The Unwelcome Rider

(This true story first appeared at the splendid

The #35 was standing room only when two gentlemen, locked in conversation, boarded and stood in front of me at the front of the bus. The one closer to me had a messenger bag over his shoulder and as he adjusted it to accommodate the other standing riders, I saw a small spider clinging to the strap by his shoulder.

I wanted to alert him about his tiny stowaway, but even at a safe distance, peoples’ reactions to spiders run the gamut from indifference to utter panic, and the curve skews heavily to the latter when the spider is identified as ON the person. Blurting, “Dude, you have a spider on you!” seemed like the least effective way to handle it, so I kept an eye on the tiny creature while I waited for an opportunity to interrupt him.

Personally, I’m okay with spiders. I prefer to keep my distance, but ever since seeing a spider building a web between a streetlamp and the ground 20 feet below – I could see five threads had already been made – I’ve given them props for their ambitions. In that regard, this bus-riding spider didn’t disappoint: as I kept an eye on it, the spider appeared to be constructing a web between the buckle and the strap.

A few minutes down the road, the departure of a different passenger left a seat open. The man with the spider offered the seat to the woman standing next to him, but when she declined, spider-man sat down – and in doing so, blocked my view of his strap. Expecting the person next to him would soon see it, and not knowing where that person fell on the Spider Response Spectrum, I leaned over and tapped his leg. When our eyes met, I said, “Sir, if you spin your bag around…”

Before I could finish he gave me a wide-eyed look of dismay and said, “I’m sorry, did I just hit you with it? It’s hard to know where it stops when I’m standing, and….”

I shook my head. “No, if you spin your bag around, we can remove the spider that’s clinging to your strap.”

That’s when I realized his first expression wasn’t wide-eyed at all – but this new one certainly was.

He spun the bag fast enough to cause a friction burn on his neck, a speed that dislodged the spider. He was holding the strap away from himself as I looked for the little hitchhiker when the woman who had declined the vacant seat leaned over and said, “There it is” and whisked it to the bus floor.

I immediately wondered what the fate of this spider would be. At home, I would have scooped it onto a sheet of paper and escorted it outside, but that wasn’t a feasible option on a crowded bus that’s routinely lurching with stops and starts. Would the miniature creature be inadvertently trampled by someone who was unaware it was there? If I brushed it to safety under a seat, would it simply climb up and terrorize another passenger – exactly what I was trying to avoid in the first place? A tiny spider managing to escape a standing-room-only bus would make for quite a survival story – or would have if the woman who’d whisked it to the floor hadn’t silently extended her foot and crushed it under the toe of her yellow Mary Jane.

“I hate spiders,” she said, more as a statement of fact than an explanation.

“I hate them, too,” the guy with the bag added with an audible phewww. “Thanks to you both.”

We all settled back into our private commutes, no one speaking of the microscopic puddle of spider guts in the aisle betwee


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