Tuesday, December 28, 2010


* Christina is going to Egypt on vacation soon. Barbara reads from an article in the NY Post.

"Did you see this? Six US tourists were just killed in Egypt. And then eight Belgians were killed there last year. You'd better not get a tour guide when you're out there," Barbara says.

* We get a copy of the newspapers at the corner. The guy who hands the copies to us asks us how our holidays were.

"Mine was good. Real good," he says. "I got myself a six-pack of Coors Light and watched some basketball."

* Charlie notes that the newspaper guy is all bundled up and has a scarf on.

"I guess you can't see me smile," he says.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sleep Time

* Christina nudges me.

"How come you are so quiet today," she asks. "Are you meditating?"

I tell her that I've finished my "self-actualization" drills.

"What would you like to talk about," I ask.

"Anything with you," she says.

We start talking about Spanish television shows ranging from El Gran Juego de la Oca to Super Sabado Gigante.

In the middle of the conversation she falls asleep.

* The van is silent.

"You know, I still can't believe people made fortunes selling bottled water," one of the guys up front says.

No one responds.

* We make excellent time on the road today. I compliment Charlie.

"It's not me," he says. "It's Hanukkah and there's no Jews on the road."

Stevie Wonder

* It's the day before Thanksgiving and a lot of people have off. Charlie's van doesn't arrive. Instead, Charlie's MINIVAN arrives. It's an odd model. When you open the door, it slides automatically and makes a beeping noise like a truck backing up.

* We're in the minivan.

"What did you say," Nick asks to me.

I realize that I have a song stuck in my head.

"Is it 'I Just Called to Say I Love You," he asks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What A Wonderful World

Today, we talk largely about resort destinations in Mexico as John Krazinski's Uncle is thinking about retiring there due to a cheaper cost of living and less invasive property taxes.

This moves into a discussion of other vacation spots.

"We were thinking about buying a place in Mexico," says one man who is an infrequent rider. "But just with customs and transporting the kids it can be daunting. So we're thinking about splitting a place in Palm Beach with my in-laws. It's just that commercial airfare is too much money."

"I can't believe that no one has come up with a business plan involving charter planes yet. Someone should start a Vanpool but with planes."

The conversation about travel continues through the entirety of the trip.

"There sure are a lot of places in this world," John Krazinski's Uncle says sagely.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Over the Railing

* We talk a *LOT* about cruises on The Vanpool. Thus, the story about that cruise ship that lost power off the coast of Mexico came up in conversation.

"Could you imagine," says Barbara. "No electricity. No air conditioning. No bathroom."

Charlie laughs.

"They must have been throwing what they left overboard," he says.

John Krazinski's Uncle laughs.

"They must have been lining up at the railing to pee."

* I tell the Vanpool that I'm headed to Boca Raton for a trip to visit my mother-in-law.

"Are you a Jew," Barbara asks, obviously knowing that Boca Raton has a large Jewish population.

I tell her that I'm not, but that my wife is.

"I didn't think you were a Jew," she says. "Boca's a great place if you're a Jew."

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Walk to Remember

* One morning, Charlie doesn't come because the van's in the shop. I grab a seat on the bus across the aisle from Barbara and the man who was once attacked by albinos.

"I hate people," he says to Barbara. "It takes a lot for me to trust a person. There are a few words I've erased from my vocabulary. They are: wife, trust and in-laws."

* Barbara and this man recount their wild youth.

"Sometimes, I really miss my Studio 54 days," Barbara says.

"I can't believe I'm still alive," says the man who was once attacked by albinos.

* I walk from the bus with Barbara to her subway stop on Broadway. She asks me what intersection I work at. I tell her 37th Street.

She immediately makes a gagging sound.

"That's the absolute worst place you can work," she says. "And you have to deal with all of that trash on 34th Street."

I ask her what's wrong with 34th Street.

"Oh, I don't know," she says. "I'm just being snobby again."

* Charlie returns. Barbara has once again gone on another cruise.

"Oh, I've been waiting to tell you about this," Jennifer says.

I took a sick day the day before and missed out on some Barbara antics.

She purchased a pair of shoes somewhere in NYC that cost $200. However, there were many problems with the shoes. They didn't fit her properly. The heel was too narrow. The stitching wasn't sturdy.

She then took off her shoe and passed it around the van, sticking it in people's faces so they could see what was wrong with it, too.

* We pull up to the corner to pick up our newspapers.


We eventually pull away.

"That man is too much," chuckles John Krazisnki's Uncle.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Voices

* John Krazinski's Uncle's daughter is riding today, visiting NYC since she's on vacation. They're sitting directly in front of Barbara.

Christina and Jennifer are sitting behind Barbara. They were talking for a few minutes and then stopped.

After about two minutes, Barbara turns around.

"Which one of you is talking?"

Jennifer and Christina look at each other.

"We weren't talking," Christina says.

"I keep hearing one of you talk but I don't recognize the voice," Barbara says. "I know your voices so well. But which one of you is it?"

She looks at me.

"Is it you?"

"No. I haven't said a word all morning."

Barbara then realizes.

"Oh, it's his daughter! It's because I never met her before," Barbara says. "I thought maybe I had voices in my head from all the drugs I took last night."

* When Barbara leaves, Christina turns to me.

"Barbara asked me again exactly what day I was going to stop riding the van."

* I won't be taking the van again until next Tuesday. I tell this to Charlie when I step off.

"Do you promise?"

I do.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dog Bite

* Barbara and Christina are talking about dog. I join in the conversation as I'm obsessed with my dog.

"I have this little tiny thing that's so adorable," Barbara says. "We wrap him up and bring him in a stroller to all the department stores."

* Barbara also recounts the e-mails she used to receive from a family friend.

"This girl, she was about 22. She used to send us e-mails with pictures of her dog with another dog. It would say things like, 'We might fun off and get married,'" she says. "It was great. My husband and I used to run to the computer to check her e-mails every night. We actually started to believe they were real."

* We start talking about the rescue of the Chilean miners. Barbara says that she was given a "disaster kit" from a local Jewish community center.

"It's so small. There's so much that's placed in it. There's all this food. There's a blanket. But it's so compact," she says. "Those miners had kits like that I bet. They were well equipped to live down there."

* We pick up the morning newspapers at the corner. The man who hands them to us says, "Don't get bit by a dog on the way down."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fashion Is A Passion

* Nick/Saul is sitting next to Barbara. He puts my bookbag next to her as he leaves.

"You can have anything in my bookbag," I tell her. She asks me what's inside. "Well, my lunch. It's a PB&J sandwich, plus some Pop Tarts."

She laughs.

"That's how you keep so young! One of my co-workers daughter comes to work sometimes. That's what she eats! She's 11."

* I ask Barbra if she wants to read one of the two books in my bag. The first is a biography of James K. Polk. She says that she'll pass.

The other is a book about an anarchist attack on Wall Street which took place in 1920. (True.)

"I heard on the news the other day that it's bad to invest now but working on Wall Street is great," she says.

"Well, my book is about how a bomb exploded on Wall Street and a bunch of people were killed," I say.


* A man I've never seen before gets off early. He says, "Cheers, everyone," despite not being British.

"Did you hear that, Christina," Barbara says. "He said cheers to you. I'm going to tell your husband that he said that to you. I bet he won't like that. What's his name again? Frank?"


