You never know who's going to get on the 36 Broadway bus. I remember riding it late one night when it stopped at Broadway and Wilson to pick up a lone woman. She had a hard time getting on. Once aboard, obviously drunk, she pulled out a gun and pointed it at the bus's ceiling.
"This is a holdup," she sneered at the driver.
"I don't have any money," he answered her.
There were only half a dozen of us on the bus. Most of us were sitting near the back exit. "This is a holdup," she told all of us. Then she lost her balance, caught the divider near the front door, and stood back up. "I'm coming back to get your money." For some reason, none of us seemed to be worried.
The bus driver looked at her. The gun was aimed at a side window now. "Listen," he said, drawing her attention back to the front, "I have a few bucks." He looked at the back door and we took the hint immediately. All of us scrambled out of the bus. From the safety of the street we heard the driver say, "Hey, they're getting away."
The woman stepped past the driver and swung her gun in an arc at the back window. The driver easily dodged behind her and jumped out of the bus. He ran to the rest of us, still standing by the back door.
The drunk woman must have heard him exit. She made a quick turn to the front, too quick for her condition, and stumbled out the door, tripping over one of the steps and passing out across the curb. The driver walked over to her, relieved her of her gun, and lifted her out of the street to a bench near the corner. Then we got back on the bus and went on our way.
I don't know what became of the gun. I got off a few stops later.
Another time the number 36 was passing Wilson when three teenagers started cursing each other. It seemed like a mock fight at first, but then one of them drew a knife. This time passengers did scream.
It was all a diversion. One of the kids grabbed a purse and the other two followed suit. Running off the bus with athletic agility, they vanished with the purses so quickly the three victims did not have any time to react.
Recently I boarded the 36 at Wilson behind a veritable melting pot of fellow passengers--students from Truman College and commuters from the high rises along the lake and women carrying huge bags and men wearing too much clothing. As they filed past the fare box, I heard the driver call out, "Pickpocket boarding the bus. Watch your wallets and purses."
I noted his use of the singular--my impression was that pickpockets generally work in teams--and tried to remember all the precautions one should take. As I stepped onto the bus and began to drop my fare into the box, the driver looked straight at me and repeated, "Pickpocket boarding the bus. Watch your wallets and purses." I turned around, interested to see what a pickpocket looked like, but there was no one behind me.
He could not be talking about me, I thought. I have the coordination of a duck trying to cross a busy highway on its feet. But the driver looked at me and said his warning again. "Me?" I mouthed. He nodded.
As I walked to the empty seats near the back, every woman hugged her purse against her lap with both hands. All of the men stared at me. I have never felt so naked.