Up until a few weeks ago, I’d usually try to catch the No. 64 bus that arrives at Werk Road, just before you reach Boudinot Avenue, at 3:45 p.m. The bus goes up through English Woods, through Fairmont and through parts of Clifton before it finally reaches downtown. It’s a bit of a haul.
Walking up to Queen City Avenue and taking a No. 6 bus would have been a quicker ride for me, but if I’d done that I wouldn’t have gotten to know bus driver Ramona.
I don’t know how many years I’ve taken the bus. I’ve lost track.
I’ve had all kinds of bus drivers. Some are flat out rude or don’t want to give you the time of day. Others are friendly enough, though some of them are a bit standoffish.
Ramona isn’t like any of them. She’s downright friendly and nice.
She’s a striking tall and thin black woman with big brown eyes and a beautiful smile. With her Metro uniform, she always wears a skirt. Most of the time her hair is pulled back, but sometimes it’s all made up.
She was driving the 64 when I first moved to Westwood in the spring. I have this habit of sitting in the front seat right next to the driver. I don’t ever expect the drivers to talk to me, but Ramona did.
At first it was polite talk about the weather and traffic and such, but after a while our conversations became more personal.
Ramona smiles a lot and is quick to laughter. Often times when I’d get on the bus I’d be the only person riding. Those were the days I liked the most. It was like having my own personal taxi driver.
Throughout the spring, summer and fall, we’d often talk about the presidential election.
She was for Barack Obama, as I was. Neither one of us could understand why anyone would vote for a man — McCain — who liked war.
Sometimes we would talk about her kids, who are now all grown up. She raised them on her own.
She also has grandchildren and once showed me a picture of them. I told Ramona she doesn’t look old enough to be a grandmother.
Once we talked about her mother, whom she’s concerned about. She might be suffering from depression, Ramona said, and from what she told me about her mother I think she’s right. I’ve dealt with depression myself over the past year, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her.
I did talk some about myself, told Ramona that I also have grown children. I once said I couldn’t believe how fast time goes by — how fast kids grow up. She knew exactly what I was talking about.
I told Ramona that I’m a writer and do a column for CityBeat. She didn’t seem to know a lot about the paper, but she does know a lot about writers and books. Anyone who reads Eudora Welty is alright with me.
Because the bus is seldom crowded, Ramona sometimes pulled it over and stopped so she wouldn’t get ahead of schedule. When she did this, she would often reach her into her bag and pull out her homework.
Ramona is a college student. She’s taking classes at the University of Cincinnati and is close to finishing up.
I think her major is Psychology, but I could be wrong. Sometimes Ramona speaks so softly it’s hard to hear her.
She’s a Christian, and she’d sometimes talk about what was going on at her church. She goes every Sunday morning.
I never told Ramona my views on organized religion, but if more so-called Christians were like her maybe I wouldn’t be so critical.
Every once in a while when I would get on the bus another person would be sitting in my normal seat. On those days, I felt let down because I wouldn’t get to talk with Ramona.
Now things have changed. Ramona has been assigned a new route and is no longer driving the 64. She’s now in my old neck of the words, Clifton, driving a No. 17 that goes, in part, up and down Ludlow Avenue.
When she told me of her new assignment some weeks ago, I got a little upset. I told her no matter who took her place on the 64, no matter how nice they were, I wouldn’t like them at all. They would never win me over.
Ramona got a big kick out of that.
On the last ride I took with her, there was the usual friendliness and laughter, and I think I held up my end of the niceness. In the back of my head, though, I knew I probably wouldn’t be seeing Ramona for a long time. I felt sad about it.
It’s been more than two weeks now since I’ve seen her. With her gone, I usually walk up to Queen City Avenue and catch a No. 6, but a few times I’ve taken the 64.
The new guy driving it at 3:45 p.m. is nice enough and polite enough, but he’s not Ramona.
Ramona, if you’re reading this, I’m thinking of you driving up and down Ludlow Avenue. There’s a guy over here on the west side who misses you.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org