Archive for Commuting Suicide

The Long Way Home

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After a five-and-a-half hour commute last night, I brought ‘Commuting Suicide’ out of retirement over at mental_floss:

I used to write a column called “Commuting Suicide” for YesButNoButYes. For a while, this was fun. But as my body became more conditioned to bus travel, I struggled to find novel complaints. It’s been over a year since the last installment.

But none of the slight inconveniences I whined about can compete with yesterday’s journey home. I left the office at 5pm and didn’t get home until 10:30. Here are excerpts from emails I sent to my wife and various friends from the bus:

“Snow has turned to sleet, I think. I’m actually not sure where we are. There’s a WalMart I’ve never noticed before. We may still be on that road right after the Lincoln Tunnel. It’s been 100 minutes.”

“After three hours, we’re somewhere in Harrison. It’s an interactive commuting experience, as the driver is now following a shortcut suggested by a passenger. Other people are chiming in as well, like audience members at a Price Is Right taping.”

“Now other passengers are offering advice, walking up from the back. Lots of pointing. It’s tough to put ‘I-Will-Now-Accept-Your-Navigational- Input’ back in the bottle.”

“I just remembered that my car is on top of the Park n’ Ride lot, five spots away from the roof’s shelter. Good times.”

“I’m so glad I didn’t drink any sparkling water this afternoon.”

“Any chance I put the ice scraper back in my car?”

“Now I think we’re lost, though some guy just rang the bell and hopped off. Not sure whether he actually lives near here, or, after three hours and twenty-two minutes, just couldn’t take it any longer.”

“Ooh, we’re back on track. We’re on Northfield. I’ll call you from the car.”

“Correction: We’re on Northfield, but the bus is sliding backwards. Also, the bus is filling with smoke.”

“We’re pulled over, waiting. For what I’m not sure. A lady shouted, ‘My lungs are filling up!’ Guess I’ll get out and walk. It’s gotta be about four miles from Seton Hall Prep to the Park & Ride at Turtleback Zoo. Through the snow. Can’t wait to hold this over my kids’ heads.”

OK, it’s only two miles. That part may get left out when this story is passed down. And the ice scraper wasn’t in my car. Lucky for me, a bathing suit was. It worked wonders.

[See the original post at mentalfloss.com.]

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XXIII

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I should remember that no matter how slow the traffic, or how annoying the seatmate, things could always be worse. My driver could decide to stab me.

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New Jersey – WABC, January 8, 2007 – A bus driver is in police custody in New Jersey, accused of stabbing a passenger.

Police say the driver got into a fight with the passenger around 8:45 Monday night at a stop along Bloomfield Avenue.

The passenger allegedly spat in the driver’s face during a dispute over the fare. Police say that’s when the driver pulled out a knife and stabbed the passenger in the shoulder. That passenger was taken to Newark Hospital.

I did almost get spit on once, but that was in the bus terminal. Besides, I lacked the proper retaliatory stabbing implement to escalate matters to the ABC News-worthy level.

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XXII

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[Live (on tape delay) from Route 280 in Newark, NJ]

According to the billboard, I’m in New Jersey’s most dynamic College Town. The capitalization of College Town bothers me, but not as much as the questionable accuracy of this claim. And nowhere near as much as the non-start traffic. My bus hasn’t moved in eighteen minutes. I’m grammar checking the outdoor advertising and going slightly insane.

This does not bode well for the 2007 commuting season.

Looking around, I realize it could be so much worse. I could be so much taller. If our bus were to challenge a rival commuter bus to a basketball scrimmage, the man across the aisle would dominate. He’s roughly 6’9″ and appears to be in physical pain. I’m 5’10″ (and three-quarters) and rather squished myself.

Let me break down our starting five…

Ooh, now we’re moving. I’ll get off the basketball nonsense. The guy’s tall. You get it.

The Palma Mexican Grocery Store delivery truck was just towed away. I do not know whether this driver/vehicle/proprietorship is responsible for my delay. To be safe, I’ll get my Mexican groceries elsewhere.

