It was now 1:05, and still no sign of the Flex bus to Orleans. I stood in front of the Eastham Superette talking with the man in the electric wheelchair, onto which he seemed to have packed and tied all his worldly possessions.
His black service dog stood quietly by his side. He seemed remarkably chatty and forthcoming, though he never offered his name – nor, for that matter, did I offer mine.
“Jeez,” he said, “I could have gone into the Superette and gotten me a sandwich – I haven’t yet found a better sandwich on the Cape than the ones they make here. Of course,” he chuckled,” if I go in, the bus’ll show up, right?”
“How long have you had your dog,” I asked.
He smiled. “Three years. Got her as a puppy only four weeks old. Trained her myself. She’s a bona fide service dog – got all the papers to prove it. She loves the beach. I had her down there last night, she ran and ran for at least a half hour.
1:10 and still no bus. “Is it usually on time? I asked.
“Usually,” he said. Here, hold on a minute. He reach into his jacket pocket, pulled his Flex card out of his wallet and dialed the 800 – number on it.
“Hi” he said. “We’re in Eastham wondering where the 1 o’clock bus to Orleans is.”
At that same moment the bus came into view. It was empty except for the driver. As the bus pulled to a stop, I wondered how the man would get aboard. The doorstep lowered, but it was still six inches or more off the street, and almost two feet from the sidewalk. Then a steel ramp flipped up from the bus floor, arced through the door opening and was carefully lowered down to the sidewalk. With practiced ease my friend wheeled himself aboard, followed by his dog. Once they were inside, the driver attached the wheelchair to the side of the bus with a system of straps and buckles.
“Wow – they’re really equipped for you,” I said. “I’m impressed.”
He didn’t say anything, but looked at me with what seemed like a patronizing air.
As we rode to Orleans he called his case worker again and good-naturedly needled her about arranging to meet him in South Yarmouth. We didn’t talk much more during the ride, but - knowing very little about him other than what I could see and what he chose to tell me - I was struck by how engaged he was with the world and how well, despite his handicap, he negotiated it. If I were similarly burdened by life, I’m afraid I’d just be tempted to hide from it. I also realized just how integral to his world this local public transport system was. Never again would I see those nearly-empty winter Flex buses with the same eyes.
We pulled into the Orleans Stop n’ Shop parking lot and I got up to leave, offering him the uneaten half of my sandwich, which he graciously accepted. As the bus pulled away, I thought, how different an encounter this was from those I usually have on the Cape’s dunes and beaches, but also, that it was equally important to have such encounters as well.