Sunday, August 23, 2009

BUS STORY # 147 (David’s Story)

“I can’t believe it! It hit a hundred in Seattle yesterday. And I thought it was hot here!”

He’s a tall drink of water – six three, he’ll tell me later – in a maroon Village Inn T-shirt and silver and black basketball shorts. Young guy wearing those trendy black plastic glasses with narrow, squarish frames and wide temples tapering toward the ears.

“You know what it’s like when it hits a hundred in Seattle? And it’s July. It never hits a hundred in July. Maybe once or twice every other August. But things have changed. We used to have summer June July August, and Indian summer in September. But that’s all changed now. After August, it goes right into fall.”

I ask him if he’s from Seattle. He is – Interlake High School in Bellevue, U Dub – the whole nine yards.

So how did he end up in Albuquerque? I don’t realize it at the moment, but my question uncorks an answer that will blow virtually non-stop for the next 10 minutes we are waiting for the bus and for the following 15 or so minutes it will take to get to my stop.

He met his wife in Laguna (the one in California) and she’s from New Mexico. Her family is in the oil business. They charge people to pull the oil out from under their feet. They make a lot of money, although they’ve also been close to going bust what with the fluctuations of supply and demand and price per barrel.

It’s no picnic marrying into a rich family. When he was working at Dillards, he bought his mother-in-law a Waterford vase. Cost three hundred and seventy-five dollars. She told him, hon, there’s nothing you can buy me I don’t already have, but thank you anyway. He felt so bad hearing her tell him that.

But his wife’s not like that. She’s not materialistic. But her brother is. He’s already calculated everything he expects to be getting in the will, but you know what? That big old ranch might end up being sold to finance long-term care or assisted living. Happens all the time.

His own parents gave away everything they had to the Audubon Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A million dollars. His father was a rear admiral. His mother worked on the “Hoover Commission.” (I will later google “Hoover Commission” and, sure enough, there were two of them, one from 1947-49, the other from 1953-55.) They made some smart investments and retired on them and their pensions. It was more than they needed and at the end they just gave it all away. And good for them, good for them! He’s got no use for inheritances, it’s “dead people’s money.”

His brother-in-law has a PhD in engineering which he got from an online university. An online university! What kind of a degree is that?! He could get a degree in neurosurgery online, all he needs is a VISA card, but that wouldn’t keep him from wrecking someone’s “caranium.”

We board the bus somewhere in this story stream and sit side by side. I’m processing as fast as I can. He’s incredibly articulate – “caranium” is his only misstep – and he’s speaking in whole sentences without any pauses and without any “uh”s or “you know”s. He is also speaking emphatically, and loudly enough to be heard by the riders around us.

It is a wildly improbable tale, but there is an earnestness, an unfiltered openness, in his story telling that pulls me up short of labeling him a liar or a confabulator or just plain crazy. There is also a peculiar equality of emphasis given to everything he says, as if each sentence is equally important, each thought as worthy of consideration as any of its predecessors. I come up with “brain-damaged.”

People think if they have money, he continues, they’ll have everything they want and then they’ll be happy. Money’s not reliable. He had five hundred thousand dollars – a settlement from a bus accident – and now it’s gone. All gone. (My ears are already as pricked up as they can be, but “bus accident” elbows everything else out of the way.) First hit to the five hundred thou was 9/11. He lost - (He gives me an exact number which I do not remember except that it was six figures.) Then came the subprime debacle. Before that, he’d been getting a five-hundred-dollar-a-month allowance. Now all he’s got left is what’s in a money market fund which is earning what? a percent? which he can’t touch until he’s 65. He isn’t going to live to be 65.

“Bus accident?” I get in.

His bus went off a bridge and fell nine stories. Some crazy guy shot the driver, then himself. (He makes a gun out of his right hand and points the barrel at his mouth.) He was in the back of the bus, one of those “double-longs”, when it went over the edge. He grabbed the overhead poles and was hanging by his hands with his feet treading thin air and pointed at the front windshield. Then the pivot at the articulation started swinging to one side. All he remembers is a tremendous crash and being smashed through a window.

Diesel fuel ate through the skin on his legs (I’d noticed the scarring back at the bus stop.), and he ended up with broken ankles, broken knees, a fractured pelvis, lacerated liver and spleen, and was in a coma “for five months and 13 days.” (“Brain-damaged?” I think to myself. Could it be?) They also had to remove four inches from his vertebral column. “I used to be six-seven,” he says. “Now I’m six-three.”(Yes, I will also google “bus, murder, suicide,” and I will find the third return is from the New York Times about just such an incident back in 1998 – in Seattle.)

What makes him happy is his daughter. She’s been living with her grandparents, his wife’s parents, ever since his wife died. (!) She had asthma, and she died from an asthma attack. His daughter is an asthmatic, too. But she’s better off with her grandparents and cousins then she would be with him. She needs that female company.

“How often do you get to see her?”

He used to see her every other weekend. He’d drive to the ranch. But some drugged up punk kids stole his car and wrecked it. It was a special limited edition “GT” and he goes into some detail about the engine. Anyway, that’s why he’s working now. To get some money for a new car, and also he needs to register for some courses.

He could take the bus to see her, but he can’t get there any earlier than late morning, and then he has to leave early afternoon, so it doesn’t really give him much time with her . . .

His voice has become husky, and when I turn to look at him, I see his eyes are wet.

“She’s my whole life,” he whispers. “I love her so much.”

For the first time since we’ve met, he’s silent. It lasts less than a minute, and then he tells me he doesn’t spoil her. She’s already got every imaginable thing from her grandparents, and he doesn’t want her to learn a pattern of interacting with men for what she can get from them. But he buys her nice things. He gave her a Nano, it can hold 2,000 songs – “I don’t even know two thousand songs!” – and the kids at Walmart said they’d sure like a gift like that.

I’m at my stop. He reaches out his hand and says, “I’m David.”* I shake and tell him my name. “See you later,” he says.

If someone were to tell me, “Hey, that’s the story line from” some soap opera or women’s novel, I wouldn’t be surprised. On the other hand, I remember the first time I dismissed what I judged to be an improbable story from a dubious source. Both turned out to be dead-on. One thing I know for sure: you just never know.

*Real name changed

The photo at the top of this story is titled "Metro" and is posted with the kind permission of Slightlynorth. You can see this and all Slightlynorth's photos on Flickr at:


Anonymous Barbara said...

Busboy, this is a tremendous story. Thank you.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unbelievable, yet I believe it. (except, can they really remove 4 inches of vertebrae?) Otherwise great story and great photo.

11:16 AM  
Blogger JM said...

Seems perfectly believable to me!

12:18 PM  

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