I met him outside a government office here in New York, after a long afternoon of dealing with the New York bureaucracy and everything that word entails – standing in line for an extended amount of time with my eleven-month-old daughter, who is determined to explore anything within hands’ reach (and jumping from my arms if it isn’t within hands’ reach), receiving a numbered ticket, sitting down to wait again and then dealing with forms and questions all the while trying to keep her from wrecking the place. It was exhausting and frustrating.
After being in the stuffy room for two hours, I was more than happy to make a quick exit. But thoughts of taking the train home in the freezing cold with an unhappy baby made me call my husband to see if he could pick us up. Thankfully, he was finished at his office and I re-entered the building to wait for my ride.
That’s when I met Bruce.
Bruce was standing in the entryway to the building. He wore a puffy, North Face jacket and a wool beanie. Large glasses were perched on his nose and I estimated that he was in his mid-sixties. He was on the phone, obviously borrowed as the lender was standing next to him, edging his way out the building.
When he hung up, he returned the phone and the lender asked, “Are they coming?” and he responded, “Yes.”
The other man departed and it was just me and Bruce in the entryway. My daughter was playing with my phone in my desperate attempts to keep her calm, when Bruce began looking at her. A little too young to understand that strangers are not friends, my daughter has a habit of flashing winning smiles to anyone who merely looks her way, immediately gaining a passerby’s attention. She is engaging and reactive and has made many friends with her social and outgoing nature.
Bruce and my daughter were soon making each other giggle in the entryway. The other folks coming and going would stop to smile and sigh sweetly.
Then Bruce asked me for my phone.
“I’m waiting for a ride,” he explained in a husky voice, his words slow and measured.
“I have the number to a service that I use. I’ve been waiting since four and my car hasn’t turned up yet.”
There was only the slightest trace of annoyance in his voice. I looked at the time. 5:30 p.m.
“You’ve been waiting since four?”
That sounded a little too long to be waiting for a ride. Was the ride really coming or was it just in Bruce’s head?
“Would you mind if I used your phone to call the service?” Bruce asked me.
“Didn’t you just speak to them?”
“No. I gave the man back his phone because he had to go, but they put me on hold and I don’t know what’s happening.”
Something tugged at my heart. It was freezing outside. It was dark and miserable, a really gloomy winter’s evening. Bruce seemed to be all alone.
“Maybe you can take a taxi?”
“I don’t have money to pay for a taxi.” Bruce said impatiently, as if this was obvious, “I use this service the whole time. See?” he pointed to a number on the slip of paper, “That’s my user number. They brought me here.”
I took the phone from my daughter who protested loudly. Bruce reached out his hand to take it, but I pretended not to see. If I’m going to help him out, at least let me make some boundaries, I thought, rather selfishly.
I leaned over and dialed the number.
“Operator at Super Ride, how can I help you?”
I put the phone on speakerphone and let Bruce do the talking. He spoke very slowly and methodically.
“Hi. This is Bruce Meyers. I’m standing here at 546 8th Avenue since 4:00 p.m. waiting for my ride.”
“Can I have your user number please?”
I was irritated by her casual tone.
As soon as Bruce read out the number, I added, “Excuse me. This man has been waiting here for almost two hours for his ride.”
“I understand that ma’am. Let me see if I can get through to the driver.”
Tinny music started playing. A minute passed. Two minutes passed. As we waited, Bruce told me a confusing tale of being brought to work by the service, finishing work at 4, having to be at a recreation center at 5 and somewhere along the lines missing his gym session and dinner. He ended off with saying something like, “It didn’t even pay for me to be here today.”
While I couldn’t quite figure out his story and adjoining schedule, it was obvious to me that Bruce had plans that had gone awry due to his lengthy wait for his ride. It was also clear to me that the time was now creeping up to six and that Bruce had been waiting two hours for a ten-minute car ride. The thought infuriated me.
“Can anyone inside help you out? The people who work here?”
He waved his hand airily. “No, no they can’t help me.”
We were still on hold. The staff who worked in the building were beginning to trickle out. Thought assailed me of Bruce being stuck here overnight.
I hung up the phone and dialed again. This time, I did not let Bruce do any talking.
“Hi. My name is Blumie. I am standing here with a gentleman named Bruce Meyers who has been waiting two hours for his ride back home. Please do not put me on hold because the other woman did that and nothing happened at all!”
The man on the line answered calmly. “I will have to put you on hold but I will try very hard to make it as quick as possible.”
This time, the driver was contacted and details were ironed out. The ride was apparently fifteen minutes away. Bruce seemed delighted but I was livid.
“Fifteen minutes? Do you know that Bruce has been waiting since 4? That’s two hours! And now you’re still fifteen minutes away? How is that possible?”
I wasn’t even able to hear the explanation. Eventually, the conversation ended and Bruce thanked me very much, just as my husband called to let me know he was a minute away.
When I drove away five minutes later, Bruce was still there, waiting for his ride.
And now, hours later, I still can’t get him out of my head. The placid, languid composure. The innocent patience. An almost infuriating acceptance.
In some ways, I wish I could be more like Bruce. More understanding. Less quick to jump to accuse, to control my sense of fairness, justice and “what I deserve.” I seem to have adopted the mantra of “this is coming to me” and if not, then “this isn’t fair.” Bruce had shown me something that I have yet to learn.
How to relinquish control.
Because honestly, there are so many areas in life that are beyond our control. By assuming that things will go the way we plan, we set ourselves up for disappointment and sometimes for disaster.
Believe me, I’ve been through it as I’m sure many others have.
There is a Master planner and only He knows when your ride will come. Maybe with his life experience being that much richer and expansive than mine, Bruce has come to realize that.
I hope his ride came.Blumie Abend
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