Mildred Felkelstien is a retired school teacher who one day went out for a simple bus ride across town to visit her daughter. The bus ride turned into a three year hell after she accidentally sat on some gum and couldn’t get up from the seat. What follows is Mrs. Felkelstien’s own words in an exclusive interview with Meltingclocktimes.com of how she survived, how she failed to get people to help her, and how she eventually freed herself:
“It all started when I unknowingly sat on some gum that some dirty kid must have spit out. When I tried to get up to get off at my stop I couldn’t get up. Maybe it was some powerful glue that someone put there as a joke–I don’t know– because it held me with a powerful force. Perhaps some construction worker sat there and spilled some heavy duty adhesive. I missed my stop and I was moving around juggling to get up. People just looked at me like I had to pee or something and wouldn’t help me. Finally exhausted I sat back down. When other passengers would sit next to me I would say, ‘Can you help me? I am stuck. Do you have a
pocket knife or something to get me out of this mess?’
“‘Oh no, Mame. Suicide is not the answer,’ responded one young man.
“Everyday people with Ipods stuck in their ears would sit next to me. I always said, ‘Young lady,’ or ‘young man, can you help me? I am stuck to the seat here. Can you help me cut away this gum or tell the driver or something?’ But almost always they wouldn’t hear me and just nod to me and get absorbed in their music.
“Some more courteous people turned down the sound when I said something–but not enough to hear me. One time a young man adjusted his Ipod and said, ‘Excuse me Mame, the music was too loud and I didn’t hear you.’
“I repeated to the man, ‘I am stuck on this bus. I sat on some gum. Can you help me?”
“‘Did you say you saw a duck on the bus and you saw some fun? That is funny Mame.’ He looked around and added, ‘Is this duck still on the bus?’
“‘No,’ I said, ‘I said I am stuck, not duck and I need some help.’
“‘Did you say the duck went into a truck with a yelp? Did he jump out a window or what?’
“All I had to eat was food that other passengers left behind. Sometimes I went days without food. But other times you wouldn’t believe what people forget and leave behind. Once someone forgot a whole cooked turkey. Usually about every other week someone would get on the bus with two bags of groceries and forget one when they got off. I gave up trying to tell people about my predicament and to get them to help me. I was looking pretty ragged and not smelling very nice. So people wouldn’t sit by me anyway unless the bus was crowded. The only time I got clean is when folks would leave behind enough bottled water to give myself a sponge bath.
“You are probably wondering how I went to the bathroom. Well, I was so disgusted and horrified about doing this in my terrible situation I think the shame actually gave me good control. After the bus was parked in the garage at night I would go in an empty water bottle and throw it out the window. Yes number two also. After a few months I got the idea to throw the bottles at police cars so they would stop the bus and come in and save me. But it never worked.
“About two years ago someone forgot a cell phone. I called my daughter and some friends and only got answering machines. In retrospect this only made them think nothing was awry because they heard my voice. Perhaps that prevented them from sending out a search and rescue party. I got through to one friend.
“‘Hello Marge. This is Mildred. You got to help me. I am stuck on a bus.’
“‘Oh, Mildred. How are you? How is your family?’
“‘Things are not well-like I said. I am stuck on a bus. Help me please.’
“I called you more than month ago and you never called me back Mildred. If you called me back I could have helped you sooner. I never thought you would become like all these other people who make you talk to an answering machine and then they never call you back.’
“‘Marge. I couldn’t call you back. I am stuck on a bus. Only now that someone forgot their cell phone can I call you. I need some help to get free from this bus.’
“‘What do you mean Mildred that you are stuck to a bus? Like a VW bus? Do you have the love bug? Did you find a man who is a VW mechanic or what?’
“‘No Marge, I am stuck to a city bus, damn it. Someone left some gum on the seat and I am stuck to it.’
“‘That is funny Mildred. This is better than any of your old April fools jokes even though you are late this year. This funny prank makes up for you not calling me back for so long.’
“‘This is not a joke Marge. I am stuck on this bus and I need help to get off.’
“She just laughed and said, ‘Oh Mildred, you are so funny and that is why I love you. Oh, but I have to go. My grandchildren just showed up and I will call you back later so we can arrange a lunch date.’
“After Marge hung up I called 911. The operator asked me if I was in emergency, violent or life threatening situation. I answered, ‘Not exactly,’ so I got put through to a recording that said, ‘due to budget cuts the police can only respond immediately to emergencies. Please hold.’ After fifteen minutes an operator answered and I told her my situation. She seemed sympathetic and said, “Oh what a terrible thing to be stuck in that bus for so long. We’ll send a police car out there if things calm down and a squad car gets free. Can you tell me your address?’
“‘Bus route 41,’ I said, ‘Right now we are near Jackson and Main Streets.’
“‘Mame, how can we can we send a car to help you if you don’t give a specific address?”
“‘Well I am in a bus and we are moving. How can I give you a specific address?’
“‘How can the police car find you then?’
“‘Well, what do you do when you have other incidents in buses?’
“‘Usually when something happens in a bus the driver stops so he can tell us where he is. Is there anyway you can get the driver to stop and then call us back?’
