Sunday, March 08, 2009


BUS STORY # 123 (Silversmith)


He asks me if I’ve got a light. I can see the cigarette is hand rolled.

“Sorry,” I say.

“Nobody smokes anymore. It’s a drag.”

I register the pun, look at his face. He's oblivious.

“What time does the next bus come?” he asks. Someone has broken the plastic window and pulled out the posted schedule.

“Have you seen an inbound bus since you’ve been here?” I reply.

“Yeah, just before you got here.”

“I figure we have about five minutes, then.”

He’s Native American, about my height, big but not fat. He’s got his hair pulled back in a long pony tail bound at top and bottom with those sparkly elastic hair bands. Checked, flannel pullover, jeans, athletic shoes. He’s got one of those 20-hair moustaches.

“I’m takin’ this bike to my kid,” he says, nodding toward the small bike leaning against the bus stop pole. “He’s the youngest of twelve.”

He asks me what I do. I tell him and ask him back.

“I’m a silversmith,” he says. “Here, let me show you a couple of pieces I just sold.”

He pulls out a cell phone and shows me a photo of two bracelets. It’s impossible to see the detail, but they look good – classic “Indian-style” jewelry you see in all the stores, tourist areas, and on the wrists of lots of local Anglos.

He says he was lucky to sell these. The business tanked about five months ago. Nobody’s buying. He’s been making the rounds of his usual buyers here and in Santa Fe, Phoenix and Las Vegas. No one is buying from them, they aren’t buying from him. It’s the same story with all the silversmiths he knows.

“Funny thing is, silver was over twenty-one dollars just before the crash. I had to up my prices. Pissed the buyers off, but, hey, what could I do. Now it’s down to eleven, and no one’s buying except me, and I can’t sell the stuff.”

A skateboarder goes whizzing by us.

“Hey, hey, hey!” he calls out. The kid stops.

“You got a light?” he asks the kid.

“Naw, I don’t smoke,” the kid replies, and takes off.

“Oh, sure,” he says sarcastically. “I bet he’s got a whole pocketful of weed right now.”

I laugh, and he returns to the economy.

“I figure we’ll hit bottom in six months, then things’ll start to turn around.”

“You’re more optimistic than I am,” I reply.

“You don’t have faith in the new guy?”

“I don’t think he’s a miracle worker.”

He doesn’t want to hear that. Right now, silversmithing is about all he can do. He’s been a welder, a construction worker, a mover. He hurt his back moving, and he’s been on SSI ever since.

“Is that when you took up silver?” I ask.

No. He started learning when he met his wife. A friend of hers worked in silver, and she apprenticed him. He says once he got good enough, she made a pretty good living off his work. He and his wife decided to start their own business. It became their main business after his back injury.

“She died four years ago,” he says, almost as an afterthought. But he’s silent after that.

A bike rider is coming toward us. He steps out into the street and waves the rider down.

“You got a light?”

“Don’t smoke,” says the rider, and pushes off quickly.

“Man, nobody smokes anymore.”

The bus pulls up. I board while he puts the bike on the rack. I’m in the front. When he boards, he passes me on his way to the rear of the bus and says, “Later, man.”

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