Speaking of so much worse, we’re inching past one, two, three, four cars I’m ready to call totaled. No, five. The guy in the fifth car is frantically dialing his cell phone, acting exactly as you’d expect someone whose new Maxima is in two pieces and facing the wrong way.

With the accident and every on-duty NJ State Trooper behind us, the rest of the ride is shockingly short. I will post this at lunch.

Depending on FedEx, tomorrow should be my first commute with my new BlackBerry. I’m not sure if this technology upgrade will allow me to provide live commentary from the bus. We can only hope. Or I could look it up or ask someone. But for now I’ll rely on hope.

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XXI

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“At least we don’t have to listen to holiday music out here.”

It was raining and dreary and we were outside. At a bus stop. The absence of holiday music wasn’t doing it for me.

“And hey, the bus won’t be decorated.” With his second comment, the stranger earned himself December’s silver medal for annoying commuter behavior.

I find complaints about Christmas music and overbearing decorations more annoying than Christmas music and overbearing decorations. I’m staunchly pro-holiday cheer. Especially at the individual commuter level. When people are more polite and patient, life is generally better.

There are, of course, exceptions. Which brings me to an even more annoying encounter. Some passengers can’t handle their cheer. Like last Thursday’s seatmate, whose holiday spirit manifested itself in a steady stream of conversational awkwardness. He gets the gold medal. It was a long ride.

“What do you got there, headphones?”

I pretended not to hear him. My act was convincing, what with the headphones and all.
He fired again.

“Headphones, eh?” The “eh?” coincided with a firm elbow-to-elbow tap. His mind was trained on idle chit-chat. There was nothing I could do.

“What? Yeah. Headphones. iPod!” I was stammering. We were engaged.

“That’s a good idea,” he said. “Help block out the noise.” Delivered without a trace of irony.

And on he went, drunk with cheer. Every time I thought he’d talked himself quiet, he started back in. He twice asked if I had siblings. After miles and miles of absolutely nothing, he said he was ready for the holidays (“Ready as you can be these days, you know what I mean?” I did not.)

I finally got all Scrooge on him and cracked open a book. This did not have the desired effect.

“Headphones and a book? I don’t know how you concentrate!”

He’ll be hard to beat in ’07.

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XX

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I’ve never been one to advocate theft. But out of my eye’s corner, I can see an item I desperately want. Easily within reach is my seatmate’s cell phone. It’s on her lap. She’s making angry snoring noises. Now’s my chance.

Greetings from Amtrak. We’re coming to you live (on tape delay) from the New York to D.C. leg of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Service. I have no business in our nation’s capital, but my wife did, and I rarely pass up complimentary lodging.

This represents a significant upgrade from my standard commuting vessel. My legs have room. I was given an in-ride magazine featuring pieces on Jerome Bettis and the best undiscovered restaurants in Montpelier, Vermont. An entire car is dedicated to the sale of snacks, an entity prohibited on my daily bus.

My fellow passengers are more attractive and less angry; they’re from everywhere and could be going anywhere. I helped an elderly Australian couple with their bags, flexing both my diplomatic muscles and my delts. The husband told me they were en route to Newport News, Virginia. The way he said it, Newport News was followed by four question marks. Naming a town must be such a rush.

The absence of a cell phone ban is one of my few complaints. I probably wouldn’t mind if not for the football-shaped woman beside me (“more attractive” was not universal). Her body’s resemblance to an oblong leather ball has little to do with my desire to kick her through uprights.

On paper, her story warrants sympathy. Before even leaving Penn Station, I’d learned her husband had just called it a marriage, trading her in for a younger model. He’d also taken sole possession of their New York apartment. Shipping home her belongings was the purpose of the trip she was in the process of completing.

She was a sympathetic figure until she started bossing around the help. “My reading lights aren’t working,” she told the ticket-taker, despite showing no evidence of reading material. “This isn’t the first time, either. What’s the matter with you people?”

She turned to me for solidarity. “These guys are space cadets, huh?” The space cadet was taking my ticket at the time.

