A good day
I don’t have a picture to go with this story, but it’s a story worth telling. So, get a drink, get comfortable and let me tell you about my bus ride home.
In 2009, I lived in downtown Seattle. I rode the bus to work each day and then back. Public transportation is REAL interesting depending on when you get on it. At business times, it’s all suits and skirts going to work. Dolled up people making impressions, decisions and making the world go round. If you leave a little earlier the busses are empty and if you leave a little later you get to meet people of differing backgrounds, professions and mindsets.
I have seen everything on the public transportation. The buses in downtown Seattle are free during the day so the breadth of people that make use of the system is wide and diverse. Construction workers, city workers, dock workers, crazy people, homeless people, prostitutes, hippies, you name it… I have seen it all.
One day I was on my way home. It was later than usual, but I made the last bus. We were going through our stops (like every 10 feet) and a construction worker got on the bus. He was a tall man, about 6’-3” thin, covered in dust wearing his safety vest and bright yellow hat. He had a paper sack with a bottle in it and something from the market in the other hand. His gate was small and purposeful despite his heighth as he maneuvered onto the bus, sporting a smile from ear to ear.
The ladies on the bus in their fancy outfits looked at this dirty black man, with his bottle and odd grin and shuddered at the thought of him setting next to them. You could see the repugnance in their eyes as he looked for a place to sit…. While wearing a huge smile… he was oblivious to the looks, the quite snide remarks. He finally sat… directly across from me.
Two ladies immediately got up and moved. Shaking their heads in disgust and frustration, the man continued to smile, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, the bus driver looked back in his mirror with a disapproving scowl. As the ladies migrated to the back of the bus the man nodded his head as to acknowledge their departure.
I had my headphones one while on the bus. I do it on purpose. It allows me the ability to watch people and listen while providing me the excuse of not paying attention. Urban Stealth Mode is that I call it. (yes, if you have kids they do this to you all the time)
I watched the man for a long time. He was now rocking in place, smiling while people continued staring and whispering about him under their breath. I let it go… there was nothing else. Odd perhaps, but he was at least polite. No scene today, no drama. At about the time I realized that indeed people were making much to do over nothing, this man… oblivious, smiling, stopped nodding and rocking, sat up straight and looked directly at me.
“How you doing brother?” he asked.
Caught completely off guard I paused. I certainly wasn’t expecting him to talk to me and we had made at least 20 stops by now so I figured he had settled in for a long ride like the rest of us.
“I’m doing good… a bit tired, but I can’t complain” I replied.
As soon as my mouth opened, several people on the bus looked at me as if I had just committed a mortal sin. Why in G_d’s name am I talking to this man? Everyone looked simply astonished and somewhat insulted that I would encourage him to speak.
We stopped again… more people file on the bus, and nobody sits next to him. He has two empty seats to his left and right and the bus is packed. There was a pause; he went back to rocking and smiling. After a few passing moments he said,
“That’s good… tired means ya worked hard and done good for the day.”
Now, I am intrigued.
“Well good enough I suppose, how was your day?”
At this very moment, everyone within ten feet of me gave me the most horrified look they could muster. What had I done, I was now conversing with this man. Don’t I know they want quite, to be left alone and want him to remain calm..??? I ignored the look.
“Well, I got a raise today. I work one of the cranes for the buildings going up” he said followed by a brief pause. “Yep, good day. I’ve been off heroin for 8 months now, I’m working the crane, I got a raise and now I am going to go home, make my steak and drink my soda” as he pointed to his paper bag with the bottle in it, removing it just a bit to reveal that it was indeed Mountain Dew.
I resisted the urge to fire a look back to everyone around me. They had judged and condemned this man before he even sat down and now… now they knew why he was happy.
“Man that’s great! Good for you! 8 months is an achievement plus a job and now a raise. That is a good day” I shared, watching his smile get bigger.
He was quite for a long time and as the bus stopped he got up, walked over to me, leaned over and gave me a hug. Smile across his face. He turned and went to the front of the bus, looked back at the door and yelled, “God bless you” and stepped off.
Everyone stared, they couldn’t believe that I talked to him, and their jaws all but hit the floor when he hugged me.
It was quite for a long time on the bus.
I put my headphones back on and rode for several more stops. This little ride taught me a real valuable lesson in judgment, support and kindness. All he wanted was to share his good news with someone….. ANYONE. He wanted to be acknowledged; he wanted to feel good about himself. And without even trying I accidently gave him what he was looking for and felt better than I had felt in months in doing so.
I rode that same bus at that time for three weeks hoping I would see him again just so I could see how things were going. I never did. A few months after, I moved to the burbs and out of downtown and lost my chance to meet and witness the random encounters that life sometimes brings.
Sometimes there is a great peace in the randomness of life. It is said that all of our encounters in life are predestined. The relationships we form the people we touch and interact with. That it all has a purpose, even for the briefest of encounters. When I think of this man, his work and the progress he had made, I would like to think that these predestined encounters are true. I say that because I got as much from that conversation as he did and when the next one happens I want to do it right again.
In the end of the hectic, fast paced world that I live in, the stress, the pressure, the heartache …. It was a good day.