"Well, I'm going to tell him this and he won't like it."

* Barbara steps off and Christina rolls her eyes.

"She told me before to not talk when she reads the paper," she says. "But everyone wants to hear me talk. Right?"

I tell her that, yes, I want her to talk. (I ignore the fact that I blog about my morning commute and conversation gives me material.)

"She also makes fun of my clothes. The other day, she said, 'Don't you think you'll suffocate to death wearing that?' I'm going to have to call her every morning so she can tell me what to wear," she says.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Crush the Rebels

The Vanpool is both very diverse and well-read.

John Krazinski's Uncle frequently brings both a copy of Investor's Business Daily and The Economist with him and is quite knowledgeable about pretty much everything. Christina, Colombian by birth, works for the UN and is outspoken about Latin American politics.

"What do you think about Ecuador," John Krazinski's Uncle asks, referring to the recent troubles in that nation that nearly sacked the presidency of leftist Rafael Correa.

"Oh, he's nuts," Christina says. "He's not as kookoo as Hugo Chavez. But he's still nuts. I hate him."

I ask her what she thinks of Colombia's new president, Juan Manuel Santos.

"He is perfect," she says. "He is everything Colombians want. He's going to crush the rebels and kill them. He's going to crush FARC."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dental Care

Today was Charlie's return from a vacation to Hilton Head!

On his vacation, Charlie had to have an emergency dental procedure. It only cost $50.

"$50! Wow," Barbara says. "I'm moving there."

I cast my bait.

"Wait, Barbara, you're moving tomorrow," I ask.

"No," she says. "Charlie said he had a really cheap dental procedure and I said I'm moving there," she says.

"So you'd move to South Carolina just for the cheap dental work?"

"Well, only if the dentist was cute," she says. "But I bet that would cost more."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Plastic Surgeon to the Stars

* A new man is on The Vanpool today. He's from Los Angeles but grew up in North Jersey and is visiting his family.

"I'm actually from Beverly Hills," he says without any modesty whatsoever.

Nick asks him what he does for a living.

"I'm a plastic surgeon."

Without any hesitation, Christina speaks.

"Oh, really! I'm 61! I need a facelift!"

* Charlie will be on vacation for the next week, playing golf in Hilton Head. I miss him already!

Stuck in the Mud

* The glass-enclosed waiting area at my bus stop has been inexplicably torn down and replaced with the above tar pit.

* The Vanpool appears full. However, everyone insists I can fit in the back seat which allegedly seats four people. I can now assure you it doesn't -- I spent the entire ride with an Indian man's elbow stuck in my ribcage.

* Traffic's exceptionally bad today because there are a bunch of dignitaries going to the United Nations. This causes some dissent on The Vanpool.

"I might as well take the bus," says the man who watches creepy things on his fancy rich person phone.

* Charlie dubiously cuts off another vehicle and we come perilously close to an accident. Norm shakes his head.

"This is why sometimes I take the bus," he says. "Charlie's such a bad driver."

Norm says that the only reason he takes Charlie is because of the valuable savings.

I ask him how he decides the day to ride the van.

"Pure instinct," he says.

* We get our newspapers at the corner. The girl who looks like Precious is there and takes a step back to the curb when we pull up.

"We'd never run her over," says John Krazinski's Uncle.

* We're driving through an exceptionally busy Midtown. Someone attempts to jaywalk in front of us. Charlie doesn't let him. The man then shakes his fist at us like he's a supervillain swearing revenge.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Cats Come Out at Night

* I have to attend an event this morning and have the flier in my hand with the address. Jennifer asks what it's about. I tell her. It also says that there's a breakfast involved.

"At least you'll get breakfast out of it," she says.

Christina, Barbara's rival,hears this.

"You're inviting me to breakfast," she asks. "You can get me a senior discount! I like buffets."

* We arrive in the city and pull up to the corner to get our newspapers. The guy who was "sick as a dog" yesterday runs up to us.

"How my beautiful people doing this morning," he asks, and then peers into the van. "How my ladies doing?"

People just stare at him blankly.

"I'm still sick as a dog. Wanna see?"

I immediately say yes.


* I move up and sit next to Barbara. She asks me where I'm getting out. (She asks me this pretty much every day.) I tell her Fifth Avenue.

"Well, I'm getting out here," she says.

"I know," I reply. "I know everything about you."

"Oh really?"

"Yes. 142-29-2114."

Someone asks what that is.

"Barbara's social security number."


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who Let the Dogs Out?

* Traffic is horrible this morning. Charlie decides to take a shortcut which causes us to drive through the austere grounds of the Upper Montclair Country Club. We initially start through the driveway, past the guard's gate, around the clubhouse, through a condominium complex and then onto another highway.

* Nick/Saul's daughter just graduated college and landed a job. She has to train in the city so she takes the van in. She's predictably adorable. We chat for a bit. She asks me what I do for a living. I tell her.

"Oh, so you must follow politics," she says. I tell her that I do. "So, what are your thoughts?" I ask her about what. She just shrugs.

"Well, in general, I think rich and powerful people have always exploited people who aren't rich and powerful. And it's always going to be that way."

People look at me as they realize how sad I am inside.

Jennifer says she can relate.

"Did you ever see The Road?" I haven't. "Well, it's about this dystopian future and the husband is trying to convince the wife to move to a better climate. So she doesn't want to keep going so she feels completely hopeless so she cuts her wrists."

* We make it into the city and pick up our newspapers. The guy who hands them to us speaks.

"I'm sick as a dog today," he says. "Do you want to see?"

He then starts barking like a dog.

"You gotta love his spirit," John Krasinski's Uncle says.

* Barbara gets out at Broadway. She has three large bags.

"Should I let you close the door for me," she says to me.

I do.

"I would do anything for that woman," I say.

One of the older guys next to me (conversation today: North Jersey racquetball leagues, architects and interior designers of choice in Morris County) says, "You'd better or you'll pay the price."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Catching Up

I was away on a business trip and haven't taken the Vanpool in a while. I sit next to Jennifer who tells me what I've missed.

* Christina is an older Asian woman who does not say much. She rode the Vanpool the first few weeks I took it. She then was laid off from her job. However, she just started a two-month temp job in the city and will now be with us.

Barbara and her apparently never saw eye-to-eye.

"Oh, so I have to look at you for another two months," Barbara said when she saw Christina.

* Traffic was apparently really bad yesterday. Charlie took a shortcut through Jersey City that led them past a diner. Barbara forced Charlie to pull over so she could use the bathroom.

On today's Vanpool:

* I sat in front of the guy who moans oddly. He was muttering things all morning, including: "Mother Theresa" and then minutes later, "You stupid single minded woman."

Jennifer once road the bus back with him. His mom was sick at the time. She asked him how she was doing.

"He told me that he never liked his mom. One time, she was at a baby shower. All of his aunts were giving updates about what their children were doing. His mom said nothing about him."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


* Nick/Saul is late and has to, as always, sprint across the highway to get the Van.

"Here comes Saul," Barbara says, despite the controversial past few days where we truly learned his name.

* Nick/Saul and Barbara talk about cruise ships. Nick/Saul's daughter just got back from a trip to Greece, a similar trip to one Barbara took several months ago.

Nick said that his daughter loved the seafood on the trip.

"So did she eat at the steakhouse or the seafood place," Barbara asks.

