Sunday, January 25, 2009

BUS STORY # 117 (Spare Chicken?)

Last week, I wrote about my encounter with DART. This week, I’m telling the bus story I brought back from that encounter.

I’m standing at the St Paul Station waiting for the 8:57 p.m. southbound Blue Line to take me to Union Station and the train to the airport. I’m going to meet some co-workers for the business part of this trip.

I’ve used the DART system three times now, all during the daylight hours. It’s busy. But tonight, the platform is almost empty. There’s three of us: a tall, muscular guy with a tank top and a head rag, a young kid with an Afro, white dress shirt and black slacks, standing back in a corner and looking nervous. And me.

A fourth guy arrives on the platform. He’s an older guy in a faded blue baseball cap, faded blue shirt, and jeans. He walks behind me and on down the platform for a few steps, then stops, turns, looks at me, and walks back over to where I’m standing.

"Lookit that kid," he says to me, nodding to the nervous-looking kid in the corner, "he’s all scared somebody’s gonna mess with him."

He laughs, shakes his head. Ain’t nobody gonna mess with him, he tells me. He’s too old.

I laugh at the shared old guy knowledge that the older we get, the more invisible we become. Unless, as I point out now, looking old makes us look like easy pickings.

He ain’t no easy pickins’ – he makes hand gestures suggesting wringing a chicken’s neck and popping off its head. Then he tells me how a street tough tried messing with him down here one night. The guy stepped right in front of him, blocked his every move to step away. Kept calling him a “mother-mmm.” Probably high on something, he tells me.

He recreates the conversation like this:

“Why you be messin’ with me?”

“Cuz you a mother-mmm.”

“So what you gonna do, kill me?”


“Look, you a young G, I’m a old G. Why you be messin’ with me?”

Young G doesn’t say anything at first, just stands there lookin’ tough. Then he says, “Better go have another beer, old man.”

I’m close enough to tell the old man is sober as a church mouse. Helluva story, I tell him.

We make some small talk, and one thing leads to another. I tell him I’ve been visiting my mother. He asks how old she is. Pretty old, I reply. He knows that because I’m old. We both laugh. He tells me his mother’s old, too. I tell him my mother’s all alone these days, everyone else has died. He tells me it’s the same with his mother. All her brothers and sisters, gone.

I’m enjoying the conversation, but I still feel wary. The lyrics to an old Tom Waits song are running through my head.

. . .and wherever you say you're from
he'll say he grew up there himself
and he'll come on and make you feel
like you grew up right next door to him . . .
. . . she’s lucky to be alive
said the doctor to the nurse
she only lost half a pint of blood
twenty-nine dollars and an alligator purse.
We reflect on what a blessing our mothers are. Then I ask him what he does. He’s a cop.

“A cop?”

“A cop.”

“No kidding.”

I don’t think he’s a cop. Maybe a security guard. Maybe.

Later, I think he sensed the break and just went right to it.

“Say, I’m lookin’ for some chicken.”


Chicken. Does he mean "chick," as in "young girl?" Couldn't be. We're both too old -- for either end of that business. "Chicken scratch," as in "spare change?" I'm feeling very much the foreign tourist now.

“Chicken,” he says. “You know, chicken. I’m hungry. Can you help me out?”

“Uh . . . ” Sometimes a chicken is just a chicken.

“Thas awright, thas awright.” He backs right off. He’s still smiling, and the Blue Line to Ledbetter is rolling into the station. We board the same car, but he goes left and I go right.

The car is full. I notice I may be the only male not wearing a jersey from some NFL or NBA or NBL or NHL franchise. But my thoughts return to the guy on the platform.

He’d worked really hard on that pitch, put in a lot of time. He had imagination, energy, style. It was interactive street theatre. I thought of the kids back home, squatting on the sidewalk on Central, calling out listlessly to passersby, “Spare change?”

I’m thinking I should have sprung for a buck back there on the platform. I can even believe it would’ve gone toward the purchase of some chicken.


The photo at the top of this story is posted with the kind permission of Antonio Edward. You can see the photo and links to all Antonio’s remarkable DART night photos on Flickr at:


Blogger JM said...

When I read he was looking for "chicken," I thought he was talking about something else entirely.

Of course, a friend of mine worked as a chicken (male prostitute) when he was a young man (and ironically, had a day job where he fried chicken), so that may be why my mind went immediately there.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

I'd not heard "chicken" used that way before. In my day, the word was "hustler."

I'm wondering which chicken job your friend found to be the more fowl . . .

8:41 PM  

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