Who: A power-starved BoltBus driver.
When: Sunday, Jan 2, 2011, 9:30 pm.
Where: On the 9:30pm BoltBus, en route from New York City to Philadelphia.
The backdrop: I was waiting with my kid at 34th and Eighth Ave. in Manhattan for the 9:30pm BoltBus to take us home to Philly. Many people waiting with us said they'd been stranded there since at least 8pm, because their 8pm BoltBus to Philly had never arrived.
What happened: When our BoltBus driver, a middle-aged female with what sounded like a Jamaican accent, opened the doors to let us on, the 8pm passengers surged forward and began peppering her with questions.
Did she know what had happened to their 8pm bus? Could they board the 9:30 bus? Could she tell them when they might finally get off the cold, dark street (BoltBus has no terminals in the cities it serves), where they'd been waiting for at least an hour and a half?
Her reaction: Initally, silence. Yeah, silence. She simply ignored these people as she desceneded the bus steps, opened the lower storage area for passenger luggage and, basically, said nothing.
As their questions grew louder - but not violent; trust me, I was there - she ordered everyone to back away from the bus, then said she would start boarding those of us with 9:30 tickets.
So one man yelled, insistently, "But what about the rest of us? What can you tell us about our bus?"
She then hoisted herself up and told him that if he disrespected her any more, she'd leave him on the sidewalk, without a way home. She then lectured all of us on the serious disrespect she was seeing, which she wouldn't tolerate.
Another woman said, "Ma'am, this isn't disrespect. We are cold, tired, hungry and we have no idea when we'll get home to Philly. Do you know anything at all?"
The driver again lectured the crowd on their disrespect and reminded them of her ability to leave them stranded on the street. She said she knew nothing about their plight, had no one to call on their behalf, that it was not her responsibility.
She had all the power, she knew it, and she was flaunting it. Oh, she was contemptible.
What happened then: After boarding the 9:30 passengers, she allowed another 12 passsengers with 8pm tickets to board, to fill the remaining seats. A passenger left behind asked the driver, very politely but with urgency, "Is there some number you can give us to call? The customer serice desk shut down and we don't know what's going on."
"No," she said. "I don't know anything."
"Let me ask you this," the woman persisted, "Let me ask you this: If your bus broke down, who would you call?"
"I'd call the mechanic," the woman retorted.
"Can I please have his number?" the woman asked.
"There are no more seats on this bus," the driver answered - an exquisite non-sequitor.
And then we pulled away, leaving those poor people to wonder how the hell they were going to get back to Philly.
On the bus: The driver used her NexTel walkie-talkie to talk to someone at Bolt Bus about what had just happened. She spoke as loudly as if she were in her own living room. She trashed the stranded passengers, said they had cussed her out - there was no cussing; trust me, I was there - and then said she allowed "the humble ones" to board her bus.
She really said that - the "humble ones."
She asked the man on the other end of the line whether there was room on the 10:15 bus to take the stranded passengers to Philly. He said, "I have a full bus. They're not my problem."
"Not mine either," she said. She then went on a rant about how she won't be disrespected "even if I lose my job."
The follow-up: She might lose her job. I reported the incident to the very courteous head of customer service for Bolt Bus, who was appalled at the story and promised to interview the driver, her supervisor and the dispatcher.
(He told me the driver's name, which I'll withhold for now.)
He said the driver absolutely had a phone number she could have called, that she absolutely knew that she could share that number with the stranded passengers, that her behavior - if it was as I alleged - was unacceptable.
He added that the woman belongs to a union so, contractually, there are prescribed disciplinary measures that must be followed when an incident like this is reported.
He also said that, other than my call, he hadn't heard from other passengers about this incident. He wasn't disputing my account, but he was surprised that no one else had called, given how BoltBus passengers are a straightforward populace.
What will help: If you were one of those stranded riders, or know someone who was, contact me and I'll foward your name to BoltBus, so the very nice manager will have further vaidation of what happened that night.
As I told the man, it would have been bad enough if the driver had been merely disinterested in what happened to those poor, marooned people. What I can't get over was her active hostility for riders in trouble.
When it comes to deplorable customer service, it was a new low.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 215-854-2217. Or post something here, and we'll get this figured out.