The numbers were confusing but the maps helped on the busy New York City Street. We watched cabs weave in and out of traffic as they battled for a half car advantage over the vehicle next to them. Getting the nose of your car there first means everything. I saw very few personal vehicles, the New York street was filled with cabs, limos, delivery vans, construction trucks, and busses. It was one of those busses my wife and I waited for. Our Metro Card worked on busses as well as the Subway. Apparently you get close with the Subway and then walk or take the bus to your specific destination. So here we were, standing at a pole that told us our bus would stop here and then it came.
Our first attempt at a bus was a failure, while we had “exact” money we didn’t have exact “change”. I didn’t know people still used change anymore. While my wife rifled through her purse the bus took off anticipating our $4 in change. Seeing our typical tourist embarrassing dilemma, a good Samaritan close by offered us change. I gave her my paper money and a smile of thanks and used her coins to jingle through the box at the entrance of the bus. We sat in our seat waiting for time to erase the embarrassed tourism stain we just covered ourselves with.
NOW, we were old pros and armed with our Metro Card we calmly slipped it into the slot on that same box and waited for it to spit it back out at us as we smoothly moved to find a seat. As we sat looking out the large windows at the NYC building and activity an elderly man worked his way up the steps to that threatening box. He put a Metro Card in the slot and it spit it out for a different reason, it was expired. The bus driver attempted to take it to throw it away but the man was quicker and put it back in his pocket. He tried another, then another, then another. The bus driver was getting impatient and apparently knew the trick. All the man said was “I’m 95 years old! I can’t keep track of these things!” Card after card was thrown into the garbage until finally the man just went and sat down. The bus driver, in a Brooklyn accent, told the man he had to pay. “I’m 95 years old! I can’t keep track of these things!” I was about to get up and pay for the man but I realized, again, I didn’t have correct change and the Metro Card only works once. But before I could complete the debate in my mind the bus pulled away from the curb and solved the problem. He sat calmly, like he’d pulled this trick for the hundredth time and would a hundred more. “Next time get a good card!” said the driver as the man exited. “I’m 95 years old, I can’t keep track of these things!” and he was gone.
I smiled at the man as his years, glass eye, and cane covered up an amazingly sharp mind. I wanted to know him, I pictured him as that grandfather that sneaks you candy when mom and dad say “no.” I pictured him as that penny pincher who, when finally dead after 110 years, has millions stashed away under his bed and in coffee cans. While the bus driver had to play the annoyed child of the crazy parent, I got to be the grandchild he slipped the candy to and I would have loved to sit on his lap and hear the story of his 95 years.