"The seafood place," Nick/Saul says.

"Because you can get seafood at both. So are you sure it was the seafood place and not the steakhouse," Barbara once again asks.

"Well, I know she got seafood," Nick/Saul says.

"I just wonder if it was the seafood place or the steakhouse."

* A new guy is on the Vanpool today and I'm pretty sure it was James Franco doing some method acting thing. It looked EXACTLY like James Franco.

* We stop at the corner near Port Authority to pick up the newspapers today. People behind us are NOT happy. I now know what it sounds like to have 25 cars honking their horns at you all at once.

(It sounds kind of like Earth Crisis.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Too Good to Be True

* Barbara is looking at an article in one of the New York tabloids. There is a story about The Situation from The Jersey Shore. He is exposing his stomach muscles.

"I don't get it with this guy," she says. "I don't think he has great abs."

"Yeah, that's not a six pack," Norm says.

"Who is that rapper/actor guy on one of those cop shows? LL Cool something," she says. "You know, the one with the cute smile? Now that's a great body."

* The Vanpool is quiet. John Krazinski's Uncle starts to talk.

"You know what I say on Park Avenue the other day? I was walking to lunch and I saw a guy in his car. He was driving with his left hand and playing a trumpet with his right," he says. "Now I've seen everything."

* We made it into Midtown by 8 am. At 40th Street, we ran into gridlock.

"I knew it was too good to be true," Charlie says.

* Right before she leaves, Barbara turns to me.

"I must be allergic to the material on the seat," she says. "I spend all morning scratching my head. You all must think I have psoriasis or lice or something. I swear, I don't do this in the office."

What Can I Say?

I get on the Vanpool before Nick does. It's the first time I've been on since his true identity was revealed.

As always, he has to sprint to catch the van.

"Here comes Nick," someone says up front.

"Oh, there's Saul," says Norm, whom I'm sitting next to.

I correct him and tell him that his name is Nick.

A few people are shocked to learn this.

He gets on and says hi to everyone.

People then dissect how this came to pass. "Oh, his last name must be Saulenstein or something like that." (It's nowhere near that.) Nick just sits there the entire time.

"I've been calling you Saul for two years," Jennifer says. "Why didn't you correct me?"

"Eh," Nick says, shrugging his shoulders. "What can I say?"

Friday, August 20, 2010

That *IS* His Name

* For months, I have wondered if the name of the man who gets on at the stop I do (aka the nicest person I've ever met in my life) is Nick or Saul. As such, I have called him Nick/Saul on here.

Today, I'm in the back so I don't get to hear the entirety of the conversation. But when Nick/Saul gets off (he's the first stop), I hear John Krazinski's Uncle say "Have a good day, Nick" to uproarious laughter.

I move forward when we get closer to my stop.

"Hey, did you guys call Nick 'Nick' today," I ask.

"Yes. It turns out that's his name," Charlie says.

I start to cackle with glee. They've been calling him 'Saul' because his last name sounds sort of like that and they thought that was his first name.

I ask how long they've been calling him that.

"Forever," John Krazinski's Uncle says.

* A man in his 40s who is an occasional rider usually watches Doubt, Oz or other brutal films/TV shows. Today, he's playing a video game on his rich person phone called "Ancient War."

* We pick up our newspapers at the usual spot. The man who called Charlie "Baby" earlier this week today says: "Here you are, my beautiful people."

* A new man rides this morning. He has to go uptown and doesn't know what subway line to take. After some debate, Barbara finally speaks up.

"Here. Just follow me. I'll take you where you need to go," very sternly. She then expounds on the benefits of the R train.

We drive past a woman near Bryant Park wearing very uncomfortable shoes.

"In all my years playing sports, I only broke my ankle once," John Krazinski's Uncle says. "I'd break my ankle in five minutes if I wore those."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Be My Baby

* Jennifer brings her 10-year-old on the Vanpool today. I'm tempted to ask him, "Is this your first time in a stranger's van?" I don't.

* We arrive at the corner where we pick up our newspapers. The girl who looks like Precious hands us a few copies. For some reason, someone else handing out newspapers walks up to the van. He points to us with double fingers, like Ted Lange in the beginning of The Love Boat. He then pounds his heart with his fist.

"What's going on, baby?" He asks.

He then gives John Krazinski's Uncle a fist pound.

"I bet that's the first time anyone has called you baby," says one of the older guys up front, who spent most of the morning previously talking about municipal golf courses in the North Jersey area.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Llama Fur

A new guy is on the van today. He's very large and has a red, chinstrap beard. He's on his way into NYC for a job interview. His dad used to ride the Vanpool so he's carrying on a family tradition of sorts.

Conversation starts up about local area landmarks near his house.

"Yeah, my dad moved right by that llama farm in Boonton," he says.

"Oh, I used to live right by there," says the guy who sells parking garages for a living.

There's a pause.

"Hey, is llama fur anything like alpaca fur? Can you sell llama fur?"

"No, I don't think llama fur is worth anything."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

That's Not My Name

* I rode the bus home with Gus last night. Gus gets on the bus at my stop; however, he has never once taken the van.

As we were walking to our cars, he talks about how some maintenance work is planned for our bus stop, which may require us to park our cars elsewhere.

"I wonder if Saul knows," I said. "He's always running late as it is."

Gus looked at me.


"Yes," I said. "Or Nick."

"Yeah, Nick, that's his name," Gus said.

"Oh, everyone on the van calls him Saul."

"I only know him as Nick."

He will forever be known as Nick/Saul.


We're next to Port Authority. The guy who once complained to us about a new co-worker goes to hand us our morning papers. The girl who looks like Precious, however, blocks his path.

"I'm handing him his papers," she screams. "Park your fuckin' ass over there."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some Candy Talking

* We're next to Port Authority awaiting to pick up our copy of the free morning papers. The lady who looks like Precious is busy, so Norm gives us the Metro.

"I didn't have to use my charms on her today," says John Krazinski's Uncle, who has been alleged to have a flirtatious relationship in the woman.

"Maybe you should get her some candy," Barbara says. "Some sweets for your sweet!"

John Krazinski's Uncle chuckles.

"Well, Valentine's Day is a little far away," he says.

"We should form a task force to figure out what the right gift to give her is," Barbara says.

* Discussion begins about that flight attendant who quit his job in stunning fashion. This then ends up with various Vanpool riders discussing -- and ranking -- the airports which do the best job at baggage return. Chicago's universally hailed as the best; Newark's the worst.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Orgasm Addict

* The guy who said earlier that he was attacked by albinos sits behind me this morning. He makes these strange moaning, grunting sounds which remind me of bedroom play.

After one of his grunts, Barbara asks him if he's okay.

"Yes," he says. "I was just thinking of someone I know."

* We drive past a billboard that advertises "tubeless toilet paper" which is some sort of enviro-friendly initiative.

"Now that's really going green," says the guy who sells parking garages.

* We drive to the corner where the girl who looks like Precious hands us our newspapers. Norm gets off at this stop. Charlie, doesn't see him, so we have to tell Charlie that Norm's getting out.

"Man, he was trying to kill you," Precious says. "You alright? You have whiplash or something?"

Norm insists that he's okay.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying

Charlie can't make it this morning. I get on the bus instead. It's third-world level packed, which means there's only standing room. I have to stand on my tippie-toes to make sure I fit in behind the white line. If we stop short at all, I am going to die since dozens of people will fly into me and I'll crash through the windshield.

