Sunday, August 26, 2012

BUS STORY # 303 (A Tale Of Two Gangstas)

Untitled illustration downloaded from a post on the website for A City Mom by Kim Strickland by busboy4
Untitled illustration downloaded from a post by Kim Strickland on her website A City Mom .

“C’est la vie,” said the old folks
“It goes to show you never can tell.”
-- Chuck Berry, from “You Never Can Tell”

On the way home, a guy boards the bus with his wife and child.  He’s black and decked out gangsta -- all black clothes, oversized shorts, crooked hat, tattoos everywhere.  His wife is Latina.  The child is in a stroller which he and his wife lift up the stairs and maneuver into place by the bench seats behind the driver.

His wife pulls the child out of the stroller while he holds it to keep it from rolling. After they get settled in, the guy sitting across from them gets up, goes over near the till, picks up a bus pass from the floor.  The woman says, “That’s mine.”  He goes to give it to her, and gangster dude grabs it and hands it to her himself.

He doesn’t say thank you. He doesn’t say anything.  He doesn’t even look at the guy.  In fact, he doesn’t even look at his wife when he folds his arm in and cocks the card toward her.

My initial reaction is “What a jerk.”

But the lack of anger in his expression, in the very grabbing of the pass, nags at me.  Something doesn’t fit.

Maybe he just doesn’t know any better.  Maybe he didn’t have anybody to raise him right.

The whole action, from the grab to the handoff, now seems almost disinterested.

And then I think: he’s a gangster, a tough guy.  Last thing an aspiring tough guy does is show any softness.  Like, for example, showing appreciation for the thoughtfulness of strangers.

The whole action -- expression and gesture -- is practiced. Stylized.

It isn’t for want of being raised right.  Somewhere, there’s a mother or grandmother mourning a lost child.

The next morning, a guy boards the bus with his wife and two children.  He’s black and decked out gangsta -- all black clothes, oversized shorts, black do-rag, tattoos everywhere.  His wife is Latina.

He finds a pair of empty seats for her and the younger child.  Then he tells the older child -- a girl who looks to be five or six -- to sit next to me.  She does, and he starts to take the seat in front of me.

“You wanna trade seats?” I ask him.

He looks at me, pauses, says, “Um...sure.”

I get up, move to the aisle, and step back.

“Thank you,” he says.  He almost looks me in the eye when he says this.

“No problem,” I say, and quickly look away.  I take the seat in front of him.

Afterwards, I hear him talking to the girl.  The words, the tone, are exactly what you’d hope to hear from a loving and attentive father.

Here’s the story: when I saw him board, saw how he looked, saw his wife and kids, I remembered the previous evening, and I said to myself, “Here we go again.”

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” my grandmother used to tell me. And since I was raised to know better, I’m feeling a bit chagrinned.

But my grandmother also used to tell me, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

So I’m feeling less chagrinned now.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck...that’s not my grandmother’s.

But it tells me the second guy only looks gangsta.

There is a saying in Spanish: No sólo hay que ser, sino parecer -- it’s not enough to be [in this case, a gangsta], you have to look like one. But I think the norteamericano version is more like no es necessario ser, sólo a parecer -- it’s not necessary to be [a gangsta, etc.], just to look like one. (What that says about us I’m not getting into here.)

Ultimately, I tell myself that, even though I was a little slow on the uptake, I have succeeded in looking beyond the cover.

I’m still not too old to listen to my grandmother.  Or to Chuck Berry, either.


The untitled illustration at the top of this story was downloaded from the post, "My kids dress like gangstas, and it's my bad," by Kim Strickland, from her website A City Mom. (This aptly-named site is not a public transportation blog, but is a good read.)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

BUS STORY # 302 (“I Just Need A Place To Stay”)

Room In Your Heart And Home? by busboy4
Room In Your Heart And Home?, a photo by busboy4 on Flickr.

“I lost my apartment, I lost my wife and kid...”

I’ve just caught this fragment of conversation from the kid sitting across from me. He’s talking to another kid two seats back. There is more conversation, but between the engine and air conditioner noise of the old 300 and a loud conversation going on next to me, I really can’t make much out. 

He looks like he’s just made his 20s. Thin, long black hair under a baseball cap. Black jeans, black T-shirt.

A little while later, he calls out, “Don’t I know you from downtown?”

He’s looking at me.


“Yeah, you look familiar.”

“I don’t go downtown much,” I reply, a little off guard because I was downtown two days ago, and I’m wondering what are the odds, and where would he have seen me.

