Sunday, September 17, 2006

BUS STORY # 6 (New Neighbor)

After moving from the 6:48 a.m. to the 6:28 a.m. No. 11, I missed meeting my two neighbors. I had the stop all to myself, at least for a couple of weeks or so. But one morning, I noticed a new guy waiting at the stop. As I got closer, I realized he wasn’t really a new guy. He was a guy who sometimes got on at the stop just around the corner, about two blocks downstream. Funny how by moving up two blocks he became my neighbor.

Now this guy did look like he might be an environmentalist. He also looked like he might not have a car, by choice. He wore hiking shorts and T-shirts in subdued desert colors, hiking boots, and carried a rucksack. Solid rather than stocky. Gray, slightly shaggy crewcut; maybe a three-day growth of beard. Late 40s, I guessed. He sat on the bench - not on the seat, but perched on top of the backrest, feet on the bench.

I said "Good morning." He looked up at me, said "Morning," and looked back down at the bench seat. That was it. I thought about saying more, but I sensed he wasn’t interested. When the bus came, and the trip into town began, I remembered he always sits up front in a window seat with the rucksack in the aisle seat and either reads or writes in a notebook. And never joins in the banter with Gino and the other regulars.

Neither do I, come to think of it. But I listen. And I look around at the folks enjoying the party. And I smile, even laugh out loud, at some things. I’m an observer kind of guy, a passive participant, how’s that? I think my neighbor is a tune-out-the-white-noise kind of guy. I always sit behind him, so I really can’t see his face. But he keeps his head down, just like at the bus stop this morning.

I think he’s an irregular rider because I don’t see him at either stop every day I ride. And it hasn’t occurred to me until this morning to watch for a pattern in his ride days. Of course, I wonder what in the world he does. If those are his work clothes, it must be cool, whatever it is. But the unshaven face . . . maybe he’s a student. I get off before he does, so he could very well be taking the bus to the north side of the UNM campus, where all the medical facilities are. Med student? Hmmm. Or some kind of tech that changes out of his street clothes into scrubs. Hmmmm. I don’t know what else is on the north side of the campus. I noted a wedding ring this morning. That could explain how he came to be living in my neighborhood. I wonder what’s he reading? He keeps it in his rucksack until after he’s on the bus, and he keeps it low, out of my line of sight, head down. And I only know about the notebook because I caught the corner of the spiral binder and fat black lines of a felt-tip pen while he was shifting his gear around in the seat beside him. So why does he ride the bus? And where does he ride it to? And what does he do after that?

There are a million stories in the Big Town. I’ve already got a dozen going on my new neighbor.

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