As is the case with most of my dreams, this one consisted of fragments, but a familiar time and place provided me with a context from which I could weave some sort of dream narrative. Otherwise, the usual disclaimers apply: virtually none of the events depicted really happened.
An exception to this disclaimer is the time and place. It’s Spring, 1991, and I’ve just started a new job. As this job requires a security clearance, I have to wait out the process in places other than my assigned location. I spent three weeks in training, and then three more at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I assisted another Systems Administrator. Mostly we just hung out in a cramped office. For the first week, we also went out to lunch together, but I was broke and subsequently ate on campus, where I could eat for free as a member of the technical staff.
My lunches were a tour of the dormitory cafeterias that dotted the sprawling campus. The food was a step above basic, but I appreciated the hour-long break. I sat by myself, trying to be invisible. I marveled that, at 31, I seemed so much older than the students who swarmed around me. They ignored me entirely, as if I truly was invisible.
During the work day, I mostly interacted with other technical staff, people my own age or older. Students rarely came to data center except for tutoring with professors and their assistants. This intensified with my last week there, which turned out to be finals week.
One teen-aged girl caught my attention. She wandered the hallway instead of walking directly to one of the offices.
“May I help you?” I asked somewhat sincerely.
“I doubt it,” she replied.
Eventually I found out that she was a freshman on the verge of flunking out. She had submitted a programming project that would essentially determine her future at MIT. She was hoping to gather some intelligence about her project ahead of getting a final grade.
Finally a graduate assistant spoke to her in impatient whispers. She wasn’t happy.
She walked up to me and announced “I have a security flaw,” and started to walk away.
“What if I could help you with that?” I offered, not having a clue about what or how.
She seemed intrigued, but unconvinced. I told her everything I knew about cyber security, which took only a minute or two. She gave me a quick hug and then left.
The following day she stopped by the office with a backpack and a suitcase.
“I’m off to California,” she said.
“What about your project?”
“What about it?”
“Have you addressed the security flaw?”
“I think he’s bluffing,” she surmised. “I’m pretty sure he has a crush on me.”
Then she walked away, wheeling her luggage behind her.
At the risk of being a pest, I followed her, speculating about what I thought the flaw could be and how to fix it. It was a wild guess on my part, but she seemed to be buying into the idea.
Against my better judgment, I drove her to the bus station while I continued to expound upon my theory. She wasn’t listening. I stopped talking. We sat down in the waiting area and stared at the buses coming and going.
Abruptly, she turned to me and hugged me tight. “I know I can’t stay, but I don’t want to go.”
She sobbed. I didn’t know what to say.
The bus driver walked up to us.
“One ticket to Los Angeles?” she asked in the form of a question. Both of us stood up.
The bus driver gave me a good long look.
“First stop, Springfield.”
I followed along in my car. It was about an hour and a half drive. The bus pulled into a service station, where all of the passengers disembarked except one. A minute or two later, the bus driver stepped off and closed the door behind her. She didn’t seem surprised to see me.
“Asleep?” I asked her.
“On the phone,” she replied.
I sat inside the waiting area and sipped an overbrewed coffee. After about twenty minutes, the bus driver emerged from behind a door marked “Staff Only.”
“The next stop is Schenectady. It’s about an hour and a half away.”
“I should probably go back.”
An hour and a half later, the bus pulled into the Schenectady service station, and I followed close behind. Once again, all of the passengers got out except one, followed by the bus driver a few minutes later.
“Asleep,” she said.
“Does she have a name?”
“Probably, but I don’t know it.”
The bus driver clutched a bottle of water and stared at her bus.
“The next stop is Syracuse. It’s about two hours.”
The scene repeated itself, except that I had to refill my car with gas in Syracuse.
“When do we knock off for the night?” I asked the driver.
“This bus goes all the way to LA non-stop. I get relieved in Chicago, and then pick up the same route from there the following day. That’s when I knock off for the night.”
“So you drive all the way through to Chicago?”
“Lots of coffee?”
“No, that wrecks your body after awhile. I used to try to fight off highway hypnosis. Now I use it to my advantage. It helps me to focus.”
“I should probably go back,” I said. Again.
“If you leave now, you could get back to Cambridge before midnight. If not, the next stop is Rochester.”
I looked at my watch. I wore one back then.
“How far to Rochester?”
“About an hour and a half.”
“I’ll make that my point of no return,” I said unconvincingly.
“See you then.”
Nearly 400 miles later, a familiar pattern took place. The one passenger I was following didn’t leave the bus. The bus driver used the rest room, purchased a bottled water and walked over to where I was sitting.
“I know,” I said to her. “It’s a fool’s journey.”
“It always is,” she replied.