Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to lose your mom in Chicago

My mom visits me in Chicago about twice a year. Somehow, the most amusing transportation stories seem to arise from her visits. (Maybe it’s more our attitude about these mishaps that makes them funny, rather than the situations themselves.) So it was that this past Thursday night was no exception, as I lost my mom on the bus ride home from dinner…

We’d stuffed ourselves at the Cheesecake Factory after what had been, for me, an excruciatingly long day at work. It was about ten o’clock when we finished our meal and grabbed the 145 bus headed uptown. Because I was dragging my mom’s luggage with me, I headed for the back set of doors where I could stand with her suitcase without blocking up the aisle. I expected Mom to follow me, but instead she stopped in the middle of the bus where she decided to stand (still not sure exactly why—there was no one else standing, other seats open, and plenty of room near me). That seven feet or so of space was all we needed to set off a rather absurd (and scary) course of events.

Once the 145 exits Lake Shore Drive, its first stop is at Belmont and Sheffield. As we pulled up to the stop, I tried to get my mom’s attention to tell her I was just going to step off to let people off the bus, but she was staring out the window, lost in her own thoughts. Well, no big deal, I thought, and I stepped off the bus with her suitcase to let the other passengers exit.

When I stepped back onto the bus, I looked around for mom and she wasn’t there. I scanned the seats. No mom. The bus was already starting to move at this point, so I tried to peer outside and pick out my mother in the swirl of pedestrians walking off into the night, but it was very dark outside and the tinted windows were working against me.

“$%&@!. She must have gotten off the bus when she saw me step off,” I thought. “Well, okay, not a problem. I’ll get off and go fetch her.” I rang the bell for the next stop and hopped off the bus, heading back down the street toward the Belmont stop to retrieve mom. As I came closer, however, I realized there was no longer a soul in sight.

“What the--?” I asked the air. “#&$@! She’s got to be on the bus still,” I deduced, and called her cell phone. She didn’t answer. I called again. “Arg, Mom! Pick up your phone!” I thought, imagining her moving farther and farther north on the bus. I kept calling her, but she didn’t answer. I left a frantic voice mail basically saying, “Hey, mom, I’m freaking out, I wish you would pick up your phone.” And I kept thinking, “How the heck did I miss her? Where did she go?”

Feeling defeated, and still mom-less, I decided to head back to my apartment, dialing her number again every minute or so (I somehow thought that she would miraculously hear her phone on the 16th ring). I took her luggage up to my apartment and stared at it, starting to wonder if maybe she put her cell phone in there, on silent, and, in that case, we’d be in a real pickle. My innocent mother, alone, in the big city, at night, with absolutely no clue where she was? #%$*!

So then I sat down on my couch to wait. I started to worry that someone might kidnap her, and any number of other panic-spun scenarios. As I sat there, about fifteen minutes after I stepped off the bus at Aldine, my mom called me. I could sense annoyance in her voice immediately, but it dissolved as soon as she heard how upset I was.

“Oh my GOD, Mom. I have been CALLING you and CALLING you! Where are you!!!?”

“I’m on the bus,” she said, as though it were the most natural thing in the world that she’d be there, and ludicrous I should think she’d be anyplace else. (Turns out, she’d sat down when I stepped out to let people off, but she’d sat down next to a large woman and I couldn’t see my rather petite mother on the other side of her.)

“But I looked and I didn’t see you and I thought you got off the bus so I got off the bus at the next stop and went back to get you and you weren’t there!”

Mom responded to my ranting calmly, “I looked for you but didn’t see you. I thought you must have sat down. I just figured you would have told me when it was time to get off the bus. But then it started to seem like a long time, and I couldn’t see you. So, I walked to the back of the bus to find you, and you weren’t there.”

I was feeling a little exasperated that she had been standing so far away from me on the bus to start with, and that she wasn’t keeping an eye on what was going on, but then I was even more exasperated that I had not seen her when I was looking around the bus. I was frustrated at both of us at once and had started crying (omg, I lost my mom—what kind of daughter am I?) and I asked again, “Where are you??”

“Well, hang on,” she said, “I’ll have to ask the bus driver.”…“He says we’re at Lawrence.”


Mom asked me, “Calm down. Just tell me what should I do.”

“My God Mom, you have to go the other way. I got off the bus a long time ago!”

“Okay, hang on, I’ll ask the bus driver.”

She chatted with the bus driver who explained what she needed to do. I thought maybe I should tell her to hail a cab, but then I didn't know how long it would take before one would drive by, and I liked the idea of her at a lighted bus stop more than some random corner.

“Okay, honey, I’m going to get on the bus going the other way. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Tell me where I have to get off the bus.”

So, I told her where she needed to go, and I was still freaking out because it was still night time in Chicago, and my mom was still friendly and sweet, and I was worried that she would get lost, or mugged, or attacked… My adrenaline had set my imagination on a wild ride.

Meanwhile, mom had bumped into some older folks waiting at the bus stop and was making new friends. She started the tale by saying, facetiously, “I’m here in Chicago visiting my daughter, and the first night here, she loses me!” And they all burst into laughter at the absurd hilarity of the thing. When the 151 pulled up, my mom went to climb on, as she’d been instructed to do, but was nearly clobbered by the wheelchair ramp she wasn’t expecting to lower in front of her. But at this point, everything was funny, and as her new friends warned her to watch out, they all (including my mom) started laughing again, and asking her what kind of buses they must have in Toledo. Then Mom told the new bus driver her story. Naturally, it followed, “Um, can you tell me where I need to get off the bus? I’m visiting Chicago, and my daughter lost me…” More hilarity.

While all this was happening, I was still sitting in my apartment gripping my phone. I had turned on the TV, and I just started to feel the exhaustion of a hair-tearing week at work and the events of the evening, but I was still mostly nerves until mom called me again. “We’re at 4200,” she told me—a number that meant absolutely nothing to her, but made me feel relieved. She wasn’t too far away now.

When she stepped off the bus, I met her on the sidewalk, and I could finally relax after I felt her frame in my embrace and I knew for sure that she wasn’t lost anymore. As we walked home, I explained again to her exactly what happened, in a calmer, more comprehensible manner.

Oh, I see what you’re saying.” Now she understood that I actually had gotten off the bus because I thought she’d gotten off. Not because I’d left her behind, expecting her to know what to do. We started laughing. And we rehashed the whole thing, laughing and laughing the whole way back to my apartment. And at that moment I loved my mom all the more for being such a good sport and for finding the humor in a precarious situation.