The lack of lighting didn’t slow her relentless phone activity, which grew louder and more manipulative. “I won’t be able to get down to the city as much,” she shouted into her device. “At least I have friends like you, who will probably let me stay over.” I felt compelled to introduce the concept of hotels.

“Maybe I can leave a few outfits in your closet.” Luggage, too.

She made hissing noises at the Virginia-bound Aussies talking amongst themselves. “I’m on a call.” More offended I’ve never been.

Her campaign for free lodging and storage space continued, targeting every New York homeowner she knew. Between New York and Philadelphia, she made seven calls and received none. All this canvassing was exhausting; she soon passed out, slouched back, cell phone precariously resting on lap. Her nagging calls were rivaled in lunacy by her bitter snoring. These were the sounds of a woman who’d drive into her ex-husband’s new family room, then maniacally rationalize the decision.

While I debated hiding her phone in the snack car, she received her first and only call. Even her ring tone was loud and obnoxious. She frantically came back to life, reminding me of a house regaining power. “Well, I’d feel a lot better if I knew what I was doing for Christmas.” Like a blender resuming its duties after a blackout, she didn’t miss a beat.

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XIX

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I’ll admit it. It is nice.

(An actual edition of Commuting Suicide will be pulling in later today.)

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XVIII (Part II)

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This is part two of a two-part recap of a recent ride home. You can read Part I here, but that is not required.

When we taxied from our gate to the Lincoln Tunnel, it was considered great progress. “What great progress,” I remember thinking. Still, it was a long way home. We’d already logged an hour and still had an hour to go.

Our bodies are conditioned by the commute. The average journey takes 42 minutes; I can do 42 minutes in my sleep (and sometimes do). But the second the trip can be measured in hours, my body begins to break down. Subtle things, like a sore lower left sacroiliac joint (“back” for the layman) and the need to reposition my legs. Though I’m working without a protractor, I’d say my legs were locked at an acute eighty-seven degrees for the entire first hour. My legs needed a change.

So I stretched out, hitting 150 degrees and feeling fantastic. I should explain the seating arrangements, lest anyone liken my commute to a British Airways commercial. Mine was the only seat allowing such plentiful legroom. The back row goes five across, with me the keystone. The roominess aside, this is the least desirable seat on the bus, and most unsafe. Any accident would create a Jason-shaped hole in the windshield twenty-one rows ahead. And they really pack you in.* When my cellphone vibrated in my pocket, the Cheetos-gobbling man raced his nasty hand toward his tight-fitting pants. The confusion was inexplicable, as he was talking on his own cell phone at the time.** If elbow room was a widely accepted measurement, I’d tell you mine was negative.

Just as I got comfortable, so did the man to my front-right. As I said, our bodies can’t handle commuting overtime, and he was a fellow regular. For him, getting comfortable meant relocating his hefty briefcase from his lap to the aisle. Except the aisle had just been claimed by my outstretched legs. What we had here was a standoff. Something had to give.

Imagine that Conan O’Brien had quit Saturday Night Live and gone to law school, not aged particularly well, dyed his hair black and embraced public transportation. That’s whose eyes mine were trained on. No words were said; none were needed. This was akin to a staring contest, the kind a five-year-old has with her middle-school babysitter. In my mind, legs trumping briefcase is as universally accepted as paper trumping rock. No jury in the world would see it his way, my lack of legal training notwithstanding.

After a few minutes (or more likely 10-15 seconds), he gave up, stuffing the briefcase under his seat. We both displayed a seasoned ambivalence. Mine helped me win a staring contest. His must kill him in court.

And eventually I made it home. As I gathered my belongings, the woman beside me said a few haunting words. The moment I processed them, I knew they’d end up ending this post.
“You think this is bad? I’ve been doing this since 1971.”

*What’s with the footnotes? During this commute, I was trying to read “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” a citation-riddled essay by David Foster Wallace. Printed out, it was 34 pages with 33 footnotes at the end. Trying to flip ahead in my limited space proved first frustrating, then impossible. I thought adding footnotes here would be fun. Plus this story could use the help.

