Two Wheeler 1969 by Stuart Terman


Dr. Stuart Terman


Still over thirty yards to go.


That late December day, orographic snow arriving and my classes just ending. I slushed my way forward with a load of the heaviest books the University bookstore sold, the temperature dropping towards the 15-degree mark and the bus was beginning to pull away. I waved at the 32-B to wait, but wasn’t too hopeful since he’d just left the stop behind and would soon be past me, roaring up Cedar Hill. Surprisingly however, the bus, although full of the rush hour standing-room crowd, rolled to a stop in front of me.


The door opened and I looked up at a young-looking ‘kid’—the driver. He nodded to me, closed the door as I put money in the box, and we continued up Cedar towards my home.


I thanked him, asked him—as much to express my thanks—how long had he been driving. He explained that he was recently out of the service, back from Vietnam, and was “driving just long enough to get money to go back to college with the GI bill”. Although young looking, he was indeed no kid.


I paused for a moment, thinking of the increased tuition bill at Case Western Reserve and my savings running out. “How much do they pay—how do you apply?” I wasn’t initially thinking of myself, although began to as he told me to go down to E 9th St., take the civil service test, and apply for a job. “They’re hiring.”


Forward several months; I hitched a ride to the E. 9th St. Cleveland Transit System headquarters, passed the civil service test, adjusted my university schedule to finish classes, started to drive buses and began earning enough to pay for my tuition, allowing me to stay in school while commuting from home.


The bus company seemed happy to take me on as a driver, apparently not concerned that the largest vehicle I’d ever driven was mother’s nine-year old ‘88’. They expressed confidence in my ability based on my high civil service score, and I did my best to prove their evaluation correct. The study habits I’d developed in Dr. Steinberg’s genetics class were paying off in unexpected ways.


The routes went from the East Cleveland Hayden station, through the east side of Cleveland past Bratenahl towards Lake County, and around $3.50 an hour my tuition concerns were fading in the rear-view mirror of time, along with the cars I’d pass when driving the number three down Superior Avenue.


Friday in August and I was assigned to route #41, my favorite, since it ran from East Cleveland, up Noble and Warrensville Center Rd, past Wyncote Road, my street, where I’d stop at the light and look, perhaps to see one of my friends or brothers. The route continued south through Shaker and Warrensville Hts. to the Randall track turn around, where I’d put the bus in park for several minutes, say goodbye to the betting people, then drive back.


The #2102 was my assigned bus that day, one of the newer buses with a speedometer that worked, although the training instructor specifically told us to “just keep up with the traffic and watch the speed limit signs.” He was a WW II veteran, an encyclopedia of bus-driving knowledge, and although many buses didn’t have working speedometers back then, few if any drivers got speeding tickets when following this advice.


Southbound on Warrensville Ctr., with the Pure gasoline station and Wyncote Road just ahead at the light I leaned back and looked east, and to my surprise saw one of my elderly—very elderly—paper route customers from 9 or 10 years previous, pulling her two-wheeled shopping cart in my direction though at least four or five houses from the light—waving at me to wait.


I recalled her small brown bungalow as the one with a sheltering porch, where I’d be protected from 6 am cold November rain or winter snows as I delivered the 1959 news whenI was eleven years old. A widow, her accent that of the eastern Europe of her youth, I’d never seen anyone else at her house although I delivered her paper for several years. The light changed and I thought—the schedule or Mrs. G?


Dear reader, what would you have done…?


I put the bus in park; certainly an extra wait of three or four minutes, opened the door and walked down the steps to the front of the bus—the well-maintained engine confidently idling, and the tight schedule put in park as well for the time being.


I waved at Mrs.G., motioning her to step on it—or at least walk as fast as she could while pulling the two-wheel cart, her tool of independent living, along. She looked at me and continued, waving and waving to encourage me to continue to stay put. “Please stop waving”; I thought that she was wasting valuable energy, with the bortching (grumbling) of the passengers through the windows becoming louder, not hostile but not terribly friendly, although the people noticing the elderly person coming towards the bus understood why the wait by the considerate driver.


As I assisted her and her metal cart up the several steps she looked me in the eye, recognition; “Oy, the paper boy!” Her memory remarkably sharp, her English understandable, and I smiled my acknowledgement.


The trip continued, and I soon dropped her off by the Cedar-Warrensville shopping area and helped her and her cart off the bus. She smiled at me and blessed ‘ A lebnoyf dayn kop’ (‘a long life upon your head’). ‘Zay gezunt’, (‘be well/strong’) my response, knowing that she spoke the same language as my own grandmother. She nodded, grateful that I understood, and walked slowly, carefully, with a limp I was noticing, away from the bus, pulling her metal cart along.


I waited until she safely crossed the street with the other pre-Sabbath shoppers, some with their own carts, before continuing on my way.


The next August before I left home to begin medical school in a far-off city, I drove down Wyncote Road and saw her small home, the one with the sheltering porch, was now vacant and up for sale.


Her blessing, my suitcase, and a few books accompanied me, as I hugged mother goodbye at 5 a.m. a few days later.