As I stepped onto the 94, the driver grinned and said, "Free ride if you play something."
"Really," I said, but stuffed my ticket into the fare box anyway, and shuffled down the bus to an empty seat.
"You wouldn't be the first to take me up on it," he called after me. "Maybe a little something by Joan Baez."
"I don't think I have any of her music in my repertoire," I said.
"Well, something else then," he suggested. "Anything."
I sat there for a few minutes, thinking, my heart racing with mild anxiety. Should I or shouldn't I? An invitation like that doesn't come along every day. I could let it slide -- because no one really expects me to do it -- and just have a peaceful ride all the way to the university. Or I could do something extraordinary and accept a challenge, sing a song on the bus, get my voice warmed up, entertain people on a boring route, and have a good story to tell my family when I get home. But there's no place to manoeuvre my guitar case open...
The bus driver had given up on me and was carefully picking his way through a school zone when I moved my guitar case onto the countertop that sits over the passenger side front wheel. "Can I leave this here while I sing?" I asked.
"Sure," he laughed, clearly delighted. "What will you play?"
"An old folk song."
"Peter, Paul and Mary?"
"Older than that, I think."
I plunked myself down on the very first sidelong seat next to a kid listening to his iPod and reading a foreign author. He grinned at me and pulled out an earbud. "I can move if you need more room," he said, but I shook my head.
Looking at the dozen or so folks further down the bus who were all looking at me, I announced, "The driver has challenged me to sing you a song, so here we go. It has a chorus that goes like this, and I expect you all to help me."
After a quick run through of the chorus, away we all went with a tune I've known since I was a kid...
(1951 -- a while before I was born!)
The following week... I had a wicked head cold, and it was a different bus driver. But the young man with the earbuds who sat beside me while I sang the previous week grinned when I got on and said, "You're back!" I smiled at him and headed for the back of the bus... glad that I had taken the opportunity when it presented itself.
Sometimes you only get one chance.