In order to quell this crowding, another bus from a different route is pulled over to the highway to pick us up.

There are a lot of Vanpoolers on this bus. Everyone -- even the people who just listen to headphones and watch creepy HBO prison serials -- waves and smiles.

Nick/Saul and I end sup sitting next to John Krazinski's Uncle. We chat the entire ride. Topics include: baseball, John Krazinski's Uncle's son's impending visit home, and Charlie. A few laughs are exchanged, especially when talking about other Vanpool riders.

Everyone else on the bus is absolutely miserable looking.

I have the best morning commute ever.


* Charlie informs us that he won't be picking us up tomorrow.

"On the days you don't come you should pick us up," says Nick/Saul.

Charlie doesn't hear him. The guy riding shotgun today explains what was just said.

"That doesn't sound fair to me," says Charlie.

* Barbara starts talking to the lady next to her out of nowhere.

"There's this girl at work. She's from some Caribbean island. She's smart and a really hard worker but she's slow," Barbara says. "So she stays late every night. This really rubs me wrong since I leave early. Why would you stay late to make sure you get your work done?"

* It's revealed that there is a vanpool which will take you TO New Jersey from New York and will drop you off at an IHOP in Parsippany. Also, there's also a rival vanpool which will take you in for the 8 am bus.

Don't worry -- there's only ONE Vanpool for me!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Atlantic City

* Early Vanpool conversation strays from the perils of working for a firm being taken over by private equity and moves to a discussion of Atlantic City. After a quick recap of various "comp" trips given, Charlie chimes in.

"I'll tell you what," Charlie says. "If you ever want to feel young, hang out at the Atlantic City bus station for a while."

* Conversation somehow transitions to a talk about foreign language learning skills. One of the older guys who rides up front has lived in several different countries, including France.

"My technical French wasn't bad. But my accent was awful," he says. "I had a tutor and she told me that the only way you could truly learn French was to take a mistress."

Someone asks him if this was a proposition.

"She was young and very beautiful," he says. "So no."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Strategic Tree Pruning

* Nick/Saul only has a $10. This complicates the Vanpool paying process. It costs $6 to ride, making a $1 bill of the utmost importance. Luckily, a new Asian lady (whom I haven't heard speak yet) had change -- all in singles.

I only have a $20, which further complicates the paying process. The lady said she could make change for me, too. Once again, this is all in singles.

This lady had at least $30 in singles in her wallet.

* Barbara has a youngish dog that she's trying to teach to swim.

"Are you going to throw him in a pool? That's what we did with our dog," says one of the men who sit up front.

"I think I'm just going to coax him in slowly," Barbara responds.

* The men up front have a lengthy discussion about "strategic tree pruning."

"I don't think my neighbors would mind if I trimmed what dangles over our fence, but that always complicates everything."

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Without getting to into detail (for fear of disclosure), a guy I was talking to this morning said:

"I was once attacked by a pack of albinos."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


* The ride begins with Nick/Saul saying hello to Barbara.

"What are you saying high to me for," she asks, but playfully.

Nick/Saul laughs.

"You are the bright spot of my day," Nick/Saul says. "One day when you weren't here, we were talking about you and we all said that."

"I'm sure," Barbara says. She pauses.

"I tell people at work that I can be mean sometimes. They all say, 'Not you,'" she says.

"You were born to put a smile on the face of the world," I say.

She gives me a dirty look.

* We pull up to get our newspapers. The girl who Barbara once labeled as "Precious" was not there.

"Leon's girl isn't here today," says one of the older men who talks about home furnishings a lot.

"Leon's not here, either," Barbara says. "I bet they ran off together."

* "Anything knew in the world today," Charlie asks, referencing the newspapers.

"Oh, just a rash of drownings," says Mr. Home Furnishings.

"People don't respect the ocean," Charlie says.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Downhill Racer

* I made it to my office at 8:05 AM after being picked up at about 7:30. This is the fastest any person has ever made it from near the Willowbrook Mall to Midtown during the morning rush in history.

* The Vanpool was eerily quiet today. At my stop, a bunch of us got out.

"It's all downhill from here," says Charlie.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Charlie Bond

* The morning begins with, as per custom, Nick/Saul sprinting across the highway at the last possible second to catch The Vanpool. Someone has since cut the median so it is no longer a Vietnam-style jungle.

"Watching him run across the highway isn't as dramatic now that they cut the hay," says one of the semi-regulars who sits up front.

* Further down the highway, Charlie pulls one of his patented driving maneuvers -- cutting people off dramatically at the last possible second as we get off at a crowded highway exit.

"What do you call that move, Charlie," someone asks.

"James Bond," Nick/Saul says.

"More like Charlie Bond," Barbara says.

There's a pause.

"Bond. Charles Bond," she says.

No one says a word.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Constitutional Convention

* Barbara brings her dog to an area "camp" for periodic dogsitting needs.

"It's great. I go to the spa nearby and get a facial. We give our dog a little towel which she sits on and she plays with the other dogs and everything. It's really cute. They have all these Poloriods up of captions of what the dogs would say if they talked. It's adorable."

* Nick/Saul brought his umbrella to work. I noticed it was awfully large. I also noticed that it had a clamp on the bottom, which means he uses a deck umbrella in everyday activities.

* A power struggle over Vanpool heating needs once again developed.

"It's not for me since I'm getting off, but the other people back here are dying," Barbara said. (Not one person suggested such a thing.)

"I only had them turn the air off because you said you were too cold," said Scott, a semi-regular.

"I think there should be a rule. You have to wait three minutes to get acclimated to the temperature before you can ask to change the air," said John Krazinski's Sage Uncle.

"I don't have to get acclimated to anything," Barbara said when she got off.

After she left, John Krazinski's Uncle said, "I really think we should make that a rule."

"I think we should draw up a charter," I say.

He laughs.

"We really could use a Vanpool constitution."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hide Me

* The Vanpool is fairly empty this morning. Nick/Saul gets in his seat.

"Charlie, where is everyone today? Did you kill them?"

* Barbara's not on. The guy who sells parking garages turns to the Asian lady who listens to her headphones.

"Did you call Barb," he asks.

It turns out, she has Barb's cell phone number and calls her to make sure she's not just running late or not going to work.

"This should be your job," Nick/Saul says.

* The Lincoln Tunnel is clogged this morning. Port Authority Police, for some reason, are stopping cars.

"Maybe they're looking for illegal aliens," says John Krazinski's Uncle.

"Hide me," Nick/Saul says, making everyone laugh.

* I just want to say that I love Nick/Saul. I'm not going to be on The Vanpool for a week and I already miss it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Christina Treatment

The Vanpool is really crowded, forcing Nick/Saul to sit up front -- a very rare occurrence.

"What, you don't want to sit back here with me," Barbara jokes to mild laughter.

She pauses.

"Don't worry, I won't give you The Christina Treatment," she says. Both Nick/Saul and Norm put their heads down, chuckling.

"What's The Christina Treatment," I ask.

There's another pause.

"She would never let him sit next to her," Barbara says about Nick/Saul. "She used to act like he had rabies."

"Who's Christina," I ask.

Norm and Nick/Saul put their heads down again, this time shaking them.

"Trust me," Barbara says. "You don't want to know."

