Thursday, September 29, 2016
The cradle of desolation and need which the 50 runs through requires us to scratch the surface to find the treasure. Once we commit to put our hands in the sand, the hidden value reveals itself. Not in buried pirate's loot which birthed the name Gold Coast, but in Life.
The first southbound trip started out with an indication of the direction the day would go, and it had nothing to do with the compass. A trio of two women and a man were standing at a corner, not near a bus stop zone. Engaged in conversation, at the last second the man looked up at the bus and put out his hand in a half-hearted hail attempt. It was too late to stop safely and not a bus stop anyway, but the trio seemed to be a little out of place on that stretch and I try to assist when possible, especially if there's a bench or street sign that visitors may confuse for a stop.
Soon enough, we pulled up to a stop where Smiley was waiting. With his perpetual grin and near-mute vocabulary, he plunked some change in the fare box and drifted aboard. It was unusual to find him this far from his normal turf, even though it's on the same street. He generally could be found floating in the vicinity of the Northeast Transit Center.
At one major intersection a sizable group was waiting. Among them was a vaguely familiar face, but I couldn't place him as a regular on this route. The time wasn't much past noon, but he boarded with the dejection of a weary man. When he mentioned his aunt was a bus driver for 32 years, I immediately remembered him as the exuberant young man on the 441 Breeze about 6 months earlier. Now he was boarding short on fare and with news that he lost his job at the car wash when business slowed. Back then, he'd been so excited about applying to become a bus driver. This time as he explained he hadn't heard back about his application, I could only suggest he be patient and in the meantime look for other positions to get him through the lean times. His voice noticeably choked as he mentioned his teenage son.
"I haven't been able to do for him like I would like to..."
It was clear his driving ambition was not merely about himself, but rather for the benefit of another. The lament over the merciless passage of time revealed this young man to be not so young after all.
Eventually the tide rises and it did so on our follow up northbound trip. Like clockwork, a slew of recent Haitian immigrants board after school. This group is truly young, almost all teenagers still trying to grasp their new language. In the beginning they would enter single file and orderly, each slipping in a dollar bill. As the semester progressed they grew impatient, skipping each other to get a seat, greeting me with What's Up and a fist bump. These kids learn fast. Always with bright smiles, polite, and never any trouble; that may be the true culture shock.
On our next southbound a lady was waiting near one of the countless used car lots along Dixie Highway, it's perimeter lined with sun-faded and tattered American flags. She boarded with a confused and imploring look.
"I don't have change." Four words not uncommon to my ears, but I decided to go down the rabbit hole.
"How much do you have?" I replied with joking curiosity.
"$900." She shared in hushed tone. "I don't want to wait on Dixie with all that cash. It's a down payment for a car, but I should've known this place was shitty when I saw all the flags."
Finally, at our north layover just before pull out our old friend the name rhymer comes scrambling over so as not to miss us. He's wheezing from the exertion.
"I ran, Stan!" He squeezed out between gasps for breath. "Thanks for holdin' the bus, Gus!"
As we approach his exit, he makes his way up to me from the back of the bus.
"See ya in awhile, Lyle!" He slyly threw at me as he hopped off. When he paused to measure my reaction I delivered my offering in classic deadpan.
"Good night, Dwight."