Out of Reach

I have to get to Sirius Radio in Manhattan to do an interview for the Martha Stewart Channel. For me, the best way to travel to Midtown is by bus. It’s not a good idea to go on the air stressed out after slaloming through insane New York traffic. In my opinion, New Yorkers are among the nation’s worst drivers. Its not that they don’t know how to drive. Its just that they ignore the rules of the road. I once saw a guy do a u-turn on Broadway to snag a parking spot. The fact that an ambulance was careening down the street didn’t seem to faze him. The last place you want to have a heart attack is in Manhattan.

Since the weather’s suddenly turned cool, I put on a black pullover to complement my jeans and black shoes, grab my keys and start walking to the bus stop. As I round the corner my pulse quickens – the bus is early. So I break into a run and cover the two blocks to the stop in record time. As the passengers are piling onto the bus I catch my breath and fumble for fare money. As I’m doing so I see a pair of glasses sitting on top of a newspaper. Next to it is a saran wrapped bundle of chocolate chip cookies.

“Someone forgot their stuff,” I say to a passenger climbing onto the bus.

“Those were here when I got here,” he says. “Can you believe someone forgot that kind of stuff?”

The glasses are styled for a man and look prescription and expensive. The cookies look homemade. But there’s no time to do anything about it. I have to get to the studio on time. I leave the lonely looking belongings behind and get on the bus. But as I settle down in my seat I can’t help but wonder, why did this person leave those things behind? What’s the story here?

My first thought is that the man was probably talking on his cell phone or playing with a computer whatsis and just plain forgot. I read somewhere that all the texting, web surfing and smart phoning we do is wrecking our attention spans. We’ve offloaded our long-term memories onto data servers and our mind just can’t keep up with the megabytes of information we get bombed with everyday. No wonder thousands of motorists are injured or killed every year because they’re jabbering into their latest and greatest cell phones.

Or did the man forget his belongings because he was suffering from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that life throws at all of us? Maybe his kid is failing in school, his mom’s sick or he got bad news from the doctor. Maybe his retirement portfolio is tanking or he’s living in a house worth less than he paid for it. In these tough economic times he could be worried about losing his job. Or maybe the man doesn’t have a job. He could be one of those unemployed guys who hides the fact he got laid off by going though the pantomime of a daily commute. I’ve met a few guys like that. They go into the city and set up an office in Starbucks. Maybe my unknown man can ill afford to lose those spectacles.

But what about the man’s cookies? Maybe he does have a job and there’s a party at his office; for someone’s birthday or to congratulate the birth of a child. I can only think that his wife whipped up the chocolate chips as his contribution. Why not just buy something? Maybe the couple is watching their dollars and cents. But then again, nothing says love like homemade baked goods. I hope the man’s fellow cubicle dwellers are worth the effort. Then again, they might be angling for his job, smiling and smiling at him in the hallway, but still villains.

But I’m putting my money on a broken heart. This guy could have been dumped or is facing a nasty divorce. A couple of years ago I ended a relationship with a girl and it fucked my short-term memory for months. I lost my keys, misplaced my wallet, forgot appointments and what day of the week it was. I even left my iPhone in a restaurant. I thought I was going crazy. My memory eventually returned, but I know I could’ve done what Bus Stop Guy just did. Loneliness maims the mind and soul.

As my bus rattles down the street, I look to see if anyone’s running back to the bus stop, praying his stuff will still be there. I hope so. People will steal anything. My neighbor has the ski rack ripped off his car roof in the middle of the night. But even if he retrieves his stuff, if the guy has a job, he’ll be late for work. Maybe that’ll be the straw the breaks the camel’s back and his boss will shit can him in favor of a kid who’ll work longer hours for less money. A deep dark pit may be opening up my forgetful man’s stomach right now. We live in uncertain times and everyone is feeling the heat.

My bus plows though the Lincoln Tunnel and we pull into the Port Authority Terminal. When we come to a stop, several people leap out of their seats and rush to the exit, cutting several people off. That burns my onion. One guy, a business looking type, unwittingly clocks an old lady with his briefcase. I leap out of my seat and, just before he can smack her again, grab his bag. That earns me a pissed off look. But the guy doesn’t say anything. Maybe’s he’s just preoccupied too.

Just before I get off the bus I check my pockets. Yep, all my stuff’s still there. I take the escalator down, head over to the Eighth Avenue exit and hop into a cab. As I watch the people outside my scratched window flow by, I wonder how many of them are present in the here and now. Am I? Sometimes we get so wrapped up inside our heads that the little things that make life worth living pass us by. And there’s no data server or gadget to help us with that.