Monday, June 28, 2010


* The man in front of me is watching an episode of Oz on his portable device.

* "It's so hot in here," Barbara says.

"It's blowing cold air. I think it's fine," says Nick/Saul.

"CHARLIE," Barbara says. "Can you turn up the air? It's a little hot back here."

Charlie turns up the air.

* I ask Barbara if she had a chance to watch the fireworks in Montville this past weekend.

"I couldn't be bothered to have to get there early," she says.

* Barbara asks the college intern how her job is going.

"It's okay," she says. "I'm just so tired."

"So young and tired already? You need some vitamins.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ilana Rides the Vanpool!

(EDIT: Ilana is my wife. This is her saga.)

I rode the van the week of St. Patrick's Day, which also happened to be my Spring Break. I got on with a chip on my shoulder. I thought it was incredibly rude that Barbara had told Gregg multiple times to shut up. I was for a confrontation.

(EDIT: Ilana was talking up for the days before she took the van about how she WANTED to fight with Barbara. In college, her favorite television show was Seinfeld. Like Elaine, Ilana was dubbed "The Queen of Confrontation.")

Before I continue about Barbara, I would just like to say that I was the first to point Nick/Saul sounded like Count Chokula.

Back to Barbara. Gregg got her voice down perfectly. She was dressed like I expected, clad in trousers, a blouse and a Laverne-and-Shirley style scarf around her neck. But there was one shocking discovery: Rather than the Nancy Pelosi/Hilary Clinton "power" hair-do that I was expecting, Barbara had two pig-tails tied back low at the nape of her neck.

This hair did not fit in with my pre-conceived notions. But since Barbara was everything I expected her to be and more, the hair ended up only adding to her persona.

When it came time to pay, Nick/Saul, Gregg and I pooled our money together and passed up a $20 to the front of the bus. It passed through Barbara's hand, at which point she yelled at Nick/Saul, "WHY ARE YOU PAYING WITH SUCH A BIG BILL?"

While he tried to calmly explain to her that it was for the three of us, I just yelled, "Don't worry, we've got it."

The bait was not taken. I don't even think Barbara even heard me and Gregg elbowed me to stop talking.

This was my first time on The Vanpool. But Barbra, you'd better watch out! Nobody tells Gregg to shut up but me!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Cruise

Nick/Saul tells Barbara that his 21-year-old niece was thinking about going on a cruise to Greece. Barbara has been oddly silent about her trip.

"Oh, does she need somebody to go with her," Barbara says. "It was absolutely amazing."

Barbara suggests that, if his niece does go and goes on the same ship she went on, she should spend an extra $25 per day in order to eat at the on-board stake house. "It's just as good as Peter Lugar's," she says.

Barbara also describes the Internet experience on board a ship that travels through Greece.

"My husband has one of those iPod laptop things," she says. "It came in handy at the end of the trip, when we were checking on our plane ride home. They give you a really good deal to go online and check your e-mails or whatever. They lowered the price to $25 for 100 minutes."

Barbara also says that the cruise was mostly people in their 50s and 60s, but a 21-year-old would also enjoy themselves. "How could you not?"

Barbara, however, suggests an umbrella for protection against harmful UV rays. "The sun... it's magnificent, but it can be really harmful."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Eyes of a Rapist

"Can you believe this Lawrence Taylor," Barbara asks, New York Post in hand.

(For those not in the know, football legend Lawrence Taylor was recently indicted on a rape charge involving a teenage prostitute.)

"Just look at his eyes," Norm says. "He looks so crazy."

Barbara looks at his picture.

"Yeah, I guess he does have the eyes of a rapist."

Barbara reads the story again.

"It's one thing to get arrested for cheating. It's another to get arrested for rape," she says.

She pauses.

"It says here the girl was 16. It's not like in the old days. When I was 16, I looked 16. What, is he supposed to check the ID of the hooker he's sleeping with?"


The Vanpool is shockingly quiet today. There's a younger guy sitting in front of me. He's only been on two or three times. He has some kind of gadget and is watching the movie Doubt.

I'm not sure I could handle a theological debate that early in the morning.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

All Smiles

Barbara returned from her cruise. We were expecting a full run-down of the entire trip.

"You're back," Nick/Saul says. "How was the trip?"

"Wonderful," Barbara barks.

She then buried her head in the NY Post.

Claire, the Asian lady who usually listens to her iPod, was surprisingly chatty today. Lately, her niece Lynn -- a Rutgers student interning at a human resources department somewhere in the city -- has been riding The Vanpool.

"Where's your niece at today," Nick/Saul asks.

"She sick," Claire says in her thick accent.

"I hope she's feeling okay."

"She feels fine. She just does not want to work," Claire responds angrily.

There's an awkward pause for a few seconds.

"She seems like she's a great girl," Nick/Saul says. "She's dedicated."

"She lazy," Claire says. "She not want to work."

I ask what she's studying in school. It's Labor Relations at Rutgers. Nick/Saul says that's a great school.

"It's not Princeton," Claire says.

We soon shift to talking about the World Cup. Yesterday, North Korea -- a recent obsession of mine -- lost to Portugal 7-0.

"They lost 7-0? All those players will be dead," Claire says.

Claire then says she's rooting for Argentina and her husband's rooting for Brazil. She also rooted for the Lakers while he rooted for the Celtics.

"It's more fun on opposite sides," she says.

Jennifer has two kids. School ends for them in a few days and off they go to camp.

"Your father won't watch them," Nick/Saul asks.

"He won't on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That's when he plays mah jong."

We're in Midtown, and everyone outside is walking to work.

"Loooook at allll those smiling faces," Charlie sings. Then he turns to John Krazinski's Uncle. "Everyone's all smiles."

He laughs.

"Yes, they're all smiling, Charlie."

He pauses.

"Everyone's just happy to have a job these days."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sage Advice

A few people get off The Vanpool within the first few blocks after the Lincoln Tunnel. I always move up to the front to make it easier for people to get out.

This also gives me a chance to sit behind John Krazinski's Uncle, who usually rides shotgun. He, like most everyone else on The Vanpool, is incredibly likable, despite being a lawyer at a big firm in the city.

He's the kind of guy who doesn't just seem to know everything; he has a good take on everything. He frequently dispels sage advice on all sorts of subjects right before I leave The Vanpool. Usually it's about oil spill, investing or college basketball. But sometimes it's a little more metaphysical.

"You know, I don't know what they're trying to tell me, Charlie. The bus driver never asks to see my ID when I hand him my senior citizen bus ticket," he says.

"Senior citizen," I ask, playfully. "I would have thought you were about 28 or 30."

He laughs. Then there's a plaintitve pause.

"In some ways, it's a lot easier being a senior citizen than it is being your age," he says. "In a lot of ways, actually."

There's another pause.

Claire, the Asian woman who listens to "How-to-Speak English" tapes non-stop chimes in.

"That's true. That's very true."

We pull up to the corner and I get off.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


* A new lady sits in front of me today. She's probably in her 60's. She doesn't speak until the end of her trip, when she asks about what subway she should take to get to her job.

"Who puts this together," she asks. It's explained to her.

"I never thought I'd get into a van like this," she says.

Jennifer turns around.

"Does she know the route?" Charlie drives all the way down to Park Ave. before looping back.

"She's been informed," I say. "I've indoctrinated her into The Vanpool."

