I board the 66 out in front of the ATC, on First at Central, along with a lot of other folks. By the time I’m aboard, all the seats below the back platform are full, except one. It’s an aisle seat.
There’s a pretty big guy in the window seat, with half his right leg taking up half the aisle seat. The people ahead of me pass it by and head up the platform where it’s already standing room only.
I’ve talked about this before. Albuquerque is largely a live and let-live town. Riders here will often stand rather than impose on someone sitting in an aisle seat next to an empty window seat, or on two riders sitting on a bench seat with an empty seat between them. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. It’s something I haven’t seen the few times I’ve ridden the bus in other places.
I am not a confrontational kind of guy, especially when I’m in a public space. I’m taking stock of the folks standing in the back when I feel something propel me into the partially occupied seat.
I’ve just taken myself by surprise.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
I’m not sure if I’ve just committed an act of aggression or confrontation or just plain momentary insanity. I don’t feel angry. Or edgy. Or righteous. I’m surprised to find I feel good.
I have no idea what’s wrong with me.
The first coherent thought that finally comes to mind is “lark.” As in “for a lark,” which becomes “I wonder what would happen if.” If I sat down next to this guy whose body language is making it perfectly clear he owns these seats, mister, and he has clearly posted a “No Trespassing” sign.
By this time, it’s too late. And perhaps this is when I’m thinking it must be aggression or confrontation or push back, because I’ve taken every inch of available aisle seat I can, to the degree that my left thigh is smack up against his right thigh, hip to knee.
If he had been a she, I might have gotten myself slapped by now.
He doesn’t move his leg. He doesn’t move his head, either. He’s looking out the window. It’s like I haven’t happened.
Maybe it’s a race thing. He’s black. I’m white.
Maybe some part of me didn’t want to feel intimidated.
Maybe some part of him is making up for times past.
He’s too young to have experienced what Rosa Parks’ generation experienced. But maybe he has parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles who’ve told him how it used to be.
He isn’t near young enough for me to write off his lack of awareness to youthful self-absorption.
Maybe he’s wondering if I’m gay and making a pass? Or maybe he’s
gay and wondering if I’m
making a pass. But if he’s gay, he surely knows I’m not. Gay or straight, he might be doing the same thing I’m doing: trying to figure out what’s going on with this co-rider of his.
But what I come round to most of all is he’s just really irritated that someone -- any
one -- took the aisle seat. He’s a big guy, and one seat isn’t enough room. That ought to be clear to anyone, but here I come along and plop right down. No consideration at all.
We go for several stops, neither of us yielding a millimeter along the line of scrimmage.
And then his leg moves. It pulls over to his side. He straightens up a little, then turns to me and asks, “Where you goin’ this fine mornin’?”
I look at his face for a moment before answering. He’s smiling, and if there is any sarcasm or irony or anger or anything other than a sincere and warm greeting, I don’t see it. And it is
a fine morning, the first true autumn day of the year. I am confused again, but not too confused to take the cue. I tell him I’m on my way to meet a friend for lunch.
He tells me that’s a good thing, and he asks me where.
I tell him.
He asks me if that’s in the University area.
Close to it. I explain I get off at the stop just after Girard.
He’s riding to the end of the line.
Where’s he coming from?
The dentist. And his face is all numb. He tells me he’s glad it isn’t cold this morning because he doesn’t think he’d know if his nose was running.
I tell him I’m glad, too, for my sake.
He laughs. I laugh.
He tells me today it’s the dentist, day after tomorrow it’s the other end. He’s going to the hospital for one of those scope jobs. He says his brothers and sisters have been telling him it’s not that bad. He thinks all that stuff he has to drink to clear himself out is gonna be the worst part.
I tell him I think he’s right, and I hope he doesn’t have anyplace out of the house he has to be tomorrow. He laughs. I laugh.
He’s gonna have a steak dinner tonight, though.
And so forth. We laugh.
He pulls the cord for me when we cross Girard, and then he tells me again it’s a good thing to be having lunch with my friend. I wish him good luck with his test, then head for the back door.
I don’t tell my friend at lunch about my experience on the bus. I don’t tell him because I haven’t processed it yet. Even now, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me. The only thing I know for sure is that I read all the signs wrong, and that I had a headful of crazy ideas. Fortunately, I know that hardly ever happens with me.