Bus Ride

Ian Frazier

“A master of both distilled insight and utter nonsense” (The Believer), Ian Frazier is one of the most gifted chroniclers of contemporary America. Hogs Wild assembles a decade’s worth of his finest essays and reportage, and demonstrates the irrepressible passions and artful digressions that distinguish his enduring body of work. Frazier’s new book unearths the joys of inquiry without agenda, curiosity without calculation. We’re pleased to share “Bus Ride,” which originally was published in The New Yorker.

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The most dangerous bus route in the city, the B46, crosses a large section of Brooklyn from north to south. It starts near the Marcy Avenue el stop for the J, M, and Z subway trains, in Williamsburg, and ends at the Kings Plaza mall, in Flatlands, about eight miles distant. Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and East Flatbush are along its way. The B46 bus goes down Broadway under the el tracks, turns onto Malcolm X Boulevard, makes a quick jog right at Fulton Street, and then follows Utica Avenue for miles; a short stretch of Flatbush Avenue brings it to the Sears entrance of the mall, where it turns around. In the past year, forty-one incidents involving assaults on drivers or harassment of them have occurred on the B46—far more than on any other route, according to the MTA. On February 26, two police officers attempted to arrest a B46 fare beater, who then ran away and shot at them with a .45-caliber pistol as they pursued. Officer James Li, a rookie who joined the force last December, was hit in both legs but survived. The B46 was known as a dangerous bus long before that shooting. In 2008, a fare beater on a B46 stabbed a driver to death.

If you get on at the route’s southern terminus, by the mall, you’re almost at Jamaica Bay. Mill Basin, an arm of the bay, comes up to the mall’s back entrance. Hurricane detritus straggles along the chain-link fence, a sea breeze blows, clouds drift above. To ride the B46 north on Utica Avenue is to feel the city accumulate and intensify on both sides. “Bus operators are protected by New York State law. Assaulting a bus operator is a felony,” a recorded voice says. The B46 passes EZ Pawn Corp., Baby Genius Day Care Center, Miracle Temple Church of God, Cameo Auto Body, Victory Tabernacle of Praise, Tree Stump Barber Shop, Beulah Church of God Seventh Day, Inc., the Lingerie Zone, Sinister Ink Tattoo & Piercing, Brooklyn for Jesus 7th Day Adventist, Rag Top Lounge, Holy Order of Cherubim and Seraphim Movement Church, Grace Church of the First-born, Bobby’s Dept. Store, Sneaker King, Saint Jude Religious Items, Tropical Breeze Car Wash, First United Church of Jesus Christ Apostolic, Inc., Yahya Hardware & Dis- count Store, Plain Truth Temple of Praise, Sunny Corner Restaurant, King Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church, 3-Star Juice Lounge, Eglise de Dieu, Asian Yummy House, Byways and Hedges Youth for Christ Ministry, Pawn Rite, and New Hope Healing Series (Space Available for Worship).

On a recent morning’s run, nothing bad happened on the B46 at all. The driver lowered the bus so that a lady with a cane could step down, and she said, “God bless you.” Another lady dropped a dollar bill on the floor and profusely thanked the man who pointed it out to her. Most people focused on their phones. Nobody boarded without paying. When the bus reached the end of the route and sat idling, the last passenger to get out stopped to talk to the driver, Carolyn Daley, a young-looking woman with long wavy hair and delicate hands. “Yes, I know this is a dangerous route, depending on the time of day or night,” Daley said. “Anytime after five or six o’clock can be bad. Today, I hope I finish before three, when the kids get out of school. But every trip is different. Some trips, you’re, like, ‘Lord, help me!’ All kinds of people think they should be able to ride for free—it’s not just the kids. Adults, elderly people with walkers and wheelchairs. They say they don’t have the fare—hey, everybody goes through times like that. But then you let them on and some of them will become nasty to you anyway!

“I’ve never been assaulted, but I was threatened not too long ago,” Daley said. “I’m not going to lie to you, it shook me up. The man had his hand in his pocket, and I don’t know what he had in there. But I took it as an isolated incident. I keep getting back in this seat. Many trips are enjoyable. The B46 can be more relaxing than the other route I drive, the B41, because the B41 goes on Flatbush Avenue most of the way, and Flatbush has more traffic. And I sympathize with the passengers more than they know. I live in East New York, and I take the B46 to work myself.”

MTA policy is that drivers not get into confrontations with fare evaders. The drivers just push a button on the dash to record that a passenger did not pay. Edwin Thomas, the B46 driver who was killed, began to argue with the fare beater only when the man, as he was getting off, demanded a transfer.

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Ian Frazier is the author of Great Plains, The Fish’s Eye, On the Rez, Family, and Travels in Siberia, as well as Coyote v. Acme and Lamentations of the Father. A frequent contributor to The New Yorker, he lives in Montclair, New Jersey.


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