I have become what I fear.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Vanpool Hierarchy

Norm informs me of a Vanpool rule previously unknown to me.

Like in most vehicles, shotgun is the most valued of commodities. On the Vanpool, whoever is in shotgun position also assumes navigation duties.

The navigator gets to make a crucial decision every morning. It's invariably backed up when we near the Lincoln Tunnel. The person riding shotgun gets to make the vital choice: Will we go on the normal route to the Hoboken exit; will we cut through Union City first; or will we even get off at the Rte. 1&9 exit and take those back roads?

"I got to ride shotgun once," Norm says. "I nailed the decision."

This is the meadow I have to traverse every morning on my way to the bus stop. I likely have lyme disease.

A Kick in the Face

* I got to hear a great Vanpool:Origins story today. About two years ago, Charlie got into a fender bender. Everyone on the Vanpool! had to evacuate the van and run to the nearest bus stop so Charlie wouldn't get in trouble due to the possibly illegal form of transportation he operates.

* I sat next to Norm ("I remember when that 9/11 shit jumped off") today. Interesting guy. He recounted to me the first time he took the Vanpool.

"Charlie kept on driving by my stop for a year, asking if I wanted a ride. I never went on, because I was afraid I'd get hogtied or something."

We also recounted the fight from a few weeks back.

"That dude looked like he was going to pull the door open. But then he saw me and knew he was going to get kicked in the face."

* A new guy was on The Vanpool today. He recounted to us a story about getting into his own car accident. He was moving back from college and was driving a U-Haul truck that was 11-feet tall and unfortunately drove under a bridge that was 9-feet tall.

"I called my parents and they just started laughing," he said.

Nick/Saul laughed.

"I would kill you."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chairman Mao

On today's Vanpool!:

* Nick/Saul always gets to the stop at the very last minute. Imagine, every day, watching a 55-ish Middle Eastern man sprint across a major state highway. To make things even more comical, it's a grassy highway median. This grass hasn't been cut since the Goo Goo Dolls topped the charts -- the weeds and grass are seriously like cornstalks at this point. So Nick/Saul runs across this every day.

Today, everyone was laughing as he did.

"It looks like a commercial for a weedkiller," one of the guys up front said.

Then when Nick/Saul entered the van, the same guy said: "We all just had a laugh at your expense."

* Barbara is on a cruise in Greece/Turkey. This prompted me, Jennifer and Nick/Saul (who sounds like Count Chocula) to do our best Barbara impersonations.

* Traffic was awful today. I still made it to work at 8:20. This is because Charlie was a complete lunatic on the road and I thought I was going to die at several points.

* The guys up front were talking about new advents in waste disposal transportation technology.

* In the back, we started talking about China somehow. Jennifer's sister is in Beijing on business for the rest of the year.

"She asked what she could get my son as a gift. So I told her that it might be cool to have a communist red bookbag," she said. "But she sent me a bookbag that had Mao's face on it. There's no way I could let my son carry a bookbag to school that had Chairman Mao's face on it."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The New Girl

Today, we’re next to Port Authority and we pick up our newspapers.

Precious isn’t there and, instead, a guy takes her place. He jogs to the van, huffing and puffing.

“Yo, man, I’m sorry it took so long to get your papers,” he says, apologizing even though we spend exactly five seconds waiting for him. “But we got this fuckin’ new bitch across the street who just started workin’, and she ain’t done no fuckin’ shit at all today.”

“Oh my,” says one of the women sitting up front.

One of the guys who sometimes sits shotgun – I don’t know his name, but he sells parking garages for a living – chuckles.

“That means you have to train her better,” he says.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Aaron H.: Vanpool Rider

My friend Aaron rode on The Vanpool. Here is his story of the chain of events to make this happen.

Thank God for the demise of the NBA. If the league wasn't at one of its low points in history then none of this would have ever happened for me.

Without the free ticket promotion Dave W. and I decided to take advantage of my knowledge of the VanPool would be like most of yours – only second hand through Gregg's stories. Thankfully, I am one of the lucky few that can say they have waited on the side of the road for a bus, and instead decided to climb into a rapey van.

Thursday, January 7th, 2010. Dave Walk and I headed to New York to attend a Knicks Bobcats game at Madison Square Garden. I couldn't really care less about either team, but I had never been to The Mecca before, and you can't go wrong with free tickets to a game and a cheap MegaBus ride to New York and back to Philly. Our friend Pete was supposed to attend the game with us, but could not at the last second – so he gave his tickets to Gregg.

Getting the tickets was a bit of a problem – Gregg had to run to Columbia University from Midtown on his lunch break to pick up the tickets from Pete – and then at the last minute Pete got a call from Stub Hub telling him his tickets were actually invalid. Undeterred, Gregg tried to enter MSG with the fake ticket and was denied entrance twice – at two adjoining ticket turnstiles. Dave and I entered the game with Gregg's reassurance that he would find a way into the game.

Sure enough, he did – he only had to travel a few blocks to the Stub Hub office with his ticket that wasn't in his name and call Pete (who was about to go on stage) to confirm that he could be given the tickets. Gregg has an uncanny ability to just make things happen for (and sometimes to) him.

The game was actually great. It was well-played and close and came right down to the wire – and the New York fans were excellent. There was more passion and love for a 15-20 Knicks team in the doldrums of an NBA January than there was for the 76ers in the playoff series I attended the previous year (a series that was actually competitive against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.)

The game should have been the highlight of the trip; it was what we came for, and it was exciting but when Gregg told us the story of his morning commute to work everything changed. Fate had made it so that Dave and my trip to New York happened on the infamous Day One of The VanPool.

We heard the story, fresh, from Gregg and I ate it up. The image of him waiting for the bus on the side of the road and having a mysterious van pull up and tell him to get in and him just saying “fuck it” and doing it was crazy to me. It was the type of thing I would never do in a million years. When I was young, I once made my 70plus year old Great Aunt walk home over a mile in the heat of August when I refused to accept a ride home from someone I didn't know (even though my Aunt knew him.)

Dave and I stayed at Gregg's parents' house that night so we could spend some time in the city the next day before heading back to Philly. The previous night we bought our tickets at the Port Authority for our bus ride into Manhattan – fully expecting to make the commute the boring way. As we waited at the bus stop – the Van pulled up and told us to jump in. Gregg told the driver that Dave and I were from out of town and already purchased our bus tickets, so we would just wait for that. Stepping up to the plate was one of the Van Pool regulars (EDIT: It was Nick) who offered to buy our tickets from us – which opened the door for us to experience the Van Pool first hand.

The ride into New York was great. Gregg, Dave and I crammed into the far back seat of the van and watched the sitcom characters come to life in front of our eyes. If you've read anything on this site already then the phrase “Barbara being Barbara” should mean something to you. She read The Post, commented on stories, complained about the level of heat in the van, and told Gregg to shut up on more than one occasion. As we passed through the Lincoln Tunnel talk turned to post 9/11 worries and travel in and around the city. Charlie drove like a champion: We got to Midtown with plenty of time to spare for Gregg to get to work, so we had breakfast and talked about how there needs to be a VanPool! Television series.

Realizing the similarities to failed Jerry O'Connell vehicle Carpoolers we thought we had to add another element to the series, so we thought of the hook that every time they emerge from the Lincoln Tunnel they are transported back in time and have to complete a task to save history. Which I just now realized is kind of like the failed Jerry O'Connell vehicle Sliders.

