This is a true story. It happened twenty years ago, but this is how I remember it.
I was a graduate student at Stanford. We lived in student housing on campus. Jim was teaching at Burlingame High School. He usually took the CalTrain to work instead of fighting the traffic on the 101.
We had dental insurance through his work, and he asked the other teachers for dentist recommendations. Our dentist was up by his school.
I had a dentist appointment on the day of this story. I planned to take the train. The campus shuttle bus, The Marguerite, had a route that stopped near our apartment and went to the California Avenue train station. The buses were scheduled to meet the arriving and departing trains.
The Marguerite arrived as scheduled at the stop near our apartment. I got on. I can’t recall if there were other people on it. I know there was at least one other passenger, probably several others. The driver followed the regular route. California Ave. is a long street with lots of nice shops, with the train station at the end of it. As the bus moved along California Ave., I was starting to get antsy. We were going to be cutting it very close to meet the train, and the train only runs once an hour. The driver seemed to be taking an unacceptably long time at each of the stop signs, sometimes waiting for pedestrians to arrive at the crosswalk in front of him so he could then wait for them to pass.
I did not want to miss that train. My mind was whirling, playing out the contingency plan if I missed the train. The bus was making so many and such long stops that I thought about getting off the bus and running down the street. I was calculating whether or not that would be faster. I clearly recall the reason I didn’t do that: there was still another passenger on the bus. He didn’t seem worried, and surely he must also be going to catch the same train, as that was the only stop left on the route. Maybe my watch was wrong.
Nope. My watch was not wrong. We pulled into the train parking lot just as my train was pulling away. I scrambled off the bus and waved at the train. No luck. I had missed it. I was furious. Furious at the stupid driver. Furious at the long stops at the stop signs. Furious at myself for not trusting my instincts that something wasn’t right.
What could I do? I had to get back on The Marguerite and go back to campus, get my car, and drive to the dentist. I was going to be late. I was going to have to deal with the highway traffic. I was crying. I sat on the bus and cried. We now had to wait for the next arriving train, to take those passengers back to campus. That gave me an unwelcome opportunity to spend some time with the driver and the other passenger, who, oddly, had not been trying to catch that train, but had just been riding around on the bus.
This part of the memory is fuzzy. Did I scream at the driver, “YOU MISSED THE TRAIN?!” Or did I just cry? I can’t remember. I probably screamed, and it probably was not a pretty sight.
I do remember what he said. He said he was sorry. He felt really bad about missing the train. He told me he was in training, and the other passenger, so unbothered, was not a passenger at all but the regular driver supervising the training.
I cried some more. We sat there.
No arriving passengers joined us on the bus. The driver told me his name was Ed. Ed apologized more. Ed said, “I had a commitment to you, and I didn’t meet it. I am going to get you to your destination.”
That, I thought, was an odd offer. “Ed, how are you going to do that?”
“I am going to drive back to the bus depot on campus, tell the manager that I made you miss your train, and I am going to take you to your destination.”
“I am going to Burlingame. Do you know where that is? It’s a 25 minute drive.”
“I don’t care how far it is. I had a commitment to you, and I didn’t meet it. I am going to get you to your destination.”
What I said: “OK.” What I was thinking, “This guy is nuts! But, OK, better him driving than me.”
We went back to the depot. Ed looked for his manager. He couldn’t find him, so he decided to just take me anyway. Off we went, totally off-route, heading for the highway in The Marguerite. Now it was getting interesting.
Ed explained to me some of his personal philosophies. For example, “If you can help someone and choose not to, you are just making excuses.” He belonged to some organization that had instilled this philosophy in him. I wish I could remember the name of it. (My best recollection of the name is Wellspring, but Google searches don’t confirm that guess.) He had been to some meetings of this organization and was earnest about doing everything in his power to improve the world.
We were on Embarcadero Road, heading toward the highway when the bus’ radio sounded the manager’s voice. “Ed? Ed, where are you?”
Ed calmly explained to his manager that he had failed to meet his commitment to a passenger, and now he was taking her to her destination.
The manager wanted to know where that was. Ed told him Burlingame. The manager was having a hard time understanding, “You are driving the shuttle bus to Burlingame?! You can’t do that. You need to come back.”
Ed did not respond. It was quiet for a minute, and then the manager was yelling at Ed to come back to campus. Ed asked what he should do. I told him. “Turn off the radio, Ed. You had a commitment to me, and you didn’t meet it. You are going to get me to my destination.”
He turned off the radio. We got on the highway.
He was driving fast. Faster than a shuttle bus should drive. I tried not to think about it. We drove along in silence.
Ed broke the silence. He was waving and honking and trying to get another driver’s attention, a driver of a mini school bus. “Hey! I know that guy from the home for retarded adults! He works in Burlingame!” (I always assumed he meant they were drivers together at the home, not residents.) Before I knew what was happening, he had the attention of the other driver, and we were pulling off the highway.
I was thinking, “no way!” What I said: “Ed, if you think I am getting on the bus with that man, you have another thing coming. For all I know, he could be an axe-murderer. Actually, for all I know, you could be an axe-murderer, but we are over half way there. You had a commitment to me, and you didn’t meet it. You are going to get me to my destination.”
And so he did. We got back on the highway. Ed delivered me to the train station in Burlingame. Jim was very confused about why I was arriving by the campus shuttle and not the train, as planned. I gave him the I’ll-tell-you-later look.
I avoided the Marguerite after that. I never saw Ed again, but I didn’t look for him. It’s hard to imagine that he didn’t get fired. I don’t know his last name, and I have a complete blank on his appearance, in spite of the other vivid details so clear in my head. If you are out there, Ed, thanks for getting me to my destination. I hope you have been able to use your extreme sense of responsibility to others in a positive way.
Wow. In rereading this post, I remembered the name of Ed’s “cult”: not Wellspring, but Lifespring. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifespring: “[They] used many English words in a manner different from their usual meaning. ‘Commitment,’ for instance, was defined as ‘the willingness to do whatever it takes.'” Yes, that was it. It’s odd how the memory works. –LK