IN THE SUBURBAN MARYLAND apartment, in an exact location that will remain a secret, they sat down and discussed what to do. They were, as the saying goes, husband and wife, and as the air conditioner hummed and the wife clutched her hands, rubbing them together as is her fashion, they decided that he would not return to work. He was a bus driver. At first he was afraid. Now he was just plain mad at his boss.
This, I have to tell you, is a very tough man - a strong man, a big man, a man who was educated for other things, but who drives a bus, I think, for the feel of it. There is the touch of the cowboy in him, a hit of it in his dress and some of it in his talk and a lot of it in the way he looks at the world.
He tells his stories. He tells how he kept a tire thumper under the seat, a tire thumper being an oak stick with a steel ring at the end of it. It was designed to thump the tires of a bus or a truck. If the air pressure is right, the tire will return a certain sound and if a passenger is unrully a tire thumper will intimidate. One night, he said, he took a man apart with it.
These, however, are stories from the past - stories I have heard before. We are talking now because Then I did go down to the property (Metro) on Thursday and man is a part of it, and he can tell me, I hope, what is going on and whom I should get mad at. This is something I think I already know. I figure any company that treats its passengers the way Metro does, must treat its workers even worse.
This particular bus driver is one who takes his unionism very seriously. He has been in trouble before for his militancy and he was one of those who went down to the meeting that tiggered the wildcat strike, and listened to what the leadership had to say. It made sense to him. The union said that by the end of August it would have an up or down decision for Metro on the cost of living raises that the men think they have coming.
"I was satisfied," he said. "The union gave us a definite date and I was willing to wait for that date. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and not wildcat. The I did go down to the property (Metro) on Thursday and I was paid for 5 1/2 hours and after that, on the second day, I thought there would be reprisals.
"You know how these guys are, what with the sunshine and the booze. They said let's do this and let's do that and you don't know what' going to happen. I felt I should stay home. I called my boss and I said I would not come in. I would not jeopardize myself and my wife and my personal property. You know how these people are in a strike. He said, well, if you don't come in, you are supporting the strike and you'll have to answer for that.
"I showed my good faith. I went in but after my boss said I would be disciplined anyway, I thought I would join the guys. You try to be nice and they screw you. So that's why I'm doing my part. I'm out for the duration now. Once I commit myself, that's it. I talked it over with Rose and we can make it on what we got. We can make it."
This was Friday night and later they were planning to go to the movies. They did not. Instead, he made telephone calls, talking things over with his buddies and when he called me back his position had hardened even further. Now, he said, he would take the money he had earned for the 5 1/2 hours' work the first day of the strike and donate it to the striker's legal defense fund - less taxes and credit union, of course.
He went on like this, giving me more and more reasons for what he was doing, citing what his supervisor had sais, pointing to Metro's sorry record of labor relatiosn - something like six wildcat strikes since it took over the bus system. O. Roy Chalk may never have taken up the streetcar tracks in Georgetown, but he kept the buses running.
But the more he talked, the more you were reminded of how this all was about a cost-of-living kicker and some probably well-deserved antipathy toward the Metro management - no life and death matters here, nothing to do with a final contract. It was all very reasoned and very logical but the more he talked the more I had to think about Thursday, the day coming back at me like the awful traffic and me going round and round the block, looking for the parking space that didn't exist and then, of course, thinking how lucky I was, thinking that there are people who come down in the morning and wait for a bus that never arrives and then, because they have no car and because no one will give them a ride, they go back to their room and pull down the shade against the sun and sit in air that a fan can't cut and let the sweat roll off their bodies.
My friend the bus driver - he's a nice guy. He thinks of these people, too. My friend, the bus driver, I think he's wrong this time. I think there are only two things he can say to these people. The first is that he's sorry.
And he's mad at his boss.