I think we found our leading man.

Friday, June 11, 2010


The main topic of conversation on the van today is the BP oil spill. People know that I’m somewhat in the oil industry. They’re shocked when I tell them I have no idea how to fix a deepwater drilling-related oil spill.

Barbara is reading a NY Post article on BP. Apparently, director James Cameron bas been asked for his advice on how to fix the spill.

“He might know what to do since Titanic was so great.”

Someone starts talking about how the price of Lakeland bus tickets has just gone up by 10%. (Charlie, in response, has hiked the vanpool fee to $6.) This causes understandable complaints.

Barbara: “Do you know who can get you 10% on anything? BERNIE MADOFF.”

Every morning, we pick up copies of the Metro and AMNY – free publications geared for commuters – across the street from Port Authority. The copies are usually handed to us by a heavyset black woman.

“Doesn’t she look just like Precious,” Barbara asks. “You know, from that movie?”
No one says anything.

“She is precious. She’s absolutely adorable.”

Attacked By A Guy Who Looks Like Dave Chapelle

We’re about to merge into the Lincoln Tunnel. This is tough under most circumstances; 20 lanes somehow merge into two in a span of about 250 yards. It’s especially tough today since traffic has been at a standstill.

We come perilously close to taking off the rear view mirror of a black Honda Accord on the passenger’s side. The driver in the other car starts leaning on his horn and cursing at us. He literally has foam coming out of his mouth.

He follows us through the Tunnel, just an inch or two behind us. I’m in the backseat staring at him the entire time. He continues to scream obscenities. He fiddles around with something in his lap and then quickly brings a camera to his face. He starts snapping pictures of the back of the van.

I immediately come to the realization that this man has a camera at the ready in case he needs to take pictures of drivers he feels have wronged him. I memorize his license plate.

We enter New York City and follow our usual path. He’s still behind us, right on our bumper. We hit some gridlock. The other driver pulls up next to us and gets out of the car. He looks a lot like Dave Chapelle circa Half Baked.

He runs up to the passenger’s seat and punches the window.


He starts punching the door of the van as hard as he can. Like “Star Punch” in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out hard.


As this is going on, the entire van is silent.

He continues to punch the van, over and over again, with full force. He then kicks the door twice, calls us a “Motherfucker” one more time, and returns to his car and drives away.

“What can you do,” Charlie says, shrugging his shoulders.

“I was reading the newspaper. I had no idea anything was going on until I saw this guy punching the van,” Barbara adds.

We good-naturedly talk about the “incident” the next day and then it is quickly forgotten.

Ten days after we were attacked, Charlie asks me, “Hey, do you remember that guy’s license plate number? I think I might report him.”

Adrenaline Rush

A new kid – Jeremy -- is on the van. He’s in his early 20s and is awkwardly wearing a suit.

Charlie sets record time going into the city today. He perilously comes close to scraping against a cement median and almost sideswipes a minivan.

Jeremy gets off the van the same time I do. I ask him what he thinks of it.

“I think it was a little too much of an adrenaline rush for me.”


Charlie explains why he didn’t arrive the day before.

“I was in a courtroom in Weehawken fighting a reckless driving ticket.”

The Vanpool is largely silent for most of today’s journey. When we arrive in Midtown, Charlie fills the void by singing every avenue name.




Needless to say, having a 60-year-old man with muttonchops who is hard of hearing sing you a song as he nearly mows down a toddler is a beautiful way to start the morning.

New Jack City

Barbara’s reading a NY Post story that’s about a plane that crashed in Libya in which the only survivor was some Dutch child.

“What I don’t get,” she says, “is if this plane is flying from Africa to Europe, why they crashed in Libya.”

I explain to her that Libya is in Africa.

“Is it? Well, what do I know? I don’t know where any of these countries are.”
She turns the page of the Post. The next story is about a drug gang that was busted in the South Bronx.

Barbara goes over the details of the article. The drug gang actually owned and operated its own apartment building. They were caught with $50,000 in cash, several pounds of cocaine and dozens of weapons. They also provided a valet parking service for their customers.

“It sounds like it’s a scene from New Jack City,” she says. “That’s one of my favorite movies. The acting in that movie is so good.”

Charlie Vanpool's War

Today, I board the van when a 20-ish woman who looks like she would be part of Vinnie's family on Jersey Shore runs to the stop. Nick (whose name might be Saul) slides the side door open while Leon at shotgun asks her if she wants a ride.

Her eyes open as if she's using a public bathroom and a man approaches her with a buck knife.

"We're going to Port Authority. It's cheaper than the bus," Leon says.

Her face is steady and stern.

"NO," she says, really meaning it.

We pull away and Leon chuckles.

"I guess I look threatening," he says. (He doesn't -- he's an attorney in his 50s who has a stately, gentlemanly demeanor.)

Charlie laughs, too.

"You look like a dirty old man."

"That's right, Charlie. That's right."

We're on Rt. 3 by Hoboken. Traffic is at a standstill. The driver ahead of us doesn't inch up when traffic does slowly move because he's too busy texting.

Charlie leans on the horn and the man moves forward. He then goes back to texting, and once again doesn't drive in tune with traffic.

After the third time Charlie leans on the horn, the driver ahead of us turns and points at us, snarling and screaming.

However, he stops texting and actually drives.

"He's being good now," Charlie says.

"I think you trained him," I say.

"You can't train these people," says Leon.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shit's Jumping Off

We’re on Route 3 near The Tunnel. Charlie swerves across two lanes of traffic and heads into the shoulder lane. We come perilously close to hitting the car next to us.

The car next to us has a bumper sticker which reads “Jersey Grandma.” The grey-haired woman inside is pointing at us, repeatedly screaming what appears to be the word “asshole” and keeps on giving us the finger.

We head into the Lincoln Tunnel. A bunch of soldiers and cops are standing guard, holding high powered weaponry as people drive into the city.

“It’s still so weird to see these guys with their guns out,” Leon says.

“I remember when that 9/11 shit jumped off,” Norm says, shaking his head mournfully.
A few blocks into the city, a guy jaywalks in front of us. Charlie slows down.

“The crosswalk’s over there,” Charlie says sternly.

“What are you going to do, run me over,” the pedestrian retorts.

Charlie pauses.

“Yes, probably.”

Homeward Bound

Nick is getting on the bus home the same time I am. We sit next to each other and talk about the NL East.

I notice that his car isn’t in the parking lot.

“My son has the car today. He needed it for school,” he says. I offer Nick a ride home.

He lives about three blocks from my parents’ house. I drop him off.

“Would you like to come in and meet my wife and maybe have a drink?”

I tell him that I have to get home.

Bathroom Break

We’re on Route 3 near The Meadowlands. Charlie veers off an exit. There’s no traffic, so this is mysterious.

We pull into the parking lot of a Sheraton hotel.

“Thanks for stopping,” Barbara says. “I have to go so bad.”

She runs off the van into the lobby of this hotel. She returns roughly 90 seconds later.

“Thanks for waiting,” she says.

Ground Zero

We just get out of the Tunnel and are on 40th Street next to Post Authority.

The older men who sit at the front of The Van constantly speculate on the condition of 40th Street. There’s constant construction on a building on the south side, and every day they hypothesize about what the project entails. The general consensus is that it’s either a hotel or a branch of The New School.

