First Person

Dollar vans beat the bus, even when the driver has an emotional breakdown

dollar vans
Not the place you want to suddenly have to dole out relationship advice. Still, fun!

Recently, while already late to work, I opted to take a dollar van instead of a bus. It means paying a second time for the train, but I needed get the Long Island Rail Road which only comes once an hour, so drivers who even vaguely pay attention to traffic laws weren’t going to cut it. Little did I know my desperate attempt to catch a train would be almost derailed by the driver’s emotional breakdown.

I was the first passenger and as soon as I climbed in I knew something was up. The driver was arguing with someone on the phone–which is pretty standard as far as public transit phone calls go–but in that gentle, furious, muzzled voice people only use when fighting with their boo thangs. Sweet merciful crap, I had just somersaulted into the ultimate feelings landmine. After one block he pulled over to keep arguing in an increasingly shaky voice. I wanted to hug him, to sing him and bae Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” to find them couple’s therapy on Groupon (my treat!), anything to distract him long enough that I could take over the wheel.

Another unknowing passenger climbed in. The arguing continued as he started driving again, still barely crawling down the street, a shell of a man. No speed limits would be broken today, only hearts. The other passenger seemed unfazed. Then the yelling began, as he dissected each word and gesture and suggestive blink from a recent argument like this was a Senate hearing. He used the word crazy. Abort abort abort abort. We made it five blocks before he pulled up and told us to get out. The only thing that saved my commute was that he’d pulled up to another van that would be able to take us where we were going.

Times like this might make one wonder if dollar vans are worth it. First off, their name is deceiving, since they now cost two dollars, not one. Should you offer your business to something that deceiving, and which laughs in the face of Vision Zero and the city’s new 25 mph speed limit? While I’m against mowing down most pedestrians, dollar vans are the people’s vans, and while I’m still sad they haven’t cost a dollar since the 90s, they’re more like to get my money than the bus for the following reasons:

Cushiony seats: The soft seats of dollar vans are like massage chairs compared to the hard plastic planks you might be able to snag on the bus, if you if you can shove that pregnant woman out of your way fast enough.

Music: You get to listen to whatever the driver’s feeling that day, which might be some reggae, might be some R&B, maybe a little Bonnie Raitt, or if it’s Sunday might be a really passionate radio sermon. I trust him and I usually get something well curated. The last time I heard music on a bus, it from some guy blasting every remix of “Tuesday” out there. It was not Tuesday. Unacceptable.

Camaraderie: While it’s kind of irritating to have your frantic commute slowed if the driver slows down to greet everyone he recognizes on the street like he’s running for public office, it’s nice to know at least someone in this city cares about community. The other week my driver pulled over to a guy I assume he knew and they started shouting some sort of freestyle tag team spoken word. I didn’t really understand what was happening or why I needed to be late because of it, but isn’t it refreshing to be late because of the arts? How beautiful is that?

Speed: I often feel like I’m in the compelling 1994 film, which is just what my Monday needs.

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