Squid vs. Whale
Bar Story Bad
Bad things exist along a spectrum. A flat tire in a thunderstorm is unpleasant. Getting jilted hurts really bad. Getting stuck on a bus to New York for eight hours, now, that’s interminably bad.
Any time you have a bad day like that, you always wonder, could things ever get any worse? You know the answer is, oh, absolutely they can! But did you know that sometimes you should hope things get worse? Because the worst day of your life is only a few more mishaps away from being bar story bad.
What is bar story bad? Bar story bad is when things get so bad it’s funny. It’s a corollary of the B-movie that’s so bad it’s good. Bar story bad is a beautiful place to be because all bad days end eventually. It sucks to live through it, but from that moment forward you know you’ve got one hell of a story to tell. And knowing that is the only thing that helps you get through that terrible day.
I know this from experience, and I’m sure most people have had days like this. My life has been full of bar story bad days, which is why I’m the most entertaining person you’ll ever meet. Anytime something bad happens to me, I’m always wondering if something even worse could happen to swing this day from being simply miserable to amazingly funny/bad. Just like that day I cut off most of my little toe.
Take my trip last weekend to New York. Getting stuck on the bus is always bad. Traffic sucks. Sitting forever sucks. It’s just bad. I was hating my existence and wishing I was unconscious. Then all of a sudden everything stopped and a fireball appeared in the distance. I perked up and started to pay attention. The tides had turned — I had now entered a bar story bad day. I knew from that moment on, anything that happened to me could be used in my favor at all future bars.
Our bus was boxed in by semis on all sides. There was no escape. Police cars zoomed in from every side. My chances of getting into New York at a reasonable hour were dashed, but I didn’t care. This was the start of something memorable.
We sat on that bus completely immobilized and just relished how much this sucked. The air smelled like gasoline. Sirens were everywhere. Some guy on the bus started shouting about how it would be no good if someone died in the car wreck, because then the police would have to close off the scene for two hours and take pictures. Wait, what? He was hoping no one had died only because it would mean an extra inconvenience?
The driver checked in with a trucker and found out that a big pile-up had occurred and a truck’s fuel tank had exploded. No one had died, but they’d have to clean up the mess for a few hours. I didn’t even know cars could explode like that!
With absolutely nowhere to go, there was no reason to get worked up. Sometimes acceptance is key. So everyone on the bus napped or chatted. Life stories were exchanged. I got to know the bus driver really well. She told me stories about growing up in the segregated South and how this white lady made the best hot dogs of all time, but wouldn’t sell them to her so she had to go to the back of the store to buy them from one of the store boys. She told me stories about how much she hated North Carolina when she was growing up because of the social atmosphere and it wasn’t until she left that she realized how beautiful a place it was.
We shared stories about living in Texas. She told me about her time in the Air Force living in Greece. We had an animated discussion about just how wonderful Southern food is. She talked about pulled pork that was so good it was elbow deep. I tried to figure out what that meant. Once I did, the barbecue suddenly sounded less appetizing, so I won’t share it with you. Nonetheless, she promised to bring me some real barbecue on her next trip up to Boston. And to think, I only got to know her because a truck exploded in front of us. Ain’t that something!
As we talked, I also got to sneak in the best text message conversation ever with my friend, Sarah:
Sarah: When are you getting in?
Me: Few hours out. It’s a long story involving explosions. Will explain upon arrival. I hope you still have booze waiting.
Me: I know, WTF!
Sarah: Now you have something to write about!
To think I was dying for column ideas!
We waited for about another hour. The bus driver kept repeating her mantra, PMA, positive mental attitude: If we all believe, we’ll get what we want. Some guy had to catch a 1 a.m. train to Pittsburgh for a meeting. PMA. Another old guy spent our delay hitting on a prim and proper college girl from Brookline. PMA. I mentioned that, at the station, I was one person off from getting on the earlier bus. Had I arrived at the station five minutes earlier, I could have missed the wreck entirely. But then, I could have also been in the wreck. And so we talked about how much of life is a spin of the wheel, and how often the big things in life come down to pure dumb luck.
Some guy said how even though things could get worse, things could also get better. But honestly at this point, I was looking forward to things getting worse. Good things happening on an already bad day just bring a day back to being mediocre. I’d much rather reserve good luck for good days. Days when I’m not stuck on a bus.
Things did get worse. Just when the wreck cleared and we finally got on our way again, the sky let loose and something reminiscent of a Texas Downpour hit. I chuckled and watched waves of rain rip across the highway. The bus driver bitched about crazy folks that didn’t know nothin’ ’bout driving in the rain and we hummed songs about Old Man River together.
We finally got into the city around 2 a.m., only to find no place to park in the Port Authority. She finally illegally parked us and I scrambled out to unload all the bags and get everyone on their way before the Man came and got us in trouble.
Heaving that last portmanteau onto the curb, I thought to myself, tonight couldn’t have been any worse, but it also wasn’t bad either. I’d have a story to tell. And that ain’t all that bad.