Sunday, October 15, 2006

BUS STORY # 7 (The Yale Regulars)

The morning Yale bus also has its regulars. There’s a young woman who always wears brown jeans and either a blue jeans jacket or black sweater, and sunglasses. When he’s there, she gives one of the men a hug when she gets to the bus stop. The man is an older man, 50s maybe, and something about their interaction suggests they are family.

The young woman usually sits by one of the blind riders, a young man in a coat and tie. They talk. He holds a device that looks like a black box with an accordion keyboard. I figure it’s a Braille typewriter. He works the buttons when the young woman isn’t riding.

There is a blind young woman and another older one. There is something shared in their facial expressions – a collective expression - that engages my curiosity, and I find myself staring in a way a sighted person would probably find rude and intrusive. Does their not being able to see me make my staring less so? “Behave yourself as if God were watching.” That would be Sister Ave Maria Gratia Plena (OK, not her real name. I don’t remember her real name, or her face, or what grade I was in. But I remember the habit and the severity and the fact that, even though my mother and grandmother never said such a thing, they would have approved.). By this time I’ve drifted back to staring and trying to parse that expression. Not guilelessness, exactly; more an attentiveness (Well, of course!), but more than that: an openness, a slight expectancy that connotes interest and optimism. It’s not just the two women, either. It’s also the young man in the coat and tie and that old guy with the white flattop. How do they negotiate this inconvenient world and end up with that expression?

There is a young black guy, open untucked sports shirt with colored T-shirt beneath, slacks, red and black bowling shoes, rucksack, skateboard and an Afro-Mohawk. He gets off where I do and I always watch fascinated as he rockets down the street and on past my office, weaving back and forth across the lanes, and sometimes, when there’s too much traffic, up on the sidewalk where he dismounts and starts walking like a mere pedestrian.

There is the round short guy always in a black baseball cap, sunglasses, variously patterned blue shirts, black pants, white athletic shoes, black backpack, and, sometimes, white gloves. He’s often on the bus I catch back to Central at the end of the day. Knitted-looking white gloves . . .

There is a young lady in a ServiceMaster uniform – this is the company our office contracts with for housekeeping services. But she works further down the road from my office building. She’s very quiet and keeps her eyes to herself. No makeup. Her hair is always pulled back – I’m tempted to say “severely,” but her hair is much too luxuriant – into a ponytail. There isn’t a hair out of place. Her uniform shirt always looks not just ironed, but starched. She wears jeans – neat, form-fitting – but they don’t contradict the uncommon modesty she projects. She wears a wedding band. I’m thinking she’s a recent immigrant from a small town in Mexico or perhaps Central America; there’s simply nothing about her that suggests she was raised in los Estados Unidos.

In the back of the bus, up on the raised platform, are “the guys.” They are an unlikely trio. The age range must be twenty years; the clothing styles range from button-down shirt and tie (tucked inside the shirt) to faded, ragged T-shirts with goofy stuff printed on them. Orthodonture ranges from well maintained to beyond help. The guy in the shirt and tie always has the sports pages of the Journal open, but he doesn’t do any reading from the time I board until I get off. He’s engaged with the other two guys in discussions ranging from sports, city goings-on, and politics. Part of what makes these conversations noteworthy is that I would not have guessed from appearances that all three of these guys were as well informed on current events as they are. But what makes these discussions even more noteworthy is that, while they rarely agree with one another, there is absolutely no trace of rancor in their disagreements. In fact, the discussions are laced with laughter.

Here’s the story: For those who believe we’ve lost the art of good-natured disagreements in our we’re-right-they’re-wrong society, good news: it’s alive and well in the back of the 7:15 a.m. Yale bus.


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