The Bus Driver
October 25, 2000
Imagine your life as a championship football game. If you pick up a yard and scamper into the end zone, that gleaming Super Bowl trophy is yours. You're going to Disney World! That picture on the Wheaties box, it's yours! And most important, besides a trip to the White House and a downtown tickertape parade, you'll get the girl. All it takes is a yard. Thirty-six measly inches. And your life will be forever changed.
But the linebacker on the other side of the ball isn't having it. He could care less about the trophy. He hates parades. And as far as he's concerned, Disney World is an overblown Florida swamp inhabited by a cartoon rat with size-nineteen feet. You and he couldn't be more different. You're playing for the whole bag of chips, but his purpose is single-minded.
He wants the girl.
The whistle blows, the fans in the packed stadium roar and, in an instant, there's a collision on the field that's so loud, it scares the guys stealing cars all the way out in the parking lot. A pile of grossly overdeveloped guys in grossly oversized pads will tell the final tale. The linebacker motions wildly and drives the crowd to a frenzy. A sack has ended the game, and you can hardly wait for the dust to clear. You're anxious because you know it's over. And because at the bottom of that pile is a man gasping for air and hoping that John Madden and the folks at Fox have cut to commercial.
The guy at the bottom is you.
You never made the Wheaties box. The invite to Disney World must have gotten lost in the mail. And you absolutely didn't get the girl. She was too busy posing with the linebacker at what was supposed to be your parade.
I can relate to your dilemma. I feel your pain. Because like you, I've been sacked.
That's my life.
We were knee-deep into a new millennium and I had nothing to show for it. No wife. No girlfriend. I didn't even have the ever-present "girl you call in a pinch."
The one thing I did have was a job. I was a mass transit operator. You'd probably have called me a bus driver. And I probably wouldn't have answered. I didn't drive a bus. I operated a vehicle. I didn't grow up thinking I'd one day be a major cog in the nation's capitol's mass transit system, but over the years, my career choice had grown on me. I was proud of what I did and I was good at it. Sometimes career choices fall into your lap. That's how it worked for me.
It happened eight years ago on the F-14 route, which connects D.C. to the Maryland suburb I called home, Capitol Heights. I was a slim and trim twenty-one-year-old stud and had just finished a game with my flag football team. My teammates all had cars or rides with their girlfriends to ensure their ways home. All I had was a beat-up pair of cleats and a bus token.
Thankfully, I located a stop about a block from the field, and when a vehicle pulled up, I wearily climbed on board and made my way toward the dreaded "back of the bus." I was dead tired and reasoned that sitting away from the other passengers would afford me a bit of privacy and a well-deserved nap. As we rolled down Benning Road and slowly crept past one of D.C.'s old-school culinary landmarks, the Shrimp Boat, I had no idea my life would soon change in ways I never imagined.
I was on my way to the Super Bowl!
When we stopped at Texas Avenue, a woman stepped aboard, and I immediately felt I was in the throes of a medical calamity. She was so thoroughly beautiful that I first thought I was paralyzed. Seconds later, my heart was racing so fast I could have sworn I was having a heart attack. And immediately thereafter, I worried I'd been struck with lockjaw, because I literally felt I couldn't speak. A fact that was plainly evident when she smiled at me and asked, "Is that seat taken?"
"S-s-seat?" I nervously stuttered.
"The blue one beside you," she replied, still standing. "I assume it's available."
"The seat?" I repeated.
"Yes," she answered, starting to sit. "I know I didn't have to ask, but I figured, 'he looks pretty tired,' so I went with it."
"Yeah," I said, sitting up from my slouch. "I'm pooped."
"So you're a football player," she observed.
"The jersey gives it away, huh?" I replied.
"Actually, it's the cleats," she acknowledged, looking down. "Anybody can sport a jersey," she added. "But you don't run into too many people wearing cleats."
"Point well taken."
"Did you win?"
"Win what?" I asked.
"Your game," she asked, suddenly turning toward me.
"Don't take this wrong," I quickly answered. "But do I know you?" I asked, noticing that she seemed far too friendly to be a D.C. gal.
"Not yet," she admitted, reaching for my hand. "But if you play your cards right, who knows?"
"Do you realize your hand is on top of mine?" I asked, surprised.
"Are you saying you don't like it when the woman's on top?"
"That depends on what she's doing when she's on top," I told her.
"Just go along with me here," she whispered, smiling. "One of my customers just got on and if he sees me in public, I want him to see me with somebody."
"Somebody?" I asked, concerned.
"If he sees me with you, maybe he'll think I'm taken and I can get him off my back," she remarked. "You know how you men are," she went on, still forcing a smile. "He bought me a drink and then he acted like I was his personal property."
"What do you do?" I asked, trying to spot her "customer." "Are you a hair stylist or something?"
"Not quite," she answered, reaching into a soft leather handbag. "But if you go get yourself cleaned up you can come down and see me," she said, handing me a glossy red note card.
"Get it at Vic's," I read from the card. "What do you get?"
"Maybe you'll get me," she answered, starting to stand. "It's right over there," she said, pointing. "Hopefully, you'll make it through."
She then smiled, blew me a kiss and winked before stepping away from the vehicle.
She didn't need to worry about me getting there. I'd miss club-level luxury box seats to the NFL Hall of Fame game first. It took me all of thirty minutes to shower, dress and make my way back into town, where I quickly learned that among the craziest places in D.C., Vic's was perhaps the craziest.
I should have expected no less. Especially from a business that billed itself as equal parts barbecue pit and low-down "get your money's worth" strip lounge.
