I seldom ride the Flex bus, which, for those of you not familiar with it, is that part of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority that serves passengers from Harwich to Provincetown. Despite being a strong believer in public mass transport, I have tended to view the Flex bus more as a well-intentioned gesture rather than something that fulfills a real need.
Oh, I know, in the summer the Flex bus does a brisk business, mostly transporting seasonal workers who don’t have cars to their jobs, or giving bicyclists and their bikes a cheap ride to a desired location. But in the winter it always seemed kind of sad, if not a waste of taxpayers’ money, to see these virtually empty coaches plying the dark roads of the Outer Cape.
This is part one of a two-part essay. Part two airs next week.
But earlier this winter I had an encounter that changed my mind about how such public transport systems can affect people’s lives. One afternoon I found myself standing in front of the Eastham Superette on Route 6, waiting to catch the 1:00 Flex Bus back to Orleans, where I had left my car. I had bought a sandwich in the store and stood at the bus stop eating it. For several minutes I was the only person there, nor did I expect anyone else. Then I noticed a figure coming toward me. It was a man in a motorized wheelchair laboriously making his way towards me across the parking lot. It was hard to take it all in at once, but it looked as if he had all his worldly possessions packed and tied onto the chair. In addition he was carrying a folded walker in one hand and holding the leash of his black service dog in the other. When he reached me I could see he was a man in his late 40s or early 50s, with curly, unruly hair and a scraggly beard. He tried to roll his chair up the berm from the parking lot, but each time it rolled back.
“My chair’s broken,” he said. “If I try to roll up this slope, I’ll flip backwards ass over teakettle.”
I offered to brace the back of his chair and together we got it and him up onto the sidewalk.
We started talking, and I found him very affable and forthcoming.
“I grew up in Eastham,” he said, “just a few blocks from here.” He grinned and said, “Yeah, I used to be big into muscle cars then – Now” – he patted his wheelchair – “I’m into muscle chairs.”
“Do you live here now? “ I asked.
“Naw – I live in South Yarmouth. My mother has a mailbox at the post office here. I use it to get my mail.”
I thought, You take a bus from South Yarmouth to Eastham just to get your mail? But I didn’t say anything. In these chance encounters I’ve found it best to take whatever is offered without questioning it.
“I could go live with my uncle in Indiana,” he offered, “but I hate Indiana. Still, I might do that.”
While we waited for the bus he pulled out his cellphone and dialed what he called his “core walker” – that is, his case worker. He good-naturedly chewed her out for not finding out how he could get cheap transportation to Hagerstown, Indiana, which is where his uncle lives. When he got off the phone, he grinned broadly and said, “I love raggin’ her, but she’s a good person.”
It was now 1:05 and no sign of the bus. We waited.
Part two of this essay will air Tuesday, February 6, 2018.