When Happy Means Scary

On Wednesday afternoon, I had the odd experience of riding a bus helmed by the world’s most impossibly happy bus driver.

“Hello, howdy-do, how are ya? Come on board! Glad afternoon to ya, and welcome aboard RTD!” It was entirely too long of a salutation, and the whole thing was directed toward me personally. My first inclination was to turn around and march right back into Market Street Station where the panhandlers suddenly seemed a little less intimidating. It’s one thing for a crazy person to ask for spare change and entirely another for him to drive a bus on which I am a passenger. Normal people are just not that cheery, period.

I resisted the urge to panic and took a seat to further assess the driver. Despite the long greeting, he hadn’t offered his name and I wasn’t about to ask. I decided that he looked like a Roger. Roger was either driving a bus for the first time or having some serious issues from being denied the opportunity to be an airline pilot. This became evident when he started speaking over the bus’s loudspeaker. Other drivers — normal drivers — use the loudspeaker as little as possible, announcing the next stop in a voice muffled enough to be completely unintelligible. But not Roger.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” he boomed. What is this, I wondered, the Ringling Brothers? “This is the L bus, which stands for Longmont. We’ll be departing Market Street Station at 6:15 and making a quick stop at Union Street Station.” I experienced a moment of confusion. Why was Roger telling me this? Would I be expected to help steer the bus? “After that, our next stop will be Westminster. Then, it’s off to Broomfield, then Niwot, and we finally arrive in the lovely town of Longmont.” Roger was clearly one of those little boys who liked to play Cruise Ship Entertainment Host instead of kickball when he was a little boy.

Something about Roger brought to my mind the conductor of the train ride at the Denver Zoo. You know the guy — the one who wears the traditional oil-stained train conductor’s uniform, has gray hair and a big gray mustache, and has been driving the train in a circular course for decades. That guy’s another weirdo, but at least his vehicle is a miniature train, so it kind of makes sense. The fact that Roger was driving a large bus on a public highway was much more troubling.

When the bus entered the highway, I learned that Roger likes to speak to other cars while he drives. It’s one thing to do this in your personal car while stuck in rush hour, but quite another when there’s an audience of 40 or 50 passengers. And he wasn’t muttering about their poor driving habits; he was speculating where they were going and what they were doing that evening. I had now confirmed in my mind that Roger was clearly delusional, but it was now too late to do anything about it.

As Roger pulled the bus into the Westminster Park-N-Ride, he again reached for his microphone. “Okey-dokey, folks, this is the Westminster Park-N-Ride. Please make sure you grab your cell phones, iPods, laptops, backpacks, purses, or any other items you carried aboard. Be sure to watch your step, and thanks for choosing RTD, thus helping the world’s oil situation.” Nice, a little political-slash-environmental commentary thrown in for good measure. Ironically enough, no one boarded or departed the bus.

Mine was the following stop. I thought that surely Roger wouldn’t repeat his little speech at every stop, but I was clearly mistaken. Despite the fact that we all had obviously heard him the first time, Roger repeated his departure message almost verbatim. I was the only person leaving the bus. “Okay, now, you have yourself a great night. Come back and see us again real soon,” Roger instructed me in the tone used by waitresses at chicken restaurants. I exited, glad to be leaving the bus and equally glad that Roger’s driving wasn’t as spooky as his demeanor.

I allowed myself to wonder, as I walked home from the bus stop, if I have become so cynical that I can’t simply appreciate an overly-friendly person. I think it all comes down to the role the person is expected to play. I don’t mind when passengers on the bus are perky and chipper like Roger, nor do I mind when flight attendants or tour guides employ this type of attentive friendliness.

But driving is serious business, especially driving a bus. I want my driver to be quiet, alert, and focused on the task at hand, which is getting me safely and on time from one place to another. He can be surly, he can ignore me, and he can give me a dirty look as long as he knows how to safely operate a bus. But being happy-go-lucky and carefree just makes me suspect he’s too casual about his driving habits.

And on a day like today, when a bus tips over and shuts down northbound Highway 36, this is reaffirmed in my mind to the point of absolute certainty.

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