We know something's amiss when the driver of DASH shuttle #7018 makes an unscheduled stop at Third and San Carlos. Sometimes they'll pull over between stops if someone flags them down. But there was no one waiting at the corner that we could see.
The driver turns off the engine, grabs a briefcase, mumbles something about being just a minute, and gets out. He trots across the street, pausing a moment on the median strip for a couple of cars to pass, leaving us sitting in the dark. It's 5:43 p.m.
"Where's he going?" one passenger asks.
"You think he's going for a burger?" another asks, pointing to the McDonald's across the street.
"He can't be going to McDonald's, can he?"
"If he goes to the drive-up window, I'm gonna report him."
As we watch, the driver goes inside McD's.
"Maybe he's asking for the bathroom key," someone suggests.
"I can see him," says the woman in the front seat. "He's standing by the register."
"I can't believe this," another passenger says.
"We're not going to make the six 'o clock train," says a man, shaking his head.
We sat quietly in the darkened bus for a bit, then someone says, "We should report him to the VTA."
"Yeah," says another passenger, grabbing a VTA brochure from the rack behind the driver's seat. She finds the VTA's phone number, pulls out her cell phone, dials 321-2300, presses a few buttons, waits. "All I'm getting is a recording," she says.
"Here he comes!" the front seat passenger cries out.
"Look, he's got a McDonald's bag in his hand!"
"Forget it," says the phone woman, hanging up. "I'll call from the train station."
All eyes follow the driver as he crosses the McD's parking lot and pauses at the crosswalk, waiting for the "walk" signal. He's a big burly guy, top-heavy, with skinny shanks. We can tell because he's wearing shorts.
"Do you think he'll say anything?"
"What do you think we should we say?"
"Maybe we should ask him if he brought us anything."
"Let's wait and see what he says."
The light changes. The driver crosses the street, walks alongside the shuttle and opens the driver's side door. He climbs in, puts his burger bag on the dash, stows his briefcase beside his seat, starts the van and pulls out. Not a word is said. It's 5:50 p.m.
"Do you think we'll make the six-o-five train?" one brave soul asks.
"Should be there in five or six minutes," the driver mumbles.
We look at each other, shake our heads. Not likely. It's gonna be close.
We're moving fast down San Carlos; the shuttle bus rattles and shakes. We pass the next two stops, then the driver hits the brakes. A book bag slides off a seat and hits the floor with a thud.
"Oh, Almaden," the driver says. He cranks the wheel hard to the right and hits the gas. The shuttle lurches onto Almaden Boulevard.
A couple more stops, another set of lights, and we're almost at the train station. We bounce along, zipping past another DASH shuttle that's stopping at the Light Rail station at Delmas and San Fernando.
When we reach Diridon Station, our path is partially blocked by a badly parked VTA bus. Its electronic readout flashes "out of service."
Our driver grumbles. "What's wrong with them...?" He stops, backs up a bit, turns the wheel hard, and squeezes by the darkened bus. He stops the shuttle at the regular drop-off spot, and pops open the door.
It's 6 p.m. and we rush to get off. We walk quickly through the train station, some pausing to purchase or punch a ticket on the way to the platform. One train is waiting, doors open...no, that's the 6:25 Baby Bullet.
A moment later, we see a headlight approaching from the south -- it's the 6:05 train. We made it.