The Lone Ranger Rides Again

by Penrod

A traveller stepped on board the bus.

“I wonder who’s in church this morning?” he thought as he paid his fare. He looked around. There were only a few souls on board. He found a seat, pulled out The Moviegoer, and began reading.

Binx, the hero, was wrestling with auto malaise. Hoping to avoid malaise he and his secretary, Sharon, were rushing to the Gulf coast in his MG. (The traveller groaned inwardly as he read. He himself had to deal with bus malaise). Fortunately for Binx, Sharon doesn’t have malaise. She is excited. She is purring as they flash along the road, her knees up, riding in the neatest little car she has ever been in, on a date with her boss, heading for a swim in the ocean! She can hardly believe herself. She saves Binx from the malaise for the moment.

Then, as Binx, wrestling with yet another attack of the malaise, asked Sharon about her roommate whom he had spied through their apartment window while he was waiting in his car for his date, two gentlemen boarded the bus. The reader was aroused by the words “It’s 75 cents. No, I can’t let you ride if you don’t have it. I’m not going to do that.” Our traveller could think of no argument that could prevail against the driver’s position. The fare was the fare and that was fair.

He swung up out of his seat and moved quickly to the front of the bus. “How much do you need?” he asked politely.

“They each need 50 cents and I’m not going to do it.”

“That’s OK. I think I’ve got it,” he said. He dug into his pocket and pulled out his change. Maybe he didn’t have it. There was only one quarter and a few dimes, nickels, and pennies. Was it enough? He looked at the coins again. Yes. He gave a quart er, two dimes, and a nickel to the man on his left and counted out dimes, nickels, and pennies for the shorter man on the right. He gave it to him in two installments. The Indian gentleman took it so quickly that the traveller thought for a moment the man was a dime short. If he was, it didn’t matter. The bus driver wasn ‘t counting; he was defending his policy.

One man, the taller, stopped arguing with the bus driver and thanked the white man for the assistance. Both new arrivals to the congregation took their places in the seat where the reader had been sitting . He sat down in the seat behind them.

“Why does someone do something like that?” the taller one asked the traveller.

“Yeah,” chimed in the other.

“Oh, he’s right,” said the traveller. “It’s no problem.“

The way he said it cooled the others down . “Yeah. He’s got a point,” said the taller, smoother one.

“I can see the point,” said the other.

The subject faded.

The traveller was concerned about the bus driver. He didn’t want him to think that he, the traveller, thought that he, the bus driver, was in the wrong or that he had joined league with these brethren to slander him. To the contrary, our traveller admired the bus driver. He was only too glad to have had the chance to come up with the solution to this delicate problem. “I could thank the driver for the ride on the way out,” he thought.

“So. You saved the day for us,” said the taller one, with the good looking mustache and pleasing presence. “Who are you? The Lone Ranger?”

All three men laughed.

“Then we’re your mascots,” said the sharp one. “We’re your Indian companions.”

They each laughed again.

“Some days things just start out bad. You get up and something hits you right off the bat,” said the mustached gentleman turning to look at the traveller behind him.

He said it without rancor. His companion nodded assent. “At least you know it can’t get any worse,” joked the traveller.

“Oh, I don’t know,” returned the other. He said it with a smile.

They looked one another in the eye. The traveller understood. There might be a lot worse for these brothers before the day was out. They both laughed.

The freshly dubbed Lone Ranger sat back and his travelling companions began talking to each other. He looked for his book. What had he done with it? He went through his back pack. There was his Kierkegaard, his A Precious Heritage—a history of the Northwest Missionary Association by Phil Anderson containing observations on the ministry of Alrick Olson among the Indians along the Canadian border, Narthex—the most recent issue discussing ethnicity in the Covenant Church, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe—only a few pages of which he had read, some legal pads, bills, other stuff, but no Walker Percy, The Moviegoer.

What should he do? He looked in his pockets. No book. He looked around his seat. No book. “Is there a book somewhere in that seat?” he asked.

His new friends wanted to help Kemo Sabe. They looked, but to no avail. Had he been sitting one seat in front of them before the offering was taken? Had he set the book down on the longitudinal seat in the front while he had counted out the change? Likely, he thought. He considered stepping up to look for it, but he didn’t want to disturb the situation.

For one thing, a member of the congregation whom he had met while getting off the bus the day before had come on board and taken the seat in front of his new companions. For another, he didn’t want to go the front without saying a good word to the bus driver and he didn’t want to do that lest he suggest some sort of alliance with the bus driver, against his Indian companions. For yet another, the bus was getting crowded and he might lose his seat. Oh well, he would check for it when he got off.

The mustached one got up, went to the front, and requested transfers. The subject of fares flared up for a moment, but the transfers were granted and he returned to his seat. Ranger was hoping his Indian companion might spot the book. Had Ranger realized quickly enough what his fellow traveller was doing, he would have asked him to check for the book. If the book was there, it did not catch Tonto’s attention.

“Oh, well,” thought the traveller, “somebody may find it and read it. Percy thinks the only way you can read anything is when it blows up out of the back seat anyway.”

Ranger was faced with another problem. He had planned to leave the congregation in front of the Library. Now he was reluctant to do so. He couldn’t duck out the rear door as he usually did, because he needed to make a pass through the front of the bus to check for his book. He didn’t want to do that at the Library stop because that would mean missing the chance to get off with and speak with the congregant he had met yesterday. On that trip, this congregant had immediately volunteered to make change when a young black man boarded the bus and said, “Anyone got change for a dollar?”

When the change-maker got off at the same stop, Ranger had engaged him in conversation. The city had been surprised by an April Fool’s Day snowfall. As they trudged through the snow, Ranger learned that the man was an actor from Reston, Virginia. Ranger had read about Reston, the community that had been very carefully planned and built in the 60s or early 70s, as he remembered.

“Is Reston nice?” he had asked.

“Yes, it is rather handsome,” the actor had replied.

Ranger’s thoughts were interrupted. One of his companions was speaking.

“I need a drink,” said the shorter man turning toward Ranger. “I’m sick and I haven’t got any money.”

“You’re sick?” asked Ranger. He didn’t say anything else. He was thinking, looking at his companion. Should he tell him about St. Joe’s Hospital? They were only a few blocks away from it. The Dorothy Day Center? They were even closer to that.

The mustached gentleman was watching Ranger closely. “If you’re sick, you should go to the hospital,” he said smoothly.

“That’s true,” responded Ranger.

His two companions turned back to one another. Ranger thought he heard Mustache say something to his troubled friend like, “I guess he’s not a soft touch.”

The Lone Ranger rode on past the Library. Should he try to exit on 4th and St. Peter? It wasn’t a stop, but some drivers would let people off there. No, he still had to make a pass through to the front. He pulled the cord for the next designated stop, stood up, and exchanged parting well-wishes with his friends. It was a pleasant exchange. He headed to the front of the bus. Sure enough. There it was. The blue bordered paperback—The Moviegoer. He picked it up and looked back to his friends showing them the recovered book. He was surprised to notice that his communicant of the previous day was still in his seat. He had expected him to get off at this stop as he had yesterday.

Outside the bus he looked up. There were his two Indian companions sitting behind the actor. All three were smiling and waving good-bye. He waved the book at them. Neither party knew each other, but he knew both.

He had escaped bus malaise, he had recovered The Moviegoer, and he was ready for work.