The moment I walked in, I couldn't help but notice that the walls were painted in the blackest of black. Four well-placed neon signs flashed Get It At Vic's almost in unison. A nonstop showcase of strobe lights, beacons and wannabe lasers gave the main hall a peculiar glow. The bar was shiny and very long. It was stocked with everything from mind-numbing malt liquors like Olde English and St. Ides to smooth and sassy fine liqueurs like Canadian Mist and Courvoisier.
At Vic's, the music came in one easily distinguishable form--loud--and the main hall carried the airy aroma of fresh barbecue. It always struck me as odd that guys would actually want to suck on a rib bone while stuffing a five-spot down some dancer's overworked G-string, but Vic had it all figured out. He knew that guys could deal with the hickory redolence of ribs and rib juice over the crotch-grinding bouquet of a dozen sweat-glazed, naked strippers and their juices any day of the week.
Vic's was known to have the best strippers in the city. The clubs in the upscale northwest section of the city had ladies who didn't really want to strip. They preferred to dance and wiggle. In Northeast D.C. the strippers were hard-core. Which would work, except that they looked hard-core. In Southeast, where Vic's was located, strippers stripped. And Vic's had the best of them. Vic's girls didn't seem to have a problem with what they did. In fact, it almost seemed like they enjoyed it.
Especially the woman I'd met on the bus. She spotted me, smiled and headed toward my table.
"You made it," she said, sounding almost happy.
"So this is what you do?" I asked.
"It's just a way to make a buck," she insisted. "Don't let it faze you," she added, now seated in my lap.
"How can it not faze me when you're doing that?" I asked, referring to her grinding in my crotch.
"I thought you didn't like the woman on top," she said, giggling.
"Since you're on top," I said, trying to maintain composure, "I guess introductions are in order. I'm Simon," I told her. "What's your name?"
"What's your favorite candy bar?"
"Try again," she insisted.
"PayDay?" I asked, still trying to hold it together.
"Think of something sweet and chocolatey," she whispered.
"I don't know," I replied, my hand crawling up her thigh. "What's candy got to do with it?"
"You think I'm sweet, don't you?" she asked, sounding innocent.
"Right about now I think you're anything you want to be," I reasoned.
"Good," she said, firmly grabbing my hand. "Use this to get your wallet--and call me Kit Kat."
When her shift was done, she gave back the money and told me she liked me. We later ended up at my place and, within an hour, my virginity was history. I'd like to believe I lost my virginity three times that night, but I'm told losing it only counts for the "official" first time. Kit, as she liked to be called, changed my life almost overnight. I went from being a geeky post-teenager with a dead-end part-time job to a responsible guy with a career and future I appreciated. She was the one who convinced me to apply with Metro. "My best customers are bus drivers," she told me. "And they're never short for cash. You'll do good with it and to tell the truth, I can't resist a man in uniform."
That's all I needed to hear. I hated suits. She liked blue collar guys. And I'd have all the tip money I could handle. Was there anything not to like?
Kit and I learned the city together. We would joke and laugh long into the night and make love past sunrise. She came to be many things to me. I saw her as a friend and a trusted confidante who was bright beyond belief. She knew how much I loved football and came to all my games and was my biggest, if not only, fan. But her most endearing quality was the very same one that frustrated me most. She was as mysterious as a "Twilight Zone" episode.
I never knew where she lived and never learned a thing about her family. I didn't even know her real name. She guarded her privacy better than the U.S. Mint guards gold in Fort Knox, and she maintained control like an NFL head coach during the dog days of summer training camp. We dated for a solid year and at her best she was an unnerving set of contradictions. I came to simultaneously see her as the everyday girl next door and the alluring lady who had to be from out of town. She was the girl you couldn't wait to take home and the woman you wouldn't dare take near your family. She could stir the very core of your imagination and was as unpredictable as a mid-August Gulf Coast hurricane.
And much like a tiny island that's hit when a hurricane strikes, when she was done with me, I was devastated. Inside a year, my life had evolved. I had dignity and purpose and had learned the joys of commitment. And then one day out of nowhere, she dropped me. She sent a note that simply read: "Simon--It's over."
And that was that. No explanation. No long drawn-out speeches. Just typical Kit, straight and to the point: "It's over." I still had that note. It haunted me from the bottom of my dresser drawer. It's as if it spoke out and reminded me that I never once told Kit how I felt about her, and that I had no clue as to what she saw in me. Sometimes it felt like all we did was enjoy each other's company. Dreams and goals and ambitions never found a way into our conversations. And feelings . . . they were never discussed.
Not even in the note.
And every time I met a woman and we even dared to get close, I read that note and headed myself straight for the hills. "It's over." The words cut to the core. But I was tired of being cut and after eight years of going it alone, I'd decided I wanted what every man really wants. Happiness was just around the corner and I was going to find it.
I wanted a relationship.
I was ready to get back to the Super Bowl!
And just two weeks ago, that theory was put to the test. I ran into Kit, but instead of throwing a touchdown, my pass fell short and was, sadly, incomplete. I thought I'd gotten over her. But when she stepped onto the F-14, the very same route we'd met on, the pounding in my heart and the haze in my head convinced me I hadn't.
The F-14 had grown to be my favorite route because it was full of women. Inner-city single moms with good jobs, good money and sturdy, serviceable bodies made it the route to run. Meeting chicks was a breeze on the F-14. If you had half a rap, you were in the house. My rap might have been weak, but they knew I was employed, which meant I had benefits. They couldn't get to work, to the bank, to day-care or to the liquor store to play their numbers without me. They knew it. I knew it. And if I even remotely felt that women had a clue as to what they wanted in a man, I'd use those facts to my advantage like a nappy-headed teenager uses extensions.
Excerpted from Guys in Suits by Van Whitfield. Copyright © 2001 by Van Whitfield. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.