Part of my long-ass commute involves riding on The Last Bus. It is the final bus of the evening. There are no more buses afterward. If you want to go somewhere other than where the Last Bus is already heading, you can’t (at least until the next morning). At its final stop, it connects with nothing. You either catch a ride with someone who has a car, or you get a taxi, or you walk. The Last Bus is usually full of tired working people, who just want to get home. Oh, and a few drunks as well.
As you could imagine, there is often drama on the Last Bus. People walk on, shouting, “Hey, does this bus go to X?” No, it doesn’t. People walk off, shouting, “Hey, where the hell is this? This ain’t where I wanted to go! Take me back.” No, it can’t. It is out of service now.
It feels unfair when things go wrong, like when you need to go somewhere but you can’t because you’ve missed all the relevant buses. From your perspective, you followed all the rules — you went to the place where the buses are — but now find yourself irrevocably screwed through no fault of your own because how were you supposed to know that the bus service doesn’t run 24 hours a day, except for the bus website, the signs at the bus stop, and the transit information hotline. No, sorry, that’s not fair. You don’t know what you don’t know.
The point is, you’re fucked. And now you have to respond. Sometimes you suck it up and think about your options. And sometimes you are so wildly back-footed by the situation you now find yourself in that you’ve got nothing, no ideas, no backup plan, no view ahead. Rather than grapple with the situation, all you can do is focus with burning intensity on the unfairness of it all, the sheer unmitigated messed-upness of the crisis. All you can do, in your hopelessness, is scream for help.
And the scream always sounds the same:
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!
I hear this question every day. People — grown ups, even — get themselves stranded and lost, they spiral into an unresolvable dilemma, to the point where they have no recourse but to scream at the world, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!”
But the world can’t answer, because the world doesn’t know. As sympathetic as I am to their plight, I do not have the mental fortitude to try to solve their problem for them. Someone needs to walk them through their options, i.e. do they know anyone with a car, do they know anyone with whom they can stay the night, do they have money for a motel, and so on and so forth. I am a tightly-wound ball of anxiety who can barely converse with strangers under much more placid circumstances; I can’t walk a person in crisis through shit. They can walk home with me if they want, but my housemates aren’t likely to let a throng of strangers chill out for the rest of the night.
What are they supposed to do? They can’t make decisions or take care of themselves. There isn’t anyone who can do those things for them on that bus either. What happens now? What happens next? When your average person is reduced to asking what they’re supposed to do, in the midst of a blind panic, it’s already too late for a gentle, friendly intervention. They are asking you to bend the laws of time and space. Loudly. MAKE THE OUT OF SERVICE BUS TAKE ME BACK! MAKE ANOTHER BUS COME AND TAKE ME WHERE I NEED TO GO! SOMEONE GIVE ME, A SCREAMING, POSSIBLY INEBRIATED, STRANGER, A RIDE!
It’s tempting to assign blame. But it’s not helpful. To my knowledge, pointing out that a person is simply suffering the consequences of their own actions or lack of foresight, has never successfully mollified someone in the midst of a full-blown tantrum, ever. “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO D–oh, I guess you’re right, this is my own fault isn’t it. I guess I’ll just quietly find an overpass to sleep under.”
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO? It’s a question that cannot be answered. All I know is that it signifies trouble and danger.