Sunday, September 20, 2009


BUS STORY # 151 (Ancient Honorable Barter System)

I’m moving down the aisle and spot an almost empty seat. The guy sitting by the window has two plastic grocery bags on the aisle seat. I pause and look at the seat. He quickly grabs the bags and pulls them onto his lap. He smiles up at me.

“Thanks,” I say, and sit down.

It doesn’t always work out this way. Across the aisle, our co-rider has his backpack in the window seat while he sits in the aisle seat with his head buried in a book. He knows exactly what he is doing.

“It’s crowded today, no?” asks my seatmate.

“That time of day,” I reply.

He wants to talk. He tells me he’s a great-grandfather. I tell him he doesn’t look like one. And he doesn’t. He looks to be about 10 years younger than me. I may look like the grandfather I am, but a great-grandfather? No way, I reassure myself.

He goes on to tell me his story. It’s a familiar variation on a theme. He was born and raised here, but split for southern California when he turned 18. Worked two jobs out there, got married, had a daughter, then came back home. His facial expression tells me coming home was a bad career move.

Later, he was in a car wreck and injured his left arm. Now, he tells me, it’s developed into a degenerative nerve disease. He just got qualified for SSI, and he’s relieved. “I’m tired of being broke,” he says.

He opens one of the grocery bags and invites me to look inside. I see two jars of Folger’s instant coffee.

Then he shows me what’s in the other bag: Two more jars of Folger’s.

“Looks like you’re set for the spring,” I tell him.

“They’re five-fifty apiece,” he tells me. “I’ll sell you two of them for seven dollars.”

It’s impossible not to ask why someone who just spent $11 on two jars of coffee would turn around and sell them for $7.

“Oh, I didn’t buy them,” he explains. “This woman gave them to me. See, I went to see her this morning because she owes me 10 bucks. But she didn’t have the money. So she gave me this coffee instead. Five-fifty apiece, seven for two,” he repeats, looking at me. “It’s a good deal.”

“Yup, but I’m all set for coffee.”

He tells me he’s been riding the bus all day. He started out on Coors. His first stop was for the woman who owed him the $10.00. Now he’s heading for Louisiana. He knows someone who might buy the coffee.

As we pull into the stop at Louisiana, he gives me one last chance. “Two at five-fifty, for seven.” His voice has that are-you-sure sing-song to it. I wish him luck.
__________

The photo at the top of this story is titled "Orthez: bus du commerce équitable" and is posted with the kind permission of fredpanassac. You can see this and all fredpanassac's photos on Flickr at:
www.flickr.com/photos/10699036@N08/2212497756/

4 Comments:

Blogger abqdave said...

Great story, as usual. This struck me as one of the best examples of a typical day riding the bus.

The guy trying to avoid having someone sit next to him. The scammer across the aisle. The guy observing this and wondering why peoople act the way they do. All the other people who are anonymous and not commented on.

Routine trip, for better or worse.

8:49 AM  
Blogger JM said...

What a deal! Reminds me of our last apartment in Seattle, where on two different occasions, two different men knocked on our windows and tried to sell us meat. (We declined.)

7:29 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thanks, abqdave. Yes, indeed, it's another day in the neighborhood.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Meat, eh? Well, JM, that certanly trumps the coffee story!

12:12 AM  

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