“‘No one listens to my pleas for help. That is why I called 911.’
“‘Well, I will send out a message to all squad cars to look out for your bus–but it sounds like it will be a wild goose chase. I hope we can find you. Good luck if we don’t.’
“‘I got the the idea to call 911 when I was in the parking garage at night. But the phone batteries went dead! If the police were looking for me they never found me.
“It was terrible. The seat was way in back but often I yelled to the driver, ‘You have to help me!’ Most of the time the bus driver would ignore me or not hear me. But sometimes he would yell back, ‘No panhandling on the bus!’
“At midnight the driver would pull the bus into a big garage and most of the time the driver wouldn’t pay attention to me or notice me way in the back. I would yell, ‘Help me! I am stuck!’ The driver would walk back to me and say, ‘If you don’t get off the bus lady I’ll call the police.’
“I’d answer, ‘Please do,’ as the driver went out of the bus.
“One time the driver walked back toward me after parking the bus for the night in the garage and said, ‘I’ve seen you in the bus a lot and I think you have spent the night in here before lady. I am not joking lady. I will call the police for real this time if you do not get out.’
“‘Please do! Please call the police!’
“‘Listen lady. Do not threaten me. I will really do it.’
“‘Please do. I need help. I am stuck. Help me get off this seat.’
“‘I get your ploy now. You want me to grab you and then you sue for sexual harassment–I ain’t going to lose my job for that dirty trick. But I’m warning you. I will call the police even if I do have to fill out form number 7728538b.’
“Every morning at six a driver would get the bus rolling. And most mornings the driver wouldn’t hear my yells for help or ignore me. One morning a driver walked to the back of the bus and said, ‘Didn’t the night driver call the police to get you out? You are lucky they are too under-staffed to show up lady.’
“‘What do you mean lucky? Help me out of here! I am stuck!’ I said.
“‘Well, lady,’ he said, ‘We’re all stuck, aren’t we? You think I love this bus driving job? It pays the bills so I am stuck too. We gotta make the best out of it lady.’
“After two years my daughter and my ten year old granddaughter got on the bus. My granddaughter hugged me and said, ‘Grandma! I haven’t seen you in so long!’
“My daughter sat next to me and said, ‘Mom, why don’t you answer your phone ever?’
“‘It’s because I am stuck on this bus, dear.’
“‘I know this bus is slow, makes a lot of stops and the traffic is bad–but it’s not that terrible, Mom.’
“‘Yes it is for me dear. I am stuck. I can’t get off.’
“‘Oh come on Mom! I know a lot of people are rude, but most will get out of your way so you can get off at your stop. Do you know I went to your house a few times thinking your phone was broken–but you weren’t home.’
“‘It was because I was stuck on this bus, dear!’
“‘Oh, Mom! You have such a wild sense of humor. Why don’t you come and visit us–it seems like it’s been ages. It’s because you don’t like my husband.’
“‘Nonsense dear. I love your husband. I’d love to come over, but I am stuck to this seat.’
“‘Then come over over for lunch Mom.’
“‘Yeah Grandma!’ My granddaughter’s eyes lit up, ‘We’re having hamburgers!’
“‘Our stop is next. Follow us out Mom,’ said my daughter as she took my granddaughter by the hand and went to the door.
“‘But… But.. ‘ I said. As the bus pulled away after the stop I saw my daughter and granddaughter looking around for me with a bewildered look and a tear ran down my cheek.
“I was stuck on my left upper thigh. The gum dissolved my pants there and stuck right to my skin like tar. Everyday I got a lot of exercise trying to shake myself loose. It never worked until one day after three years. I still couldn’t get off the seat, but three years of twisting and shaking loosened the bolts holding the seat on the bus floor. It was morning after rush hour and the bus wasn’t too crowded. I shook and shook seeing the seat was loose. Finally it broke off.
“‘I am free! I am free!’ I yelled, and I dragged the seat connected to my thigh to the exit door. The driver looked back and saw me getting off the bus with the seat. He turned off the engine and went back there as I exited the bus.
“‘Just where are you going with that seat lady? You are stealing city property. I am calling the police.’
“‘Please do call them,’ I said as I was desperate for help.
“The police arrived and one policeman said, ‘Just what are you doing trying to steal that seat?’
“‘Someone put some gum or something there and I got stuck to it,’ I said.
“‘I have heard some pretty crazy stories from thieves getting caught in the act. But this one takes the cake. Let’s take her in and book her,’ said one of the policemen.
“They read me my Miranda rights but they couldn’t get me and the seat in the police car. So an ambulance came and took me to a hospital to get the damn thing removed.
“Was there anything positive about my experience? Not really except for when I finally got home I had three years of teacher pension checks–so I had a lot of money. People said to me to take a nice trip somewhere. I don’t like to drive so I don’t have a car. And aren’t cars the biggest ecological disaster in world history? I am somewhat afraid to fly and airports these days are are horrible with all the searching and delays. And the train system in this country would make Bolivia or Albania ashamed. There are no good train routes anywhere from here. So that leaves the bus. So I think I will stay at home.”