Cindy is an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
Philadelphia's Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority boasts over a thousand buses that service the metropolitan area. The impressive fleet shuttles passengers to and from hundreds of destinations throughout the city on any given day. Only one, however, provides a chosen few a new lease on life.
It is said that the bus that leads to emotional salvation only appears to those trapped in the clutches of dark despair. Some, if not all, of these tortured souls are so despondent that they don't know if they can make it through another day. It is only when they reach this level of hopelessness that fate steps in to offer them one last chance for redemption.
"The Wandering Bus," as it is sometimes known, appears from out of nowhere and returns to parts unknown upon completion of its route. Although it can show up just about anywhere, it is most often spotted in the areas of West Powelton, Center City, Passyunk, Haverford and Dauphin.
Those who claim to have ridden the bus relate that they felt compelled to do so for reasons they can't articulate. They only know that while trudging through the streets, lost and alone, they were thrown a lifeline in the form of a mysterious city motor coach.
According to them, the vehicle sports very little in the way of identifying markings. The LCD marquee is blank. No routes, streets or destinations are displayed. Even though the public transport's SEPTA logo features prominently on the side of the bus, it is not listed on any official company manifests or transit maps.
The driver, who never allows his face to be seen, seems to sense exactly who is in need of assistance. After honing in on a likely candidate, he drives by them once as if to gauge their worthiness. Upon seeing it for the first time, those for whom the bus is intended know instinctively that help has arrived. Those who see the bus, but choose to ignore it, never get another chance.
The man behind the wheel doesn't stop on the initial go-around. At that stage, his goal is only to make his presence known. If the dejected soul wishes to board the bus, he or she must wave it down and ask to be allowed inside. If permission is granted, the doors open, allowing them to step into a place where they will be forced to face their demons head-on.
A Bumpy Ride
As they board, an automated voice announces the name of the intersection from which the person was picked up. No mention is made of where the ride will end.
No fare is required. Some former passengers say that they offered whatever change they had on hand, while others paid nothing. The driver stares straight ahead, refusing to engage with new arrivals. He simply motions for them to take a seat before departing to a place known only to him.
The bus is deathly quiet; those already on board seemingly absorbed in their own inner struggles. Once seated, the journey begins. Those who retained memories of what happened next recalled almost immediately falling into a state of deep reflection.
During this period of soul-searching, the events that led them to the point of desperation are dissected, one by one. Every possible scenario and outcome plays out in the recesses of their mind. It is only when they realize where they went wrong that they gain the ability to leave regret behind and move forward.
As they work through their issues, riders are aware that there are others on the bus, although no one ever seems to recollect who they were or what they looked like. Not a word is spoken aloud throughout the journey, which normally lasts for several hours.
In some instances, if accounts are to be believed, the ride continues for years. Apparently, the length of the journey is reliant on how long it takes each individual to both recognize and remedy the behaviors that brought them there in the first place.
Passengers are cognizant that the bus is moving, but say that nothing can be seen of the world outside. As it rambles along, the vehicle is completely self-contained. Those on board are so focused on themselves that, for a time, nothing else exists.
Riders know that they have emerged triumphant when they gaze out the windows and see the twinkling of the city lights. The experience has been likened to being snapped out of a trance. No longer lost in their own misery, they are ready to rejoin society. It is when they reach this epiphany that the individual, now revitalized, tugs the cord, signaling that their journey has reached an end.
The passenger is subsequently dropped off in the same location from which they were picked up. Shortly after they disembark, the bus disappears into the night presumably to resume its travels, minus one.
You Get What You Give
What occurs in the aftermath is just as perplexing as the ride itself. Some former passengers say that they were delivered to a point in time preceding the events that precipitated their downward spiral.
Having been shown the error of their ways, they are able to fix the problems before they get out of hand. It is believed that, in some cases, the bus not only allows people to work through their past, but also gives them the opportunity to relive it altogether.
In contrast, some riders recall next to nothing of their sojourn or what happened once it was over. They remember little other than stepping onto the bus and back off again. What took place in between is lost to them, perhaps intentionally.
For a handful of passengers, their level of despair runs so deep that they cannot be helped. In those instances, the ride only reinforces what they already know, which is that their situation is beyond hope. With nothing to gain from the experience, they are forced to exit the bus, never having found deliverance.
This unfortunate outcome is thought to be reserved for those who have committed acts against humanity for which they sought absolution. They soon learn that, even on the bus where past misdeeds are washed away, not everything is forgiven.
Those who can't handle having their emotions laid bare have been known to pull the string and demand to be let off the bus prematurely. The driver is forced to oblige, leaving them exactly as he found them, both physically and emotionally. It is only after the bus pulls away that they realize, too late, that they let their only chance at happiness slip away.
There are others who try in earnest, but are never quite able to come to terms with their own actions and, as a result, can never make them right. Striving for a breakthrough that will never come, they ride the bus forever, their loved ones never knowing what became of them.
Stranger Than Fiction
Accounts of the vehicle some refer to as "Bus Zero" first appeared in 2011 in what were purported to be works of fiction. This was called into question when dozens of Philadelphians allegedly came forward to say that they knew the events depicted to be true; they had experienced them firsthand.
These former passengers told of the monumental changes that occurred in their lives following their having boarded the bus that they believed at the time had found them completely by accident. Most claimed that they had been walking along a darkened street, wallowing in self-loathing, when the enigmatic coach first caught their attention.
Even though they had no destination in mind, they had somehow known that the bus was the light at the end of the tunnel they had been longing to find. Sensing that this was their last hope, they had climbed aboard not knowing what the ride had in store for them. Fearing that they were nearing the end of life's journey, they had nothing left to lose.
That the city of Philadelphia is home to a bus that travels only by night, offering the forlorn a sanctuary filled with new beginnings sounds farfetched, to put it mildly. That said, stories continue to surface to this day of people who say, unequivocally, that they regained their will to live after taking a bus ride that led them through their own subconscious.
To add to the mystery, the bus, or one just like it, has reportedly been sighted in other cities across the Northeastern United States. Operating between the hours from dusk till dawn, it seems to know where it is needed and shows up accordingly.
It is possible, of course, that this otherworldly method of transit is merely a product of wishful thinking or mass psychosis and nothing more. All the same, if you ever find yourself slipping into a bottomless pit of despair and a bus like no other catches your eye, take a chance and flag it down. After all, some opportunities only come once in a lifetime.