Last Friday afternoon, my wife and I were walking in front of the Huntington Library. It was 88 degrees by the NBT clock/thermometer. All of a sudden a young man burst by us running as fast as he could. His shirttails were flailing along behind him, beads of sweat ran down his red face and his armload of books was jostling around so they were on the brink of ending up on the sidewalk. He was waving his right hand furiously. It took me a moment to realize the object of this frantic pageant playing out before my eyes.
The kid was chasing an OPT bus!
I watched in wonderment as the lad closed in on the bus, just as the big coach (the one with “Thank You, John Insetta” written on the back window) signaled a right-hand turn and slowed.
WISSHHH! The double doors opened and the student leaped into the friendly confines of the bus. And they were off. I imagine that the young man collapsed into a seat and said a silent prayer to someone he had never heard of before: “Thank You, John Insetta.”
I thought about the narrative of this tableau and then suddenly realized that I had never ridden on a public bus. Never. I have lived in four of the largest cities in the United States but always walked, drove, cabbed or took the subway.
But never a bus! What was I missing?
I set out on Tuesday to find out. I decided I was going to the OPT station downtown when I got off work at noon and take a ride on whatever bus was idling there. Where would I travel to? Southside? Cooperstown? The East or West End?
When I arrived at 12:30, a bus was just getting ready to pull out. “SUCO,” it said. So, in a much less frenzied manner than I saw the student do the week before, I took a bus ride up to the campus.
“Here you go,” I said awkwardly as I thrust a dollar bill in front of the driver. I had no idea how much the ride would cost.
The driver stared at me for a second like I was confused and said, “Put it right in there, sir.” He pointed to the till. I waited a brief second for change that never came and then embarrassed, I slipped into a seat.
The driver was great. His name was Ed Sullivan, and after he endured my small attempt at humor (“Didn’t you used to have a Sunday night variety show?”) he let out a laugh.
“Your first ride, right?” I didn’t know it was that obvious.
Ed has been a driver for OPT for more than a decade. He is a big bear of a man with a ready smile and a hearty laugh. The bus was very clean and the seats were comfortable.
There were fewer than a dozen people on the bus with me.
Ed told me about the stop-and-start protocols, the different routes he has run and the different people he has picked up _ all the usual road stories.
“The students are really very, very nice,“ he told me. “They didn’t used to be. But something has happened over the years and they are extremely pleasant now.
Always with the ‘thanks you’s. I like them.
They come from cities where taking a bus is a way of life.”
I asked him about the weekend nights. “Now that is a different story,” he said. “Yes, they are still very polite, but it sure does get crowded in here.”
He pointed to the yellow line across the aisle just behind his driver’s chair. “That is the final line. Nobody, and I mean nobody, stands ahead of that line.”
I told him that I had seen buses go by at night with dozens of students jammed in and holding on for dear life.
“You want to know how a sardine feels? Ride the bus some Saturday night,” he roared.
I was particularly impressed with the comfort of the big OPT buses. No lurching and sputtering like I expected. Big Ed nursed his bus around Center City with a gentle but firm touch.
“I treat this bus like it was my own,” he said softly as he subtly weaved around a manhole cover on East Street.
“I never hit those things,” he murmured confidently.
The OPT station at the Clinton Plaza is clean, efficient, air-conditioned and has comfortable seats and vending machines for those waiting for the next bus. Photos of a smiling John Insetta adorn the wall along with a dedication plaque in his honor. It is a nice tribute. Other old photos on the wall tell of Oneonta’s early transportation beginnings. It is a pleasant room.
Now I am officially a bus rider! One of more than 600,000 OPT riders annually. And I enjoyed it. Not a bad deal for a buck. So thanks, OPT, and thanks, Ed Sullivan, for the ride. Oh, yes, and thanks, John Insetta.
I’ll catch you in two ...
‘BIG CHUCK’ D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at email@example.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck. You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books.