The Waterbury Line has been shut down for the past couple of months and instead of trains; Metro North has been running Connecticut Transit Buses. Metro North conductors ride these buses, answer questions, collect tickets, and act as company representatives. I've gotten called in on my day off to cover bus jobs several times over the past month. Sure, I get a little bus sick winding through the curvy roads of the Naugatuck River Valley, but it's overtime pay, and with two daughters in college, I can't refuse the offer.
Last week, I worked with a 50-year-old African American bus driver, a woman who prefers to be called "Miss Diva." I never got her real name, but this moniker seemed to fit her perfectly. She batted her false eyelashes as she pulled out a glossy index card sized flyer from her purse and handed it to me. She pointed to the front of the card with a meticulously manicured index finger..."That's me!" she said. There on the cover was a picture of an attractive black woman in a white halter-top dress. She stood with one hand on her hip as her eyes flirted with the camera lens. At the top of the card in big loopy letters, it read; "Come celebrate Miss Diva's 50th birthday" and in smaller letters at the bottom it instructed: "Please wear white."
"Wow!" I said. "This is just like those black and white parties that P. Diddy throws out in the Hamptons."
"Yeah...It's something like that," Miss Diva said coolly, and then she returned the flyer to her purse.
Who is this woman? I thought, and slowly, throughout the rest of the day... piece by piece, I found out.
Like most of us, it seems, a life in transportation wasn't Miss Diva's first choice. She told me that she went to college in Florida and studied journalism and earned her bachelor's degree. Shortly after graduating she became a reporter, then an anchorwoman for a small television station in Tallahassee. Soon after covering the live remote of the Ted Bundy execution, she got a call that her mother had taken ill in Connecticut. At the time she was newly divorced and had a small daughter, but she uprooted her life and came to Stamford to nurse her mother back to health. She got a part time job working as a journalist for the Stamford Advocate, but like most part time jobs, it didn't have health benefits. Her mother, a retired Connecticut Transit bus driver, suggested she get her commercial driver's license and apply to her old company. "At least she'd have benefits," she said. That was 22 years ago. Now she has the most seniority of the females who work out of Stamford Terminal. Therefore she calls herself "The First Lady"... "Just like Michelle Obama."
On our second to last run of the night, I stepped on the bus in Waterbury at leaving time when "Miss Diva" looked over her sunglasses and said to me, "Baby.... we got ourselves a problem". The divine Miss D seemed exasperated and gave her head two quick nods to the right, her large gold earrings swaying, as if to say get a load of this one. The target of the nod was a petite woman who sat just feet away in the handicapped seats.
"It seems," Miss Diva said, "That someone here don't want to shut her damn music off on MY bus."
"Someone here," the petite woman shot back, "needs to learn how to speak to PAYING CUSTOMERS!"
The petite woman, who I will call Dorothy, was wearing a hooded powder blue sweatshirt with the strings pulled tight around her face. Her skin was tanned with deep crevices and I'm guessing her to be also about 50 years of age. She was missing some teeth and looked not unlike the "after" on one of those "before and after" mug shots that the drug council posts on their public service billboards that warn of the devastating effects of drug abuse on your appearance.
"Come on!" I said to Dorothy in a friendly manner. "You know you can't blast your music on the train.... errrr.... I mean bus." I quickly corrected myself and took a seat next to her. I went onto explain that the driver was just doing her job, and that although she may enjoy playing her iPod selections, not everyone shares her same taste in music, and the other passengers might get annoyed.
"You know, I'm not a piece of shit, " Dorothy said,” and I don't expect to treated like one." To add emphasis to her rage, she whipped off the hood of her sweatshirt, revealing an unkempt tuft of frosted gray hair with blond tips. I couldn't help but think she looked a little like Woodstock from the Peanuts comic strip.
"I'm a good person," She continued. "I even volunteer my time to the Catholic church...just like Michelangelo did when he painted that ceiling. When we get to the Pearly Gates, God's gonna take a snapshot of our lives...and he's gonna judge us on the little things...LIKE HOW A BUS DRIVER TREATS THE LITTLE PEOPLE ON HER BUS!!! St. Peter is either gonna let you in the gate, or YOU'RE GOIN' DOWN IN THE ASHES!
I asked Dorothy if she'd thought she'd pass judgment
"Yeah" She said. "He's gonna say...DOROTHY...STEP RIGHT INSIDE! I don't know about the rest of you folks on this bus though." She made sure she made this last statement loud enough for Miss Diva to hear. Miss D chose to ignore her.
Dorothy went on to tell me what a good person she was, and that not only does she volunteer her time to the Catholic Church...just like Michelangelo did when he painted The Sistine Chapel, but she also works as a clairvoyant who helps solve murders for the local police departments. I had to stop her here...
"First of all," I said. I don't think Michelangelo spent all those years on his back painting that ceiling for free. I'm pretty sure the Vatican or the Medici Family paid him for his time."
Dorothy insisted that Michelangelo worked for free. "Sure," She said. "He might have gotten paid to paint the Mona Lisa, but he volunteered..."
'No," I corrected her. "The Mona Lisa was DaVinci..."
"Oh, Right" she said..."The Da Vinci code." I could tell she now thought me a smart ass, and she was beginning to tire of our conversation.
I then told Dorothy that my new favorite show was "Long Island Medium" and I asked if she was a Medium. "No," she replied, now looking annoyed. "Because you look more like a small." I wanted her to chuckle, but apparently she was still peeved.
"I'm a clairvoyant,” she explained. "I don't see dead people...I see the future."
"Really! What do you see in my future?" I asked.
"I don't know you well enough to see your future. I'd have to know you for at least three months before I could read you." This is what she said, but I got the feeling she was still mad at me for reprimanding her about her iPod.
"Okay then," I said. "Do you know who killed Jon Benet Ramsey?" (The unsolved case of the 6 yr old beauty pageant queen who was killed in Colorado some years back.)
"Sure," she said. "It was a family friend."
"Her parents weren't involved?"
"No. They're both dead now anyway."
I hated to correct her again, but I told her that Jon Benet’s mother had died, but her father was very much alive and had recently gotten remarried.
"Oh, that's right. He married Natalee Holloway's mother." (Wrong again, but I didn't have the heart to correct her.) "I solved that case too,” she said. The sharks got to Natalee long before the police could find her body."
"Then it wasn't the Dutch guy who killed her?"
"Yeah," she said, "It was the Dutch guy, but they'll never find her body on account of the sharks."(I now envision gnawed bones washing up on the shores of Aruba.)
"I also know what happened to Billy, the local guy missing from Naugatuck," she said. "Because...people on the streets talk." That's hardly being clairvoyant, I think. That's just keeping your ears open. I begin to open my mouth but then I think better of it.
As we pulled into Naugatuck Station parking lot, her stop, Dorothy had one last prediction. "I'm sure this one here," now nodding to Miss Diva, "has the Po-Po waiting to arrest me." But she was wrong again. Miss Diva was more than happy to let me handle the unruly passengers on the bus. I guess that's part of the reason we're there.
As the bus pulled away from the station, I think of all the interesting people I'd met that day. The tattooed mother of three who is a dead ringer for soccer star Mia Ham. The nasty school marm type who refuses to give me her ticket before she boards the bus. The divalicious bus driver who, if life hadn't intervened, could have been the next Oprah Winfrey or Wendy Williams. And finally, the petite clairvoyant woman who awaits her great reward in Heaven alongside Michelangelo. None of us knows what the future holds.
Okay...maybe Dorothy does.