**Yes, there is a strict NO CELL PHONE policy, a policy I champion. But the general rule during extenuating circumstances is to ignore this specific one.

***This has nothing to do with this story, but I’ll tell you while you’re here. A recent development in the morning commute is the presence of a chain gang.**** In 2004, after years of stolen car stereos and stalked female commuters, the county built a massive park-n-ride facility . Busing in the local felons strikes me strange. It’s like spending thousands of dollars for an exterminator to eradicate a fire ant problem, then going online to order an ant farm.

****That must not be the accepted term nowadays, as the gang is not chained.

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XVIII (Part I)

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Thursday’s commute was the second worst of my career. This post was getting as long as the ride itself, so I’ll break it up.

According to the official (posted) rules, there is no eating or drinking on the bus. But everybody does it. I myself have been known to smuggle aboard a bag of M&Ms or box of Swedish Fish. I once ate a Subway Meatball Marinara without incident. So when the bearded man seated beside me produced a bag of Cheetos, I didn’t consider turning him in. In fact, I smiled.

I smiled because his blaze orange salty snack jogged a specific memory. My friend Alison, then a student at Parsons in New York, once asked Janeane Garofalo if she’d rather eat Doritos and not brush her teeth or Cheetos and not wash her hands. Janeane opted for Cheetos, and later told this story on The Tonight Show.

I have no good celebrity stories of my own.

This recollection was again deposited in my memory bank, and my bearded seatmate kept chomping away. His eating had a pattern to it. A distinct order. After each Cheeto, he licked his fingers, coating them with saliva. We all could agree this wasn’t ideal. So he’d wipe his hands on the back of the seat before him, then in his dirty nest of a beard. This turned me off both Frito Lay products and excessive facial hair.

When he finished, a distinct orange film covered the seat. (Apparently the sucking wasn’t completely effective.) I’m sure it was also dying his beard, but I absolutely refused to look. Oh, and we’d been on the bus for 45 minutes and had yet to leave the station.

* * *
We knew what we were getting into when we climbed aboard. A bad Lincoln Tunnel accident prevented any forward progress, a traffic report the Port Authority PA repetitively made loud and clear. I was the 49th passenger; the bus had 49 seats. About an hour into our stationary adventure, when the bus first lurched backwards, passenger fifty was caught off-balance. He fell and was laughed at. People were tired and fussy and laughing at inappropriate times. It had been a long commute and we hadn’t even moved. We were on edge and just getting started.

[Continue to Part II, or browse the Commuting Suicide archives.]

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XVII

Here’s my latest commuting adventure. If you’re new and enjoying yourself, check out the previous volumes. I suggest this, this and this.

Friday morning I missed my alarm and caught a later bus. With the rush hour(s) behind us, I didn’t recognize my fellow passengers. Gone were the subdued commuters, scowling-and-bearing-it, worn down by life. In their stead were a bunch of scabs who marveled at the excitement of bus travel. And these day-trippers marveled out loud.

The competing wailing babies added a nice touch. As did the chatty elderly couple I was ready to fit for hearing aids. But the boisterous stars of Friday’s performance were two college girls. They stole the show.

Girl One [The one who had me praying for deafness]: “Everyone always says someone should write a book about our lives. The next Sex and the City!”

Girl Two [The one who had me praying for a fiery Turnpike crash]: “Obvi! Obvi!”

By “Obvi,” I assume Girl Two was saving her breath by shortening “obviously,” suggesting a certain respect for an economy of language. It was a shallow gesture. Like ordering a Diet Coke at the Pizza Hut Lunch Buffet, then finding room for the cherry pie dessert pizza. And with “Everyone always says someone should write a book about our lives,” Girl One set back my Respect For Jersey movement ten years.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XVI.V: Super Indeed

I’m posting this live from the bus, wirelessly connected to the “Super 8″ network a few miles from the Lincoln Tunnel. Not a bad place to be stuck in traffic.

My right knee, stiff and sore from what must have been a forgetful incident, is propped on the seat beside me. To divert attention from my strange, yoga-like position, I whipped out my laptop. That’s when I noticed my little wireless indicator coming to life, like a child silently waking from a peaceful nap.

