By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: You decide to buy a big school bus and travel around your country. You post an ad, asking if anyone would like to join you. You’re surprised by the number of people who show up.
“So it’s really over?” I asked for the third time in almost as many minutes.
“God, Steve, how many times do I have to repeat myself?” Shelley said. “You’re just too comfortable with where you are. Comfortable is great, but lazy isn’t.”
I had my back to her as I sat on the edge of the bed. I raked my hands through my hair and felt the bed shift as she scooted off it. Moments later, I heard her feet hit the floor and her slippers placking across the hardwood to the bathroom. The door slammed shut.
“You need to go home, Steve,” she called through the door. “Don’t make this any harder than it already is. It’s. Over.”
So I did. I put on my clothes and grabbed my stuff from the top dresser and left. Then I became the cliché from every awful rom-com you’ve ever seen.
I couldn’t sleep. I had no appetite. I’d stare at my computer at work for hours at a time not comprehending anything. I’d go to meetings and forget what everyone said about a minute after I left the conference room.
I was in bad shape.
“Try a new hobby,” Kevin said.
I went to the bowling alley. Knocked the ball into my leg. Got heartburn from the chili fries.
Kevin’s a tool.
“Go to the gym,” Morgan said.
Went to a class. Kept stepping over the damn step in the wrong direction. Tripped over someone’s weights.
Morgan’s a hack.
“Why don’t you look in those dating classifieds for someone new?” my mom said.
My mom’s…well, okay, she’s pretty great. But I learned the hard way that even great moms can’t fix everything. They can give you cookies, sure. But they can’t fix all the crap life throws at you.
Six weeks after the breakup, I sat in the coffee shop close to work on my lunch hour. Someone had left a newspaper behind. Who knew people even read them anymore?
Mom had made the suggestion about the ads over breakfast that morning. Her attempt to bond with me and try to get me to feel better or whatever. As I unfolded the paper, I decided to read it for a little while.
The suggestion about the classifieds got me thinking, so I turned to that page just for kicks. When I was a kid, I’d read through them with Kevin and we’d talk about all the awesome cars and stuff we’d buy when we grew up based on the stuff advertised in the paper. Now that I didn’t have to worry about buying presents for…well, spending money on other people, maybe I could buy something for myself.
Then I saw it: the ad for the old school bus.
The idea flashed in my brain like someone had knocked me out and made me see stars. Shel…I mean, people thought I was too comfortable? I’d show them comfortable. I’d show them just how uncomfortable I could be.
Three months later, in the parking lot of our Target, I blinked into the sun. I didn’t know if it was just because of the early hour or the number of people who showed up. Either way, both kind of caught me off guard.
That ad? I bought the bus and quit my job all in the same day. Dumb, I know, but if the idea was to get out of the comfort zone, then, hell, I just needed to do it all in one go.
I also called in an ad of my own to the paper.
“Wanted: People wanting to travel by bus cross-country. Comfortable souls need not apply.”
I could have explained more, like how I’d make all the travel arrangements so we weren’t sleeping in the bus at night like one big hobo family or how I had travel insurance. (I was trying to get out of my comfort zone, not be like Kevin.) But the damn paper was charging me per word, so I just gave ‘em my number and figured I’d let an antiquated technology like Ye Olde Newspaper do its thing by attracting people.
I also didn’t say in the ad that there was no way I was just letting any old putz on the bus without finding out a little about them first. If I have to be honest, I figured no one would show up that day. But they did. Dozens of ‘em.
In a way, the number was kind of a relief. There were way more people than there were seats, so that kind of gave me an excuse to interview everyone and get a chance to get to know ‘em for…well, at least an hour. Better than just letting some psycho board.
A bunch of people came to rubberneck, to see if I’d really show. But they didn’t know me. I was the new Steve now. The new, totally uncomfortable, completely unlazy Steve.
The interviews took most of the day, and by that time it was way past lunch but a little too early for dinner. We went out for a meal anyway, the fifty or so of us left. Kept talking. Someone mentioned starting the trip the next day.
A few people looked disappointed that we weren’t leaving after all. Most people were cool with leaving the next day, but a bunch of them looked annoyed as they texted for Ubers back home. Some of them said they weren’t going to come back.
One guy with a weirdly heavy duffel bag—you know, the extra-long ones—kept looking over his shoulder at us as he waited for his ride; don’t know what his deal was.
Anyway, by the next morning there were about three dozen of us left. We met in the parking lot, but then Jeannie said she needed to buy a new charging cord for her phone because she lost hers. I happened to ask the group if anyone else needed to buy anything, and a bunch of hands went up. Jake asked if we could stop by a big box hardware store to get an extra big padlock for the fence to his backyard. Didn’t want his dog to get out until the dogsitter could get there later that day.
We made it to the hardware store, and two of the guys mentioned a house they were fixing up together. They really liked the idea of getting away from it all on the bus, they said, but they’d talked about it the previous evening after we broke up the party and they weren’t so sure if this was the right time to leave the house in the state it was in.
“Is it something that’ll take a long time?” I asked, rubbing the back of my neck with one hand.
“Nah,” Mike said.
“Maybe we could help,” I said, taking in the group with a look.
I figured everyone would refuse or that most of them would. Even half would have made sense. But none of them did. They all said they’d help.
That means we’ve had to postpone the trip. We still meet in the parking lot of Target every morning, though. We still talk about going. But in the meantime, we’ve found stuff to do here in our hometown. Stuff for each other. With each other.
I signed up to help Mike and his buddy, and I called a couple of retirement homes in town to ask if they need someone to drive the oldsters around. Those people kind of smell like mothballs and Ben-Gay, but they’re not too bad.
Maybe Shel…people were wrong about me. Maybe I didn’t need to get uncomfortable. Maybe I just needed a change of scenery. I sure got it from the driver’s seat of the bus. It’s a seat for one, but I don’t feel lonely anymore.