My lungs heaved frantically into the warm zipper of my jacket and my pulses pitter-pattered in staccato drumbeat. Standing beside the four-lane, two-way highway less than a mile from my house, I could see the sad fluorescent glow of the bus stop on the other side. As usual, it was deserted. According to the illuminated screen in my palm, I had exactly one minute to catch the incoming 8:01 bus to Aspen. But judging from the swarm of headlights beelining toward me from the inky night beyond, one minute wasn’t gonna cut it. I felt like the Frogger amphibian, doomed to fail one simple task: cross the street.
The other side was mostly clear, which made the lofted light of the bus marquee even more noticeable in the dark. Feeling helpless and invisible, I tightened my grip on the pink plastic bag cradling a bottle of champagne and watched the bus roar past, just feet away. The next one wouldn’t arrive for at least at hour. I was going to be late to the party.
I stood amid the beam of light cast by the single lamppost and threw a dejected but determined thumbs-up as far away from my body as my arm would allow. Headlights whizzed past. I was too far from the road; nobody could see me. I skulked back to the station and slumped onto the cold metal bench. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Exactly twenty-seven minutes later, a pair of headlights swung in my direction. A beat-up SUV swung alongside the bus stop, it’s passenger-side window dropped into the door. “Come on in,” drawled the lady in a denim car coat who gripped the wheel. She had a blonde butch haircut and friendly eyes framed by the sagging complexion of a Baby Boomer aged by harsh Colorado climes. Miscellany was strewn in the backseat.
“I’m a driver for Rafta,” she said, stating the abbreviated name of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), which runs the free bus system up and down a forty-mile stretch of Route 82 and through Aspen village.
“Wow, thanks so much for the ride,” I said, not quite believing my luck. “I really appreciate it, I missed the last bus and now I’m late to a friend’s birthday party. She lives in the West End; I usually get off by the Shell station, are you going that far?
“I live one block from the Shell station,” the woman said.
She’d already pulled back onto the highway, and no sooner were we past the stoplight by the airport than she turned her car toward the side of the road to shine her headlights on the next bus stop. “I always check to see if someone’s waiting, “ she said. “Because it’s off-season, the busses are now only running once every hour instead of every half-hour. You have to check the schedule online; the Aspen bus leaves the Intercept Lot at 8 sharp.”
I knew all of this, so I just nodded. “Yup.”
We were back on the highway, cruising toward town.
There was nobody waiting. She mentioned that she was also a nurse. We talked for a moment about the state of healthcare, and organ donation.
Suddenly, the mood shifted.
“Are you a Christian?” she asked. I stared into her beady blue eyes.
“Uh, no….I’m Catholic,” I replied.
Her eyes grew wide.
“Do you vote?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well,” she began. “You don’t even understand what the communist dream IS. We had to live through that: communism, socialism. You’re too young….”
“We grew up with communism,” she continued. “You young people don’t even know what it’s like to be on the inside…”
She went on.
“Obama is out to destroy America,” she trilled. “He is out to ruin this country.”
“Whoa, whoa,” I replied. “If Obama is trying to kill us all, then why did he capture and kill Bin Laden?! Why wouldn’t he let Bin Laden do the job for him?
“Don’t you watch Fox News?!” she asked, incredulously.
“No,” I said. “It’s totally biased and crap journalism. It’s not based on true events,” I said. “And frankly, I consider it muckracking. It represents everything I’m against. Wait, so you voted for Bush the last time and were happy with your decision?
“You you thought he did a stellar job as president? I asked.Yes, I said stellar.
I sighed. The Shell station was coming up. My limbs prickled, and I ached to get out of the car.
I turned to the crazy lady before she could respond. “Well, see ya!” I said in the most cheerful voice I could muster.
The lady turned to me, and waved a pale limb frantically in my direction.
“Mark my words,” she said, finger wagging toward my face. “Your parents will disappear and who will be around to fix that? Just remember, I warned you not to vote for Obama…”
She dropped me off in downtown Aspen, and I never saw her again.
Moral of the story? Don’t hitchhike. It’s not worth the headache.