I go up to the studio, slip on my headphones and the engineer does a sound check. I’m on in a minute. But just before the host gives me my cue, I think about that man’s glasses and cookies. It makes me sad. I’ll never know what happened or what Bus Stop Guy’s about. It will be forever out of my reach. And that’s what drives me crazy sometimes. I passed a thousand people on the ride over here and I’ll never know what makes them tick. It makes me feel small.

The light goes on and I start talking into the mike. Hundreds of thousands of people have read and heard my story over the years. But now the only story that concerns me is the one I will never know.

23 thoughts on “Out of Reach”

  1. cloudia says:

    This vignette is a perfect example of why your interest in people translates into scenes that are not only delightful to read, but somehow containing some deeper substance.

    Warm Aloha from Waikiki;

    Comfort Spiral




  2. Zayrina says:

    Maybe the cookies were baked by someone who bakes really horrible cookies and he left them on purpose. The glasses were to add plausible dependability.

  3. Mia says:

    I just bought your new book. Looks really good. Loved the other one.

  4. det-res says:

    So beautifully written. It is amazing that after all these years, you still capture human behavior with such precision and beauty. Enjoyed reading this piece, just like every other.

  5. Janet says:

    I haven’t commented in years…and I’ve been a regular reader for 5+ years…..I loved this post!!! So many incidences happen to us all during the courses of our days. Do we take note, pause to wonder, or assess the situation at hand? Wake up, people!! So nice to know that you eyes are open, Waiter.

  6. salo hes says:

    we are indeed so wrappped up with ourselves that we missed to enjoy the little great things. always a delight reading your post. thank you Waiter

  7. Waiterrant Fan says:

    I used to catch the same train to and from work every day.
    They were a few ‘regulars’ that I would see often and I gave them nicknames in my head.
    I too wondered about their lives outside the very small world we inhabited together – the few minutes on the platform, on the train and then off to work – what they did for work, what types of lives they led, what and – more importantly who – was important to them.
    Then I stopped catching the train and I suppose I will never know.
    Those strange brief moments when our lives intersect with random others – then split into a million different possibilities – a whole realm is captured in a single moment in time.
    Whoa – that sounds a little out there (I’ll blame Source Code) but I know Steve, a kindred spirit, will get it.

  8. Mariella says:

    Boston drivers are worse than NY drivers.

  9. Bob Dobbs says:

    Sometimes living in a big city is like reading the middle of a short story you’ll never see the beginning or end of… hundreds of times a day.

    You can’t help wondering how it all ends, but you’ll never know.

  10. mike white says:

    great post. but i have to ask a thing to the readers. what is up with the lengthy comments, some of them are as long as the story itself. reality check, nobody want to hear read your comment story. give a witty one liner or a word of praise or something. if you really need to tell a story in the comment, then create a blog and provide a link here. selfcentered douche bags!

  11. Waiterrant Fan says:

    Mike White = wanker.
    How’s that?

  12. joe says:

    Yes, so many unknown endings

  13. A Man in Kansas says:

    Hmm. Sounds like one of the lesser-known failures in the NYPD’s entrapment program.

  14. jose says:

    there is a Red headed UPS delivery Girl, that walks outside the patio every day as I am setting it up, we have never spoke to each other but we have develop the polite relationship of nodding heads an quick smiles from people that see each other every day, last Friday she nodded but she wasn’t smiling, now I wonder why?

  15. Joe Svankanski says:

    Steve, you bring a sense of humanity into our lives through you writings. Even the drivers in NYC would mellow if they saw the lives of others through your eyes, or by reading your blog and books. Your blog made my day. Namaste

  16. tina ganguly says:

    elegant writing. human behavior is a treasure-trove of stories, intricately woven!

  17. Rachel says:

    The cloud, waiter. The man left his cookies and glasses for the cloud…where all our data servers live these days. Things like food are passe when we are so all consumed with our gadgets that are sucking the cloud like 2 year olds on a mango lassi straw. Next up is a cloud-based restaurant where servers are beamed down just for the very few seconds of essentials, like that little gigodealeo we had on the original Star Trek. I bet food in their fantasy world sucked. Gene R obviously wasn’t much of a foodie. Lovely, lovely post, as always. -rachel

  18. sowmya says:

    This information includes lot of information regarding the people who are careless in driving and the problems faced by that.
    Post your funniest Drunk stories

  19. Beck says:


  20. Heather says:

    Beautiful man. I mean wow. That last sentence..I wouldn’t come up with that. You have a gift. Brings a tear. You are amazing!

  21. willy says:

    Sorry, but Bangkok is the absolute worst mega city in which to have a heart attack!

  22. Myron Rollinger says:

    There is certainly only 1 boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody within the company in the chairman on down, by just spending his money someplace else.
    I purchase playing golf as a living. What else could you obtain – getting paid for doing that which you love.

  23. ねごいご says:

    An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me dinner because I discovered it for him lol. So let me reword this. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this topic here on your blog.

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