It was summer of 2000 and my first book was about to be released at the CBA international retailer’s show. That particular year the annual event was held in Louisiana at the New Orleans convention center. I, along with writer and friend Laura Petherbridge, roomed together several blocks away at the Wyndham hotel.

This was my second show. The first I’d attended—the previous year—had been held in the city in which I reside. Every morning I got into my car, drove to the convention center, parked for a nominal fee, then returned home at the end of the day. But this particular year I was looking at either cabs (which I couldn’t afford at the time) or walking in the heat and humidity of New Orleans until I reached my destination.

I chose to walk. So did Laura.

Every day, as our bodies cut through the thick air, we noticed buses—official buses, just for CBA—making routine stops at hotels along the way, finally depositing their passengers mere steps from doors leading into the air-conditioned convention center. As we wiped sweat from our brow and agonized over wearing high heels and pantyhose in July, we vocally wondered about the cost of the bus.

We made our trek several times a day. Then, on the last day and for the last time, as we were heading from the event to the hotel, Laura turned to me and said, “I don’t care if that bus cost a million dollars to ride. I’m taking it. I just don’t think I can abuse myself like this any longer.”

I agreed with her. “No matter the cost,” I said. “We won’t eat dinner tonight if we run out of money.”

We stepped to the curb and looked into the air-conditioned bus, toward the kind face of the waiting driver. “Excuse me,” I said. “What is the cost to take the bus to the Wyndham?”

“Are you with CBA?” he called down from his seat.

“We are,” Laura said, showing him her entry badge. I did the same.

He smiled. “Then the bus is free.”

“Free?” I squeaked. “Do you mean to tell me we’ve walked in this heat every day for a week when we didn’t have to?”

The bus driver chuckled. “I ‘spose so. Come on up. Enjoy the ride.”

What We Didn’t Know

Well, we just didn’t know. We should have known. There were signs at the hotel and at the convention center, but we’d not bothered to read them. For the next few hours, Laura and I admonished ourselves with how foolish we’d been.

We’d charged ahead. We knew the path, but we’d not bothered to ask the bus driver about the ride. Eventually our admonishments turned to giggles and finally all-out laughter.

In the years that followed, Laura and I have not hesitated to take the bus. And we’ve enjoyed the ride.

Really, This is Nothing New

Years ago I heard a similar story. It was of a cruise ship’s captain who, while strolling on the deck one evening near the end of the journey, found a young man eating crackers with cheese as though it were his last meal. Stopping to observe the ravenous behavior, the captain finally said, “Young man, was the dinner meal not to your liking?”

The man looked up, startled. “Oh, no,” he replied. “I’m sure it was just fine. But I…I brought crackers and cheese for my meals.”

“But why?” the captain asked, stupefied. “There are delectable feasts in the dining hall below.”

The man hung his head between his shoulders, forlorn. “I wanted to come on a cruise for so long,” he said. “To see the ocean, to feel the waves beneath me, to stop at exotic places along the way. But I don’t make a lot of money and I could only afford my room. I’m sure the beautiful food I’ve seen being served is way out of my budget.”