The woman beside me struggles to her feet from a small bench as the M86 crosstown bus approaches Central Park West. But it's coming too fast. We see its "out of service" sign as it whizzes by.
"I think they go to lunch," the woman confides in a strong Russian accent.
"Maybe," I say with a smile. "Probably mechanical trouble."
She wasn't buying it. "Lunch," she repeats with certainty.
I don't know about that, but someone is definitely out to lunch. The latest Straphangers Campaign report reveals the M86 bus crawls along at a 4.5 mph snail's pace, one of the 10 slowest bus routes in Manhattan. The group's Pokey Award "winner" was the crosstown M79, which it clocked at a pathetic 3.2 mph at noon on a weekday -- less than human walking speed.
Back at the bus shelter, about 20 people wait impatiently. Finally, an M86 bus pulls in with another on its tail, both packed.
"Why they always come two at time?" the Russian woman wonders.
"One of the mysteries of New York," I reply.
"Da," she agrees.
We board the first and squeeze by riders in the aisle. A 40-ish man in a power tie and jacket sits on an aisle seat, blocking the empty one beside him. The Russian woman gestures for him to move over. He acts like he doesn't see her. She swings her heavy Fairway bag into his hip, and he jumps up. Oh, that's how you do it. Mr. Selfish mutters a curse, then angrily departs and hops a cab.
I grab the seat as the second bus whips by us. Ours remains frozen as the light ahead turns red, then green, then red again. We finally cross Central Park, only to idle at Madison Avenue and 86th for another 10 minutes. Just a few blocks from my stop, I decide to walk the rest of the way.
She grabs my arm.
"What you call a gassy Russian?"
I laugh aloud.
"Da," I reply as I step from the M86. She waves goodbye as the bus sits.
Spokesman Kevin Ortiz says the MTA is "making increased dispatching efforts and using our GPS-enabled bus fleet to monitor real-time bus performance in order to make scheduling adjustments . . ."
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.