Sunday, February 04, 2007

BUS STORY # 20 (Waiting For No. 11)


I get off the homebound Rapid Ride and walk around the corner to the No. 11 bus stop. Normally, I stop and look westward to see if my connection is in sight, but I see a guy out in the pull-in lane doing just that. I can tell by the way he’s holding himself it’s nowhere in sight. The usual 20-minute wait, but on a cold, snowy night.

I stop at the near end of the bench and stand on an inexplicably clear spot on the sidewalk. At the other end of the bench are the fellow I first saw looking westward and a second guy. They are a scruffy-looking pair. The first guy has a knit watch cap, red sateen baseball jacket, sweatpants and athletic shoes. He’s hopping and bobbing and trying out all the different ways he can think of to say it’s really cold. His friend is hatless. A great greasy gob of just-got-out-of-bed hair is stuck to his head. He’s wearing a black leather jacket, open, with just a T-shirt beneath. I can’t make out the graphics, but they’re some sort of big drawing with big letters. He calls to me, “Got a match?” “Not since Clark Gable” flashes through my mind, but I let that one go. “Sure don’t.” I can see a half-smoked dead cigarette in his hand, and I’m thinking it’s salvage.

“When’s the bus come?” the other one asks me. “They run every 20 minutes or so,” I answer. They huddle and discuss this for a minute. “We must have just missed it,” he calls to me. He returns to hopping and bobbing, then walks back out in the street and looks westward. He returns and the two of them have a discussion. The second guy walks out into the street and looks westward. He returns and there is more discussion. They both walk out into the street and look westward. Then the second guy takes off across the street in a funny little duck run. He disappears amid the cars in the auto sales lot across the street. I figure he’s gone for a light.

His friend keeps going back and forth from the curb to the street. I take this as concern that his friend won’t get back before the next bus comes. After a while, we see his friend across the street. He looks eastward, starts his funny little run to the other side. I can see he’s scored not only a light, but – a pair of socks! He hands the lit cigarette to his friend, then sits down on the snow-covered bench, pulls up one pants leg. That’s when I see he’s barefooted and wearing sandals. He pulls the sandal off, puts on the sock, puts the sandal back on. Same for the other foot. Then he stands up, brushes the snow off his butt, and asks his friend for the cigarette. They trade inhalations until there’s nothing left. Meanwhile, I try to imagine some plausible scenario that explains how he’s come by this pair of socks. The story of one of the car salesman across the street being talked out of his own socks is the best I can do.

The next time I look over, the guy in the red jacket is standing between me and his friend who, back to the street, is relieving himself against the retaining wall. I see steam rising from the snow and look away. I see there is notably little traffic at this particular moment, and I conclude, probably from the screening gesture, the timing is not merely coincidental.

The No. 11 arrives. I board ahead of them, then watch as they pause in the aisle twice to discuss the merits of the seats they are considering before moving on. They end up in the back of the bus. They’re still back there when I get off.

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