40th Street is also always dug up and being paved.

“Geez,” one semi-regular on The Vanpool says. “This road is taking so long too fix.”

“You know what else is taking so long to fix,” Norm asks as he’s stepping off. “GROUND ZERO.”

Gone With the Wind

My friend Meg stays with me in Fairfield after working for the day in New York.

She’s heard all about The Vanpool.

We take our seats in the back. Barbara is to our left and a seat ahead. She’s chatting away about the day’s headlines with Jennifer. However, we can’t hear her.

I don’t want to let Meg down. I peek over Barbara’s shoulder and read the NY Post.

There’s a headline called “The Cab Ride From Hell.”

“Excuse me, Barbara. But can you tell me what that story is about? I heard a little bit about it on the radio this morning.”

“Oh,” she says. “It’s about some cab driver who picked up a lady at LaGuardia and got into one of those road rages.”

“You never know with these cabbies,” she says. “One time, I had a cab ride from hell. The driver, he was one of ‘those people.’ Anyways, he drove straight into traffic in Manhattan. Can you believe that? Who drives you straight into Manhattan?
I had an appointment I had to get to, so I started screaming right in his ear, telling him what an idiot he was.”

“I had no idea what to do.”

She pauses.

“But one time, I had this cabbie who was the best. He was this great old-fashioned black gentleman and was nice as can be. It was like he was straight out of Gone With the Wind.”

I don’t know if Barbara – or anyone else – realizes that the black people in Gone With the Wind were enslaved.

Barbara then starts talking about a previous article in the Post which talked about various scams taxi drivers pull on their passengers.

“You know, with Bernie Madoff and now these can drivers, no wonder there’s no money left in America,” she says. “I wish I knew some kind of scam.”

“I can teach you how to pass bad checks,” I tell her.

“You’re horrible.”


The Van doesn’t come every morning. This means I always have to carry a bus ticket, just in case.

But if I ever forget my ticket, I’m in good shape. Nick always has an extra, and he’s always willing to give it to me.

The Van does come today. I sit down and realize I don’t have any cash. This happens pretty frequently. Charlie will let us make it up the next day.

“Charlie,” I say. “I’ll have to pay you back tomorrow. I don’t have any money.”

Nick is sitting next to me.

“Do you need any money? I can loan you $30,” he tells me, holding up his money clip.

I tell him that I’ll just use an ATM.


There’s a story in Barbara’s NY Post about LeBron James possibly going to the Knicks. Nick and I start talking about this. Barbara asks me if I saw the issue last week which had a big story about “that LeBron James” and his relationship with Jay-Z.

I tell her I didn’t see it.

“Oh, I’ll get you a copy,” she says.

She then dials her cellphone.

“Katie, make sure you put the copy of the Post from last week with LeBron James in it to the side,” she says. “The kid on The Vanpool wants me to bring it home for him.

My Nephew is Famous

Leon usually sits shotgun. He’s a balding attorney in his late 50s. He’s the sage veteran of The Vanpool and is quick to dispel wise commentary.

He speaks with Charlie throughout the ride. He punctuates every sentence by repeating Charlie’s name.

“You know, I knew when Peterson was named to the Planning Board, that there were going to be some problems, Charlie.”

“I really like Villanova’s chances in the tournament. They’ve got really great guard depth, Charlie.”

“The Investor’s Business Daily… it paints the picture a whole lot better than the Times, Charlie.”

At the end of the ride, I move up a few seats to get out easier. I sit behind Leon and Charlie.

“It doesn’t look like John’s going to get the role, Charlie,” Leon says. “He’s just such a nice guy, and Captain America’s supposed to be a bad-ass.”

My mind is spinning.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I was just wondering what you’re talking about?”

“My nephew John’s an actor. He’s up for the part of Captain America but it doesn’t look like he’s going to get it.”

I flinch.

“Your nephew’s John Krazinski from The Office?”

“Oh, you know him?”

“Yeah,” I say. “The Office is my favorite show of all-time. He’s the only man alive my wife would leave me for.”

He laughs.

“I’ll tell him you said that.”

It later hits me that I could use this connection to try and get John Krazinski to take part in Vanpool: The TV Series. I think it could be in the episode where the Vanpool travels through the Tunnel and emerges in the era where the Dutch are about to sell Manhattan to the Brits. John will play Captain Holland and will attempt to prevent the deal from happening, which will allow Holland to take its rightful place as the most powerful empire in the history of the world. This means that tulips, wooden shoes and lax drug laws are a lot more popular in our world.

Good Time

Charlie drives aggressively.

He picks me up at the stop at roughly 7:25. I have made it to my office as early as 8:10. This is a near impossible feat when commuting from Jersey into Midtown.

Charlie is not afraid to drive in shoulder lanes, cut across multiple lanes of traffic at once, and to force other vehicles into compromising situations, particularly when we’re merging from 15 lanes into two going into the Lincoln Tunnel.

Charlie also knows every shortcut known to man.

Today, traffic on Route 3 is at a crawl. Charlie is doing his best to make good time, but the Gods are aligned against him this day.

He pulls off the highway near Clifton. We make a sharp left turn and are now careening through a Shop-Rite parking lot.

“Charlie, can I do some groceries,” jokes Claire, a middle-aged Asian woman. This is the first time I’ve ever heard her speak. She listens to “How to Speak English” lessons on her iPod.

We’re now through the Shop-Rite and are on a residential road, easily doing double the speed limit. We then turn off into a smaller road, and through another, and are now in an office park. We cut behind an a well-manicured office building, through another driveway, and now end up back on the highway.

Charlie is bullying his way through traffic, cutting people off without any regard whatsoever. He now gets off at an exit well before the Tunnel. We’re now in a town that I, despite being born and bred in North Jersey, have never passed through. All of the storefronts and street signs are written in Spanish.

We turn through a few small streets and wind up in Hoboken, where we make a sharp U-Turn and are now entering the Lincoln Tunnel.

I am at my office at 8:25.

“He was so slow today,” Barbara said when she leaves the van.

Jennifer: The Life of a Temp Worker

Jennifer’s a temp worker, which means she’s only a semi-regular on The Vanpool.

Yesterday, she told us about her new assignment, working in a small Manhattan real estate office. Someone asks her how it went.

“It was horrible,” she says. “It was awful. As soon as I got in there, the receptionist started laughing. She pulled me aside and told me that today would be one of the worst days of my life.”

“The office was just this guy and his wife. He was this fat old man and his wife was like 25 years younger than him. He kept on screaming in her face all day and calling her an idiot and a moron. Then she kept on apologizing for being so dumb.”

I start laughing at Jennifer’s misery. She at least has a sense of humor about her life.

“That wasn’t even the worst job I’ve ever had.”

“I was temping in the Accounts Payable department at this hospital once. The guy in charge of the office was so old and walked around with a breathing tank. As soon as I came in, the first thing he said was, ‘Why, aren’t you a pretty thing in that skirt.’”

“I thought he was funny at first but it wouldn’t stop. All day long, he kept on talking about how much he loved my legs.”

“I was making photocopies in the copy room and he pretty much trapped me and tried to squeeze my breasts. I walked past him. But I was thinking of saying to him, ‘Don’t you know you’re in your 80s and I could kill you by pulling out your breathing tube?”