ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: Searching
Book Two, Chapter 126: HOLD THAT BUS!
I tell Joshua I’ve changed my mind: I don’t want to go to the track with him today. But I still feel conflicted. Do I want to go to the track? Or don’t I?
It’s early afternoon. To try to soothe myself, I head out the door for a walk and pass two couples getting into a car — one man sporting a pink bowtie, both women in hats. I know where they’re headed — to the track for Oaks Day, along with seventy or eighty thousand other people.
I’m missing it! I think. I’m missing the color, the excitement, the chance to win money. I’m missing it! Ernie would want me to go! Ernie and I would already be there!
I hurry back to my place to call Joshua. He doesn’t pick up. I pace the living room, extend my pacing to the kitchen, call Joshua again. He’s still not picking up. Is he already at the track? No doubt he is. Jesus Christ! He’s there and I’m not. I bang my hand against the kitchen door’s frame. Slam it again until it hurts. I’m missing it. I’ve blown it. Joshua’s gone on without me. Of course he has. I told him I didn’t want to go.
I check my wallet. Sixty-two dollars. Admission’s thirty dollars. That’ll still leave me enough money to put down a few bets. I’ll play the Oaks-Derby Double and put through-the-board money on Goldencents, my Derby pick. If I get to the track on time, I’ll play an Exacta on the seventh race, a filly turfer; it goes off it forty-five minutes. Jesus, can I make it? I put on my straw hat and fly out the door. I’ll catch the bus! Surely there’s a bus!
YES, I see a bus a block away! It’s stopped at the big intersection. It’s picking up a throng of passengers.
I begin to run. “Hold that bus!” I call out. I scream it. “Hold that bus!”
A nearby man picks up my plea. “Hold that bus! The lady wants the bus!”
I’m running. I’m not thinking about anything but making that bus. My eyes are fixed on that long fat bus. It’s still there.
“Hold that bus!” I shout again. I keep shouting it.
I cross the busy intersection almost without looking. The last person in line boards the bus. Three seconds later I get on, panting, slumping against the ticket stand.
“You really want to get to the track, don’t you?” the bus driver says. He’s smiling.
“Thanks for waiting for me,” I say.
The bus is packed with young people, not enough seats for everyone. I stand in the aisle next to a college kid in an orange suit and straw hat. “Hey, I like your hat,” he says to me. He shows me a silly grin.
Is he drunk already? The girls in their sundresses and hats are talking about needing to find a restroom. I wonder: Have they all been drinking?
Someone starts a chant that others take up: OAKS! OAKS! OAKS! They’re like cheerleaders, in high spirits, drunk on excitement if nothing else.
And I’m in a rush to be part of this Big Drunk.