By Jon Clemens
It was late on the Friday night before Memorial Day about ten years ago and I was inbound from a LaGuardia flight, en route to East Hampton. A taxi had dropped me off at the Queens Jitney stop where I joined a cluster of other people waiting in the muggy night. Traffic was crawling on the LIE. The bus was very late.
Coming from a week in a Southern city where people had been unfailingly polite, I was prepared to re-enter the Land of the Entitled. As the minutes passed, we all waited impatiently beside our mounds of luggage, somewhere in Queens, displaced persons in this foreign place. There was a lot of whining.
Then one gentleman emerged from a black Town Car talking on his Motorola flip phone. He was shouting into the phone as the driver stacked his bags on the sidewalk before driving off.
The group checked him out. It was more than the sleek black power suit, the Town Car arrival, the matched luggage that they were noticing. No, it was his flip phone. It was a New Thing at the time, around for only a few weeks or months. Everybody wanted one, everybody who was still lugging his or her little brick around.
And this guy was really giving this new phone a workout.
The call he’d been making as he got out of the limo continued for quite some time, getting louder and louder on his end, but he seemed oblivious to the fifteen or so people around him. As the call ended, he snapped his wrist around, checked his watch, and growled, “Where the hell is that bus?”
His phone rang again, and again he did not seem happy with whoever was on the other end. What was remarkable was that he made no attempt to shield his conversation from us. It was obvious he considered us invisible.
But his arrival had totally absorbed our attentions. Earlier, we had been obsessing over whether the Jitney had saved us a seat; now we awaited his next act.
As the wait continued, Flip Phone Man had now progressed to making calls to other people. About how horrible it was to have to wait for a bus on a street corner in Queens. On that, we all agreed.
We looked for buses coming up from our left, but so many turned out to be city buses, buses full of normal people, that it was actually a surprise when the Jitney finally arrived. The burly driver got out, opened the panel on the side of the bus, and began loading luggage while the attendant, a shy young woman with a clipboard, started checking passengers against her reservations list and letting them board. Flip Phone Man had pocketed his phone now and was perhaps third in line, but since the bus had arrived, he had gone public with his comments about the Jitney’s service and schedule. He just wouldn’t shut up.
As his turn approached, he soon faced the attendant who took his name and began checking her list as he shouted louder and louder about how bad the service was, and how she better have his name there, and how “nobody takes responsibility.”
The attendant, probably a college student new to the job this early in the season, tried to answer but he was clearly there to make speeches. Finally, she just looked at him.
And then she started to cry.
Clutching the clipboard, her arms slumped, she tried to suppress it, but couldn’t. Her sobbing was loud enough to hear.
At this point, the driver, who had been loading bags into the luggage compartment, suddenly realized there was a crisis brewing a few feet away. He came out of his crouch and turned to the attendant. He rushed to her, asking what was the matter. But she was so upset she couldn’t explain that her problem was her customer.
Then Mr Flip Phone butted in. Confronting the driver now, he began his tirade about the bus line’s service and the attendant’s competency, but the driver stopped him, interrupting the tirade.
“But you made this little girl cry,” he said.