Friday, July 13, 2012

Back Story: Bench Life in Shallow Springs

Dusty is lost in thought alone on the bench in front of Bill's Market. It is a typical summer morning in this small town in Ohio. Characters come and go stopping briefly to sit and chat with the exception of one constant, Dusty, who seems to be there all the time, good-naturedly harassing pedestrians that pass by the bench or cross the street to and from the market and the Lazy Dog Coffee House on the other side. A retired actor, Dusty is the town character, looked at askance by some and with affection by others. He is dressed in a straw hat, fishing vest, and flowery shirt. He has all kinds of things hanging from his neck, including a whistle. He also has a small bullhorn next to him on the bench.

Ernie the bag boy comes out of the market through the door on Dusty's left. He is wearing a long white apron. They greet each other as he takes a seat.

Dusty: They got the buck-fifty biscuit and sausage gravy special, today?

Ernie: Yeah.

Dusty: Say, you get a free cup of coffee with that?

Ernie: You ask me the same thing every Tuesday, Dusty. The answer is still, “No.”

Dusty: Well, a buck-and-a-half is kinda steep for a breakfast that doesn’t come with a cup of coffee.

Ernie: You’ll have to talk to Bill about that. I’m just the bag boy.

Dusty: Well now, don’t sell yourself short. You provide a valuable service to this town. How’re all those old ladies gonna get their groceries to their cars, if you don’t help them?

Dusty grabs his bullhorn and pops up from the bench, shouting to someone across the street, "You there in the red cap, no jay-walking!" Someone in a passing car yells for him to get a job.

More characters come and go. Dusty continues to harass the town folk and the occasional "Get a Job!" pierces the air in an ongoing repartee between Dusty and the world at large.

It develops that, aside from waiting for Bill's Market to lower the price on it's breakfast special and kick in a free cup of coffee, Dusty has a plan, a much bigger plan that will draw on his theatrical and elocutionary talents that he shares with his friend Harvey the writer as he joins him on the bench.

Harvey: So, what’s new?

Dusty: (Muttering to himself – head down – thinking) What’s new? What’s new? (Lifts his head up – smiling) I’ll tell you what’s new. You know that tour bus from Cincinnati to Cleveland that makes a side trip here every once in awhile..? Well, I talked to the lady over at the Chamber of Commerce about a little something I’ve been thinking about. (Pointing) You know they stop right there across the street. Annoying as hell… The driver leaves the engine running and he tells the passengers they’ve got fifteen minutes to take care of business. It’s so noisy you can’t hear yourself think and after awhile, the air gets so bad it runs everyone off the bench.

Harvey: Well, that can’t be all bad.

Dusty: No, it’s not, because I got this idea. I could go on the bus with my bullhorn and offer to show the passengers around – for a fee, of course. The Chamber lady said she thought she might be able to arrange it - get them to make the town a regular stop on the tour. Get them to stay longer.

Harvey: Wait a minute. She said you could go on the bus with your bullhorn..?

Dusty: Well, we didn’t go into the details…

He continues the thought when his friend Dell comes along.

Dell: What kind of job are you talking about?

Dusty: Self-employment, entrepreneurship, independent contractor work…

Dell: You got anything more specific in mind?

Dusty: You bet. I’m thinking of running a tour service in conjunction with the bus tours that come through here.

Dell: That doesn’t sound too steady. I’ve seen that tour bus to Cleveland. It hardly ever comes through here.

Dusty: Oh, it will. And when it does, I’m gonna get the Chamber of Commerce lady after them.

And he shares more with s skateboarder who happens along.

Skateboarder: You still do any acting?

Dusty: Not really, but I’m working on setting up a gig where I can draw on my theatrical skills. All I have to do is snag that tour bus that comes through here every now and then and give the driver the Chamber Lady’s business card.

Skateboarder: Why don’t you just call the tour bus company?

Dusty: I never caught the name. As I recall there was no sign on the side of the bus. It was just a big white bus with the destination sign above the front windshield that read “Cleveland.” Say, you didn’t happen to catch a company name anywhere, did you?

Skateboarder: Sorry. I don’t remember seeing one, either. If I did, I wouldn’t remember. The last time I saw that bus was months ago.

Dusty: Ah, yes… The elusive white ghost bus…

Skateboarder: What kind of theater gig you gonna get on a tour bus, anyway?

Dusty: (Grandly) I will draw upon my intimate knowledge of this historic little burg and my professional enunciation skills to conduct a guided tour. Once I get the chance to pitch my idea to them, I’m sure I will be able to convince the bus company to stop here on every one of their trips from Cincinnati to Cleveland and vice versa. I will thrill their ridership with tales from the Underground Railroad, haunted houses and perhaps a few soliloquies from Hamlet and Macbeth as I show them the old opera house.

And again when his friend Sam has his doubts.

Sam: Hell, that bus may never come through here again.

Dusty: (Head down, nodding sadly) Oh it’ll be back. You can count on that. And when it does, I’m gonna get on it. It might take me the whole three hours to Cleveland to convince that driver that I’ve got quite the plan. But in the end, they’ll come around.

Ernie sticks his head out the door and announces that they have reduced the breakfast special to a buck and Bill will throw in a cup of coffee. Dusty wastes no time in getting inside to take advantage of the deal. While he is inside, the bus comes.
Bus Driver: (Announcing over the PA system) Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived in Shallow Springs. You have fifteen minutes to do whatever you like. There are restrooms right here in the Lazy Dog. Please be back in your seats promptly at 12:15, so we can be on time in Cleveland.

Time passes as the denizens on the bench sit frozen in shock. No one has the presence of mind to go inside the market where Dusty is wasting time chatting up a woman he has encountered.

Bus Driver: Is everyone on board? Okay. Thanks for being on time. Next stop, Cleveland.

The bus leaves and Dusty returns to his accustomed spot juggling a stack of Styrofoam food containers.

Dusty: (To Harvey) Oh, you’re back. I’ve got a good feeling about today. I better hurry up and eat my food. That bus might suddenly show up. It’d be just my luck if the driver wouldn’t let me bring my lunch on board.

No one on the bench has the heart to tell Dusty he just missed the bus. All heads are lowered, looking at the ground. Finally, someone speaks.

Sam: I don’t know why you’re so sure this is the day your ship will come in, Dusty. It’s been months… But don’t worry.  If it doesn’t come today, it’ll surely come someday.

All the denizens are sympathetic and offer their reassurance, perhaps a little too exuberantly.

Dusty looks at the demonstration on the bench, becomes suspicious, rises and looks off into the distance toward the north. But, before he can spot the bus in the distance, he becomes distracted by something going on across the street. He blows his whistle and shouts through the bullhorn. 

Dusty: You there in the plug-in Prius, a little closer to the curb, if you please…

Play synopsis for "Bench to Nowhere." Look for it in the Yellow Springs 10-Minute Play Festival, Oct. 26 & 27.


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