We left Jacksonville Saturday morning at 4AM, headed for Charlotte via Columbia, South Carolina. It was a crowded bus. And a new driver, making his first solo trip.
It didn't take much to figure out this was going to be a long day. At our first rest stop, the bus drove down a long country road, before the driver pulled a u-turn, having been lost. At the next stop, the same thing. It was as if he was taking this route for the first time. The problem was compounded by the fact that he did not have a GPS, which struck me as unusual.
Things started to unravel as we approached Columbia, SC. We were already pushing two hours late and a lot of people on the bus were looking at missed connections and extended stays in bus terminals that were not built for extended stays. Several people on the bus were Columbia residents and knew we were lost. The driver kept trying to assure people that he knew where he was, his ego to big or too fragile to own that he was lost.
After 30 minutes of driving in circles, the tone on the bus got nasty as many of the travelers cursed and insulted the driver. Deciding he had to take control of the bus, the driver did something that still baffles me: on a rainy and heavily trafficked stretch of Interstate 26, he pulled the bus off to the side of the road. The bus shuddered as 18 wheel semis drove by. I don't know about transportation laws, but it seemed absurd that a bus driver would pull off on a busy interstate highway in the absence of an emergency.
The bus pulled over, the driver came down the aisle to try and get control of a bus that he lost control of many miles before. His confrontational approach only stirred up the passengers more. Many captured the confrontation on their phones, prompting the driver to announce that nobody would be allowed to disembark until he was assured that the videos were erased from their phones.
We finally made it to Charlotte, two hours late. As a final insult, the driver was true to his threat and kept the door closed, not allowing ay passenger to leave the bus until the video culprits turned in their phones. There was a period of time when I thought that a full scale riot would break out on the bus.
It was fascinating to watch, to observe how anger escalates, how everyone was invested in being right. Sensing that we could be stranded, I tried to calm the irate travelers at the back of the bus, but they were not about to lose a shouting match.
The driver made a mistake, well, several mistakes. He could have defused the situation by just admitting he was wrong, swallowing his pride and asking for help. At the same time, mob mentality took over the bus, and I'm sure he felt threatened. It was a situation that was out of control and, could have been disastrous.
I have to cut this short. My next bus awaits.