A Bus Springs Eternal

Written By: Sharon  O'Connell

In a magical land of light and power, there rides a bus. It was the deadest of cold springs and the warmest of late winters when I traveled from my apartment in the city to the land of the Hamptons in search of a place to live and write (forever?). It was then that I found the bus and the bus found me.

I’d lived here before – in Sag Harbor for pleasure in the early 90s and again, in East Hampton town, for refuge in the dark year after September 11 – a place I’d loved from the first. An ad in a local paper led me now to a white room in what was described as a creative sanctuary deep in the woods of Springs deep in the Hamptons.

From its first days, Springs had held original Native Americans, English settler Bonackers, then Pollock and other 20th century kings. Now it was the home of workers and artists, writers and gardeners, teachers and fishermen. Some houses were small and cozy, lived in by hairdressers and house-tenders, child-minders, civil servants and shop owners. Others bred mini-masters and mistresses of the universe in lovely homes farther afield than Sagaponack or Georgica Pond but lush and large. I arrived in some fear that I might melt in its grace-filled silence. I didn’t. Springs was home to the people of the Hamptons and it would be my home too.

I would not rent a car. I would write all week and, when necessary, take the nearby bus easily to town. I would not be diverted from work. (And I’m a writer, money is … well … spare, so that too.) On weekends, friends would drive me to see houses and rooms and apartments for a more permanent place here.

But life has its ways even in magical places. The room wasn’t white and the sanctuary got crowded and I fell in love quickly and by necessity with the East Hampton Library – it’s the best of libraries, a nest of writers and children and tutoring parents and readers of every stripe.

The bus was there for the taking – wherever you could get it to stop along Springs-Fireplace or other connected, winding roads into the center of town on to Bridgehampton and back again. The price = $2.00 change or paper.

My road trip had begun, and whatever I thought it would be, it was not.

My first driver, (we’ll call him) Gabriel, a smart gentle Israeli-via-Madrid somewhere-near-40-year-old, over and over proved himself a mini hero of kindness, a captain of his captive passengers. When the electricity on the bus failed (and it did), when traffic tied for literal hours as the roads were repaved in anticipation of the 100,000 plus people about to invade in the promised warm months ahead, when anything unexpected happened, Gabriel moved on with his mission: “These are people who have to be somewhere. It’s my job to get them there.” (And he did.)

But that’s getting ahead of myself. I was told that the bus stop was across the road from my room, on the edge of the lawn of a sweet porch-screened house that reminded me of my own family’s decades ago houses in rural Pennsylvania. I was told to get there early and did.

The rough winter had left its touch. That first day – a windy chill of a morning – a day that spoke early March, not mid-April – the bus whipped around a bend, I leapt out and Gabriel welcomed me to a large, immaculate, really nice bus.

Each bus morning, I stood on the neighbor’s lawn, asked once by a woman whose hair curled tightly around her soft wrinkled face if I were waiting for Margie, the hairdresser who lived and worked in the house. Often, I would wait long minutes for the bus to sweep the sharp curve bypassing the wonderful spit of Fireplace Road – where a faded metal-on-stone plaque announced that here Native Americans might have sent forgotten smoke signals to Gardiner’s Islanders, far across the bay.

Some waiting days, I would use the app on my phone to easily reach my cousin in Ireland, working in a van on the country roads of County Kildare, which so resembled these. As we talked, deer loped by, wild turkeys escaped from a neighboring house and vans of Latino workers raced to cram every possible minute of labor into the remaining few weeks before the promised human flood of summer.

The passengers on Gabriel’s (and other drivers’) watch were quiet (but for two Jamaican friends who shared gossip in a tongue I could ‘get’ enough of to enjoy). A junior Willy Loman of a guy carrying Cheezits and beer trudged slowly, ever so, up his road. An old librarian-seeming lady reminded me of every aunt I’d never had (I imagined her husband, since deceased, routinely driving her to work, and now, on her own, her taking the bus after deliberate, slow afternoons erranding in town). Student upon student sat huddled, solitary, plastered to their earpieces. People who did their work and took their pleasure in the library often rode the bus: an orange-haired woman with tattoos and smarts shared stories of weather and hope for sun. Riders helped each other with heavy loads, gave each other careful change. Ones that fascinated were those you saw only once: a British tourist, thinking she was on her way to Montauk until a driver carefully explained how to transfer East. This was, I discovered, a bus with connections – to Southampton, Amagansett, my beloved Sag Harbor, even beyond. On my way to a drinks party one Saturday – the hostess, politely incredulous that I would be taking the bus – I became confused about the stop. A chorus of riders joined in generous concern and got me there, with an extra $25 cab-free-cash in hand. No one complained on the bus, ever.

The bus is an island.

And when it worked, it worked well. The ride is delicious and fast, past the Pollock-Krasner House, a nature conservancy, Springs Library, slender country shops, places I may not have noticed if I had been driving.

Still, there were days when the bus never showed. (I found out later that one driver prided himself on never being late, which translated into being early, and even my usual minimum 8-minute advance time was too slow for him.) (The thing about the bus is, if you miss it, you don’t know it.)

The bus never ran on Sundays, its last pickup was at 6:40, the library was open till 7, and movies played in the theatre till near midnight. Movies being the balm of most any writer, many nights I took constantly unplanned but pragmatic cabs. And the drivers of the cabs … well they match the drivers of the bus in character and flair. But that’s another tale.

One winter day that spring, I watched from a café as the bus, due in 20 minutes, fled towards Bridgehampton. I raced to the Montauk driver, parked near the (one) bus shelter in front of Waldbaums and across from the Middle School, who confirmed that had indeed been the bus scheduled for an hour ago. It would not return for another hour plus. I called a cab.

Another day, I bus-ed to Amagansett and immersed in ancient well roads and stories of Nazi invaders and fisher families who’d lived on these roads for centuries. Benches lined Main Street, which was fronted by a tight row of parked cars. I walked up and down, trying to figure the best place to catch the bus, the last of the day. Ahead of schedule, it barreled down and I leapt into the road. (There’s drama with the bus.) It kept barreling. Until it stopped, and waited, at an unmarked bus stop, at the end of town, the only place on the street where there was no bench.

Yes, I inquired about a car rental mid-way through. Aside from feeling like a betrayal of the bus, it seemed that summer rates had kicked in and issues of pickups, drop offs, insurance had to be faced. The bus, with all its erratic timing, seemed simple, and welcoming. Plus, with no car, I walked and discovered. Walking, I belonged in a different way to this place, and it to me. I worked to surrender to the dharma of the bus and stuck with it.

This is a world of two buses. I took another to return to the city. It had my all-time favorite Party Mix snack and a kind of crowded elegance. The drivers were … the same. And somehow that made leaving, at least for a short time, easier.

Awhile back in life, I learned to love what is rare. I caught and still miss the bus.