is 26 minutes away. That’s not going to work. It dawns on me that she might consider that fast. There is a lesson there, but my stress is rising.
I share our problem with her, and she returns to her first suggestion an hour ago, the bus. “It picks you up right out front,” she says for the second time this morning. “It’s what I’d do.” Why didn’t I take her advice earlier? Habit? Comfort? Control?
We grab our bags and bounce through the door with a wave. She is, like her complimentary breakfast-serving colleague, lovely. She smiles at us as we push through ancient doors and into the crisp, dark morning.
The cobblestones are damp, and the city is quiet. Our hotel sits across from another hotel with a patch of well-manicured landscaping between the two. Behind us, the harbor lights shift gently. We wait.
I hold my concern deep inside. That’s what parents do, right? Stay calm. Stay positive. Worst case scenario, we have Christmas together on this side of the Atlantic. I feel incredible gratitude that I’m standing here with my son. We will figure it out together.
A few moments later, headlights rumble toward us. Without slowing, the bus whips past us and around the U-shape end of the street. My heart drops. At what seems like the last moment, brake lights flash on, and it glides to a stop. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t a tour bus.
The doors open, and a lean 70-something determined face comes down the stairs with intensity. No smile this time, but a clear desire to help. He starts grabbing bags, and we help by tossing ours under the bus. I feel an immediate kinship with him. I know he wants to be helpful, but he’s dispensing with the pleasantries choosing to show his kindness through action. Suddenly, I think about how my family might feel on our road trips and commit to slowing down on the next one.
A handful of languages fill the bus. I sit shyly behind our driver and start making up a story about his life. I imagine a tiny cottage up on the hill overlooking the harbor. A floor lamp casts a warm glow over a well-worn but comfortable chair. A stack of books waits patiently for his return. He will light a fire tonight, slide his six-foot-something frame into that chair, and pick up where he left off. Or maybe, I’m projecting what I’d like to do tonight.
Small photos of his now grown children with his grandkids rest on the side table with a crescent moon out the window. A photo of his wife sits next to his stack of books. Her photo is a recent addition - she passed away last year. It feels like no one is there taking care of him. He’s not eating enough.
“How long were they married?” I wonder to myself as I continue making up a story. I envision two doting daughters and their surprise that he took this job driving a bus. It’s work he does to fill his day as he misses her dearly. Again, I might be projecting but this time one of my deepest fears.
My quiet storytelling is interrupted by a semi-pleading voice, “he’s getting a cup of coffee,” she says. He meets her worry with a patient nod of acceptance, and she feels better. He is being kind, but I can feel his anxiety as his head slowly turns back toward the hotel entrance. Christmas is on the line, and I suppress my desire to tell her we don’t have time. Does her husband know his quest for caffeine is delaying the entire bus?
While I’m not sharing it with my son, I’m VERY worried that there is something wrong with our tickets. Why do I do this to myself? I should have been at the airport already, and this stress wouldn’t exist. Another lesson there.
The only sign of our driver’s impatience is the methodical but slow tapping of his long index finger on the black steering wheel. We both stare out the massive windscreen at the little yellow light of the hotel’s front door, willing it to open. I imagine he is saying the same thing I am “really?!”
Our coffee-carrying comrade emerges. He unhurriedly makes his way toward us and up the stairs. Somehow our driver suppresses any frustration and still greets the reason for our delay with kindness. Coffee in hand, he gets on without a word.
With the door barely closed, we barrel up the street, and coffee man unapologetically plops down three rows behind me. Two quick left turns, and we are forced to stop again. The brake lights of another bus sit under a red traffic light.
While I can’t see our driver’s eyes, I imagine they close briefly while he takes a deep breath. He can’t seem to win this morning. At this point, I’m sure he has an award back at the bus depot for the number of on-time trips. His picture hangs beside a long row of coat hooks on a grey wall above a wooden bench. We wait.
There is no traffic in these pre-dawn hours. These two whale-like creatures sit quietly, facing the shifting lights in the harbor. A minute goes by, then two. I study our driver for a reaction. I know what would happen in NYC, and I brace myself.
It’s been long enough, and he unbuckles his seatbelt. His white short sleeve shirt and thin black tie, like something out of pulp fiction, are a blur as he makes his way down the stairs into the frigid morning. He walks to the driver’s window and gestures to the curb. Bus driver wisdom is being exchanged here.
It turns out these stoplights have sensors in the road. The bus in front of us pulls up another 12 inches, and immediately the opposing light changes. I shake my head slightly as admiration washes over me as our driver calmly walks back towards us.
I think about how I would have responded to this morning’s events. Would I have waited patiently for a passenger to get his coffee while a few dozen others risked being late? Or would I have gone into the hotel to drag that oblivious man out by his designer scarf? Or maybe, I would have just left?
How would I have handled the wait at the stop light? Would I have calmly helped like he did or leaned on the horn? Had I tried to help, would I have explained it with kindness, or would I have made them feel incompetent?
I want to think I would have had his grace. I’m not so sure.
We make our way to the airport with urgency and perhaps a few shortcuts through residential neighborhoods to gain lost time :). An equally wonderful human inside the surprisingly modern airport helped us get our tickets sorted, and we made it home for another wonderful Christmas together.
It was an incredible trip — the northern lights, the fjords, the art, and especially the people. I will cherish the memories with my son and the bits of wisdom laid down on those cobblestones that morning in Bergen by our bus driver.
Here’s to patience, family, adventure, and warm memories. Let’s enjoy every moment together.