My Inbox just dinged to signal the delivery of new mail. It’s spam, but that’s irrelevent. I’m so happy, I could go to super8.com and reserve a room. A thank you for making this moment possible.

Ah, and there’s the Super 8 sign. Skeevy discount motel chain, I salute you.

As far as writing an interesting post, I’ve got nothing. And I fear we’re inching out of Super 8′s range. But how great will it be when this novelty wears off and everywhere is wireless?

[P.S. By the time I hit 'Save' to post, the bus was beyond the magical internet capabilities of the Super, Super 8. No other hotel filled the wireless void between Weehawken and New York. I'm posting this from work, where the novelty of an internet connection wore off eight years ago.]

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Commuting Suicide

Stay tuned for my July 4th Spectacular. I’ll be posting all the old Commuting Suicide notes, plus a better intro than this one and the first new adventure since April. I’ve been slacking. But in the meantime, I’ve been attentive as ever, filling an assignment pad with quirky observations. Plenty of stories to tell. Looking forward to getting them out of my pad (and my head) and into my secure archives.

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XVI

The place from which I start my commute doubles as a mediocre zoo. Perhaps that’s not a fair assessment; I haven’t been inside since a much-hyped 1987 field trip. The Turtleback Zoo proved a far superior destination than Kings Supermarket, site of our other third-grade outing. But the luster has rusted. After a friend’s six-year-old nephew hit up the zoo recently, he said his favorite animal on display was “geese.”

I’m sticking with my opening-sentence appraisal.

On Friday, a crusty retiree joined us rank-and-file bus peons. I’m not sure what business he had in New York City. That’s surprising, considering I know what he did the night before (check out cherry blossoms), his wife’s worst driving fear (negotiating bridges at night), and his “number one pet peeve” (our government’s 1979 bailout of the Chrysler Corporation).

Like the geese at the zoo behind us, we were on exhibit. The retiree bought a ticket. Now he felt free to stick his fingers in the cages of commuters in captivity.

Unlike the geese, I was loving it. This guy was the new character introduced to ripple stagnant waters, in the tradition of The Great Gazoo, Cousin Oliver and John Bolton.

With the bus running behind, our special guest ran off a list of bewildering queries and observations. “You know why the bus is late? The automobile industry sabotages buses and trains in this country.” (I had suggested traffic.)

“If you’ve done any traveling in Budapest, you’ll know what I mean.” (This was in reference to the bus shelter’s unsatisfactory width.)

“Do you have five nickles for a quarter?”
(I think he was just fucking with me.)

Usually, bus entry is governed by the first-come, first-serve rule. Despite coming about 12th, our guest took the star treatment, serving himself first. Just before boarding, he told us what he learned: “I don’t know how you possibly do this day after day. You guys are amazing.”

It was not a compliment.

Screw the zoo. And the Kings. The third-graders should be visiting us.

[Originally posted April 15, 2006.]

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XV

After an iPod malfunction, yesterday morning’s only entertainment was the woman behind me. On and on she went about her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah. Nothing to hear here, I thought. But the comment that kept me eavesdropping was this:

“My husband and I have been rehearsing every night for our duet. This really means a lot to our son.”

First, I need some clarification. In the Jewish faith, do parents serenade newly-minted men at these extravaganzas? If the answer is yes, the bigger question is why video clips chronicling this tradition aren’t playing around the clock on a dedicated cable channel.

Are we talking about Hebrew anthems, or theme-appropriate pop ballads, like “It’s Rainin’ Men”?

Your insight is appreciated.

[Originally posted April 15, 2006.]

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XIV

Sunday afternoon. Driving down Route 10 West. A car driving east up that very road nearly slams me. Head on. He was fleeing the police, who followed a not-very-safe distance behind.

I didn’t know what almost hit me. But in the seconds after the near miss, I realized how lucky I was.

