"We're actually gonna use that bus in front up there. This one has vomit all over it."
"Sounds like you've been having a great day!" someone says in amiable jest.
I explain to the passengers that we'll be trading buses out at the next zone. It's a lazy Autumn afternoon on the 4. The madness has passed, and we're languishing in the mellow onset of evening. The sun's still out, casting long shadows, the rays no longer high enough to reach over the tall buildings. We pass through downtown in the emerging shade.
The incident happened an hour or so ago, and as I've been driving around subsequently the odor has evolved, taking us to strange and interesting new places. Now it smells uncannily like a demented cocktail of rancid peanut butter, rancid tomatoes, and rancid Elmer's glue (if there is such a thing). Didn't think I'd smell that when I woke up this morning! I take it all in stride, both for myself and as an example for the people; let's keep them calm. Earlier a supervisor came by to rope off the back lounge area of the bus with yellow caution tape. It's an ominous look, but I balance it out with a comfortable, breezy approach.
In time the looming mystery pile at the back of the bus ceases to intimidate and instead becomes an excuse for the moment to shed its normalcy. The load is light, with most of us sitting toward the front, spread out and relaxed. We talk to each other, breaking the ice, thanks to the benevolent ooze. A youngster accustomed to sitting in the back by habit improvises, listening in on our new space. There is a uniqueness to the moment that isn't threatening. We aren't being united by a common misfortune, but rather by the absurdist touches of the great human comedy.
"Okay guys," I announce into the PA. "We're gonna go ahead and switch buses at this next stop, right here at Union. There's our new bus up there, we're all gonna go get on coach 4126, there it is, finish up the route 4 on the bus in front of me. Once again everyone, we're switching buses today because this bus is UN...sanitary. I repeat, we're changing buses here because this bus is... soiled," I finish, laughing.
A older woman just recently boarded asks, "what happened?"
"Oh, there's a bunch a vomit in the back there."
"Uh-oh! So that's what that is! I was wondering,"
"Well, there was this fine young lady who vomited, into her purse, and she left her purse and it got everywhere."
"She did what she had to do," a tanned middle-aged commuter says, chuckling.
We riff off of each other. The woman chimes in with, "hey, I guess she didn't need her purse anymore!"
"Exactly, it fulfilled its purpose!"
"I mean, you don't take your vomit bag with you," the man affirms.
"Words of wisdom."
"One of those one-time-use purses."
"One of those, yeah. Wish I had one."
"So yeah. We're gonna trade this one out."
"You just thought it might be a good idea?" ribs the man, smiling at me in a glimmer of the last of the day's sunlight.
"Just a thought!" I say. "As fascinating as this bus would be as a biology experiment... we'll let someone else explore that!"
They both exit the bus in high spirits. He volunteers to help the woman carry her heavy jug of kitty litter down the stairs and over the next bus. I can only hope that their good spirits, at least in part, are built off of my choice of tone for the situation. I gather my things and pause for a moment, watching them. They walk toward the new coach together, enthusiastic but tentative, in the way strangers often are before they become friends.