In my late teenage years I was a long distance walker and sometimes a hitchhiker, but mostly a bus rider. I can remember waiting anxiously for the Number 22 on a wintry night and thinking, “Maybe I should become a bus driver when I get old enough. They don’t ever have to wait on snow-capped corners shivering like this. They’re comfortably seated in their overheated vehicles cruising along without a care in the world. Oh rats! Here he comes now, just when I lit my last cigarette, and at 20 cents a pack!”
My bus cruising career began around 1939 when a little kid could travel long distances for a nickel with the driver and passengers keeping a watchful eye on him and reminding him of his stop. Twenty cents would cover a round trip and a movie in the next county. Four deposit bottles would cover that. With only twenty cents you had to avoid the theater’s candy counter. If you caved and spent your last nickel for a Baby Ruth or Milk Duds that could mean a five-mile hike to get home. Bus drivers were not moved by the sad stories of stranded kids, especially with chocolate smeared faces.
In the 1940’s a bus ride to New York City from Bergen County cost about 40 cents and a Times Square movie ticket cost 75 cents which was big money then but you had to consider the live stage show after the movie might be headlined by Frank Sinatra or the Tommy Dorsey band with backup comedians and jugglers.
Some days three or four of us guys would be standing on the corner without enough cash for a Times Square trip but, just for the fun of it, we’d flag the New York bus and when the driver opened the door, we’d ask, “Are you going to New York?”
When he growled “Yeah,” we would break into song. “Give our regards to Broadway. Remember us to Herald Square. Tell all the boys on 42nd Street that we will……” They always slammed the door at that point and we never got to finish our serenade.
Once around 1962 when bus fares had increased but kids under six still rode free, I had to make a short trip with three of my children. I said to Steven, the oldest, “If the bus driver asks how old you are, say five.”
“But I’m six,” he protested, proud he’d reached that milestone.
“Well, don’t say you’re five unless he asks.”
As we boarded Steven promptly announced, “I’m five,” which would probably have been okay, but then four-year old Janis shouted, “I’m five” and Carolyn who was pushing three also told the driver she was five. “And how old are you, Sir?” the driver asked with a smirk. Our return trip was by taxi.