Calling this a near-death experience would be overdramatic. An exaggeration. A desperate grab for sympathy. OK, a flat out lie. The Camry’s safety record is widely documented. And the fugitive wasn’t driving with reckless abandon. More like scared shitless abandon, which equates to approximately a 20mph difference. In that difference, even a subpar hand-eye coordinator like myself could swerve into the shoulder and live to tell about it.

So, more accurately, it was a near-airbag deployment. What I avoided was a big pain-in-the-ass.

Regardless of how close to death I really wandered, it was one of those live-life-to-the-fullest moments. Things were going to be different.

Suffice it to say, those different things never got done.

Speed ahead to Wednesday, three full days after the incident. I’m writing this while watching Giant Achievers: The Story of the 1989 New York Giants, which TiVo’d earlier this week. And I’m eating the finest of French-American cuisine, Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies.

Unlike the cathartic ending to my defensive driving adventure, the 1989 Giants season ended in disaster. Jim Everett hit Willie “Flipper” Anderson with a (playoff) game-winning touchdown. In overtime. Anderson famously never broke stride, heading right into the locker room. A hit and run.

I admit I may have missed an opportunity to grab life by the horns. But watching the Giants fall to the ’89 Rams was like watching a car wreck. Makes me realize how lucky I was.

[Originally posted April 12, 2006.]

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Commuting Suicide: Volume XIII.V

Friday night I set sail for home later than usual, missing the express buses I regularly take for granted (and complain about mightily). There should be a “Warning! This bus makes frequent stops” sticker on the back.

Actually, maybe there is. I never looked.

So, in honor of my far-too-extended journey, today we’ll open with a far-too-extended intro. In honor of the superfluous stops — really, does every corner in Newark need to double as a bus stop? — we’ll touch on several issues worth mentioning, but not worthy of their own post.

•On an absolutely packed bus, more cramped than the bumper-to-bumper traffic in which we were stuck, my only solace was a little TV on my little iPod. Zoning in and out through a disappointingly mediocre episode of The Simpsons, I didn’t bother click-wheeling through the commercials. Then came the one question I didn’t want to hear — “Are You Gellin’?” Seeing that ad in traffic, with an army of sweaty, boring people invading my personal space, might just be the worst 30 seconds of my commuting career.

•A.J. Soprano tried to buy a gun from the snack shop attendant at South Mountain Arena, where my commute initiates each morning. I didn’t know about this snack shop, but I agree with Bobby “Bacala” Baccilieri: A.J. should instead participate in the Golden Gloves youth boxing tournament.

•Overhead in line for the bus on an unseasonably warm Tuesday in February:

WOMAN [Dark hair, late-20s, attractive but not beautiful, ring-less finger, trying way too hard to turn the commute into a social exercise]: This weather puts me in such a good mood, I brought my world famous oatmeal raisin cookies! Have one!

MAN [NJ Devils hat, early-40s, not well groomed. Putting out the vibe he doesn't have much going on and doesn't care enough to hide it. His wardrobe gives no clues to his profession. Manages to simultaneously look completely harmless and totally unapproachable. Drew the short straw, and is waiting directly behind the woman]: What? No. Thanks.

WOMAN [Now straddling the line between polite and pushy]: They’re really yummy!

MAN [Really turned off by the word "yummy"]: “Yummy”?

WOMAN [Advanced well into pushy territory]: Yes, yummy. You’ll see.

MAN [Blank expression I could not read]: I just used mouthwash before I left. It won’t taste good.

WOMAN [Increasingly frantic as our bus approached. Like she was playing a board game with an hourglass timer, and that bus was the sand]: One bite! Save the rest for later!

MAN [His run-out-the-clock strategy seemed to be working, but he surprisingly gave in]: Fine!

WOMAN [Delighted to the point of giddiness. In her own world, maybe she gets commission on each unit moved]: Well? Well? How is it?

MAN [Acting like he doesn't like the cookie. He's not a good actor]: Tastes like Listerine.

[Man proudly gets on bus, woman dejectedly follows. They'll both tell versions of this story to uninterested co-workers later today.]

[Originally posted April 9, 2006.]

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