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?”

Loud Mouth

Today, I meet Nick. He also gets on at the Fairfield stop. He’s a 55-ish accountant of Lebanese descent. He sounds sort of like Count Chokula. He also immediately cements himself as one of the three or four nicest people I’ve ever met in my life.

He greets me with a firm handshake.

Nick is sitting one seat ahead of me in the rear of The Vanpool. He’s as big of a college basketball junkie as I am. We start talking about the Villanova game the night before.

Barbara sits one seat ahead of Nick. She turns to Nick.

“Could you tell him to shut up. He has such a loud mouth.”

She said this about me.

Rip Tom

Barbra enjoys reading the New York Post out loud.

Today, there’s a headline about troubled actor Rip Torn, who under the painful spell of addiction, broke into a bank and was arrested.

Barbara’s recounting his sordid tale, but keeps on calling him “Rip Tom.”

I’m listening, enthralled by this. She turns to me.

“You know, you look exactly like Jack Nicholson,” she says. “Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. With your little smirk there.”

I can attest that I look nothing like Jack Nicholson in anything.

Vanpool: Origins

Today, a new woman is sitting in shotgun. She’s about 40, with bobbed black hair and is fairly cougar-ish.

When we approach Totowa, she laughs.

“Charlie, do you remember that I was the first person on The Vanpool?”

She turns to us.

“I used to wait at the stop in Pine Brook. Every morning for about a month, Charlie would pull up in his van. He’d roll down the window and would offer me a ride to New York.”

“I always shook my head no. I used to tell my husband every night about this. He was really upset and insisted that I called the police.”

“But one morning, I don’t know why, but I decided to get into the van. And that’s how this started.”

Norman, the black guy who wears loose-fitting button-down shirts, laughs.

“That’s how he lured me in, too.”

Monday, June 7, 2010

Vanpool, the TV Series: Righting the Wrongs of the Past

I went to the Knicks game with Dave and Aaron the night before. I tell them about the Vanpool. They can’t believe I would get into a van filled with strangers. But I explain to them that it’s cool inside the van.

The van pulls up. The night before, we bought Lakeland bus tickets in case the van didn’t come. I explain to everyone that we have tickets that we already paid for.

We’re told that we can pay with our tickets, which we do. The three of us receive $1 back.
Barbara, who is wearing a leopard print scarf, asserts herself at the van’s power broker.

“Charlie, can you turn the heat up? I’m too cold,” she says.

“Can you turn down the heat? You put it up too high,” she says 45 seconds later.

Dave, Aaron and I all agree that there needs to be a TV show about The Vanpool.

The concept:

Anytime the Vanpool goes through the Lincoln Tunnel, it emerges in a different era, where the passengers have been transported back in time to correct the wrongs of the past. If they fail, the Lincoln Tunnel ceases to exist, making the commute from Midtown to Hoboken just that much longer.

EPISODE 1The vanpool emerges in a Hooverville during The Great Depression. Their mission: to help a family sell their newborn child for food. If they do so, that child will grow up to be a backup New York Yankee infielder who will hit a clutch base hit in August of 1988.

The vanpool emerges on the day of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. If successful, they will prevent the disaster from happening. This means that no workplace safety rules such as OSHA will ever be enacted, making American labor costs that much cheaper, which allows our manufacturing industries to still compete against China. Also: the second season of The Wire is completely different.

The vanpool emerges in the middle of The Stonewall Riots and rescues a homeless trannie from being beaten by the police. From there, the Vanpool denizens convince the transsexual that his “choice” of sexuality is both unnatural and wrong, which helps them save America’s public schools.

But there’s a catch at the end of every episode! No artifacts from our time can be left in the past, or else it will (obviously) destroy the space-time continuum. Barbara’s character, every week, leaves her leopard print scarf or gaudy earrings somewhere, which means the vanpool has to find it before they change history… for the worst!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Get in the Van!

I just started work at my new job three days ago, and I’m waiting for the 7:30 Lakeland bus to arrive.

A white Dodge Ram van with tinted windows – straight out of I Know My Name is Steven –pulls up to the stop. I don’t think anything of it. And then the guy riding shotgun rolls down his window.

“Hey man, you want a ride?”

I shake my head no.

“Well, where are you going,” he asks.

“New York,” I say.

“That’s where we’re going. So come on in,” he says.

“Nah, I’m okay.”

“You headed to Port Authority?”


“Well, that’s where we’re going.”

I look inside the van. There are eight people inside. They all star to beckon me.

“Come on in the van! It’s cool in the van! You’ll love it in the van!”

The guy riding shotgun stares at me directly in the eyes.

“Get in the van,” he says firmly.

And I do.

I sit in the very back of the van, next to a 30-ish Hispanic lady. The rest of the passengers comprise a veritable cornucopia of North Jersey diversity.

Everyone’s completely silent.

No one says a word as we drive for three miles, right past the Willowbrook Mall.

I start to wonder about this van I just entered. Am I being kidnapped? Is this some kind of religious thing? Did I just make the biggest mistake in a lifetime of mistakes?

I start to plan my escape route. There are two back doors to the van which look easy enough to open. I have a cell phone with an emergency speed dial. And, being a 32-year-old man, I can probably fight way way out if need be, since most of my fellow passengers are middle-aged women.

I can’t take the quiet anymore.

“Can somebody please tell me what the hell is going on here?”

The lady next to me explains it. Every morning Charlie, the hard-of-hearing 60-ish driver with white muttonchops, trolls (my word, not hers) bus stops along Rt. 46, looking for passengers who, for $5, receive a trip to Midtown Manhattan. This,
fiscally, makes sense – bus tickets are $9 each way.

We then go back to pure silence.

Barbara begins the conversation.

She’s about 50, a little under five-feet tall, her hair to her waist, with Nancy Pelosi’s skin-tone. Being a North Jersey native, I recognize her arch-type already:

She’s the overbearing mother of every Jewish girl I dated growing up.

“I have a place in the city, y’know, Right in Gramercy Square. I pay all the bills. The utilities. Everything.” she says to no one in particular. “But my husband, he lives out here in Pine Brook. So this is where I stay.”

“My family, we’ve had the place for yeeeaaars. Right now, my niece is staying there,” she says. “Let me tell you about her. LOVELY girl. She was a top student in high school. She got into any college she wanted to. Lehigh. Lafayette. Brandeis. She ended up going to the University of Maryland and got started in property real estate management.”

She pauses for affirmation, but people aren’t really listening to her.

“So, she decided to try her hand up here in New York. We have really well-to-do friends who live in Chatham. They told her, ‘Hey, have the summer of your life. Come with us to the shore house. Come with us to the country club. Have the best summer of your life. And then, when it’s over, then you start to work.”

“But that’s when the recession happened, and she can’t find a job anywhere,” she says. “I mean, she was waitressing for a while, but it was completely beneath her,”

Everyone looks at her like they want her to die. There are no Goldman Sachs executives on The Vanpool.

“So, I pay the utilities. I pay the cable. I pay all the bills. I mean, what am I supposed to do? It’s my sister’s kid.”

Barbara looks around.

“But I make sure her mom pays for her Blackberry.”
Jennifer, the lady sitting next to me, asks me about me.

So I begin to tell her: I just started working in New York City, but I still live in Philadelphia, so a few nights a week I stay with my parents and –

Barbara turns around to me.

“Would you shut up? You talk so loud.”

A few minutes later, I get off the van and walk to work.