August 26th: The powers that be will tell you that none of Albany’s buses run after midnight on a Sunday and anyone who says otherwise is crazy.
The problem is that people have seen a city bus prowling the streets in the hours before morning. They say its number is 55. They say its engine growls, its windows are filthy and the make and model are decades out of date. There are even some folks that say getting onto that bus is the last thing you’ll ever do.
Of course the powers that be scoff at such stories dismissing the handful of witnesses as drunks, madmen or attention seekers.
Since some of my best readers are drunks and madmen I decided to investigate this matter for myself. So I waited alone on the corner to see what the night would bring...
THE NIGHT BLOGGER:
The Graveyard Game
And Other Cemetery Plots
A Firesign Variation
...it was 1 a.m. when I confirmed the existence of Bus 55. I heard it first, coughing and growling its way up the otherwise empty street. Then I smelled it; it was a strange smell, like a combination of diesel exhaust and ozone. The driver was just a shadowy lump sitting in front of the steering wheel and it was obvious from the speed he was going that either he hadn’t seen me or he had seen me and wasn’t going to stop.
Throwing common sense to the wind I stepped out into the road. I had just long enough to think to myself that this would be a really stupid way to die, then the bus had stopped just inches from my nose. I hadn't heard the breaks squeal or the tires screech, the bus just stopped.
The vehicle's pneumatic door slid open with an impatient hiss and I climbed aboard. There were no interior lights to keep me from nearly missing the top step. The bus driver didn't glance at me as I paid my fare, he just kept glaring out the windshield. I cleared my throat, “Good evening. I had some questions about-”
The driver turned and glared at me until I retreated to the back of the bus, cringing every step of the way. There were no other passengers but I found a seat near the back. Once I found sat down the buses door hissed to a close and I was on my way.
But to where I had no idea.
I slipped my iPhone from my pocket and snapped a few pictures. Nothing exciting or earth-shattering, just something to do. Something to keep me from worrying that I was heading into terrible danger, or worse yet, that I was making a fool of myself.
The windows were so filthy that I only had the vaguest sense of the scenery passing by but it seemed somehow to be going by far too quickly for the amount of acceleration I felt. I wondered if that was the big mystery, that maybe some transportation company was testing a new suspension system.
After what seemed like an eternity the bus stopped and picked up another passenger. A stooped figure in raggedy clothes climbed aboard Bus 55 and took a seat near the driver. He had his jacket collar was pulled up tight around his face, all I could see was tufts of hair.
I waited for my fellow traveller to do something, change position, look my way, anything but he kept still. More miles rolled by then another stop, two more men got aboard, tubby with ill-fitting suits and bad haircuts. The interior of the bus was still too dark and shadowy for me to make out their faces clearly. I started fussing with my iPhone again, wondering if I could use the low light photo app to get a better look at their faces.
That thought was quickly followed by realization I had no cell coverage. I looked up wondering what the bus' ceiling was made of.
And that was when I realized more stops had been made and more passengers had been picked up. One of them sat down next to me.
The first thing I noticed was his feet, his huge feet dressed in wingtip shoes. The stocky legs that sprouted from those shoes were dressed in pinstripe trousers that had been patched here and there. He had no jacket but he wore a paisley vest. His face was covered by a thick layer of ash-colored greasepaint.
He was a clown.
And as the other passengers crowded in around me I realized they were all clowns. But they were not the colorful birthday party performers that probably just popped into your mind. These were sullen-looking monochrome hobos; bleak creatures had never known never known a circus tent or a fairground.
Who were these people? Were they just coming back from delivering nightmares or were they living through nightmares of their own right now?
Then the clown sitting beside me flashed a desolate smile and spoke my name...
...this wasn't the first time the local police found me dazed and wandering the streets of Albany and it probably won't be the last but I was glad for the ride home.
What happened? How did I get from that phantom bus to our local shopping mall?
I have no idea. All I remember- or at least I think I remember- is trying to fight my way to the exit. Clumsy hands grasped at me. Jolly voices made threats and offered candy.
Hours of research have left me no closer to any answers. There is no dark secret, no unfinished business or curse. There’s no twist in my tale that will make sense of it all.
All I can tell you is that there is an impossible vehicle making its way though the darkened streets of Albany and there’s always room inside for a few fools more.
What was it the Firesign Theater used to say? “I think we’re all Bozos on this bus.”
And maybe I'm the biggest Bozo of all.