He tells me I just look familiar, and downtown’s where he’s been, but he can’t go back there now, there are people down there who want his head on a platter.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t his fault, but now he’s in the middle of a divorce. “I’ve lost my apartment, I’ve lost my wife and kid, and I just need a place to stay.”

I hear a slight quaver in his voice.

He says he wouldn’t be there except at night because of all these appointments and classes he’s going to. He can work, wash dishes, take out the trash...He could bring in two hundred dollars worth of food stamps...

I start to ask doesn’t he have any friends who can put him up, but I already know the answer before I finish the thought.

He says the divorce is probably a good thing, because they’ve been arguing more and more, and he’s afraid it’s gonna get physical. Not that he would ever, ever, raise a hand against her, no matter how angry he got. He’s not that kind of guy. That’s why it’s better for him to just get out.

The kid is six-and-a-half, seven months now. He holds up his left forearm, and I see a long scar running lengthwise up the inside, from about halfway back up to his wrist.  He says he doesn’t know why he did that.

He abruptly strikes up a conversation with the kid sitting beside me.

How old are you?


On the street, huh?

No, he lives with his mom and dad.

Still living with your folks, huh?

We get to Central, and he and the kid are among the many who get off. I catch the two of them walking together up Central toward The Frontier.

I feel... vaguely... uneasy...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

BUS STORY # 301 (“Dragging Butt”)

Wheelchair And Bus: a photo by Mrs. Busboy
Wheelchair And Bus, a photo by Mrs. Busboy.

When the bus pulls up across the street, one of the guys waiting on our side of the street says to the guy standing beside him, “That means we got another ten minutes.”

He’s an older guy, in one of those baseball caps with a neck cape.

The other guy says, “He’ll be here at six thirty-one.”

He’s a younger guy and has on a Sea World baseball cap.

Neck Cape guy asks how he knows this.

Sea World guy says he’s been riding this bus for four years.

A third guy says it’ll be six thirty-five. “They’re always late.”

Sea World says, “Only if the driver’s dragging butt.”

Then he adds, or else picking up a wheelchair.

He goes on to say there’s always a wheelchair boarding at either the hospital or San Mateo. That’ll make the driver three minutes late. Otherwise, he’s dragging butt.

Always? asks Neck Cape.

Always, says Sea World. You wait and see. If he’s three minutes late, you’ll see a wheelchair when you board. If you don’t see a wheelchair, he’s dragging butt.

Well, wait a minute, now, says Neck Cape. What if he picks up a wheelchair at the hospital and then lets him off at San Mateo? That’d make him six minutes late, and you wouldn’t see no wheelchair, and you’d be sayin’ he’s draggin’ butt.

Sea World is adamant. If he’s six minutes late, he’s dragging butt.

Neck Cape doesn’t pursue the debate.

The bus arrives at 6:34. We board, all six of us that were waiting. There is no wheelchair, and the seats in the wheelchair space are all full. Sea World turns back to Neck Cape and mouths, “dragging butt.”


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Wheelchair And Bus” and is posted with the kind permission of Mrs. Busboy. She doesn’t post to Flickr, but she sometimes shares with me.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

BUS STORY # 300 (Shorts 26)

It’s Monday night, and a younger guy and I are at the Lomas/Louisiana bus stop wondering why all the police cars and ambulances and fire engines at the Burger King across the street. There’s no evidence of mayhem we can see. Everyone is standing around talking.
“Maybe there was a hold-up.”
“Don’t see any news vans anywhere.”
“Right, right. Maybe there was a grease fire.”
“Grease fire wouldn’t pull half a dozen cop cars.”
“Think there was an accident?”
“I didn’t see any wrecked cars when I walked past.”
“Maybe it’s a flash mob.”


He stops at my seat, eases out of his backpack, sits down beside me with the backpack on his lap. He’s probably early 40s, jeans, gray baseball cap. He rummages through the backpack and pulls out a long blue box. I can make out most of the title: something something U.S. Presidents. He opens the box, pulls out a stack of long cards, fans through them, selects one, and begins reading. I can make out the drawing of a face on the top of the card, single lines under the face, and paragraphs under the single lines. Flash cards! For learning the Presidents!


He’s slouched down in the last row, by the window on the passenger side. He’s got his right leg up across the tops of the aisle-facing bench seats in front of him. His left leg is folded up so his foot is on the armrest of bench seat before him. He’s got a bag in the seat beside him. He’s effectively taken up four seats, and his expression is designed to let everybody know he won’t tolerate any request to make some room. The driver almost misses a large young woman at a stop, and pulls up some 20 yards past. I see her walk past the window on her way to the front door. The sloucher is irritated. “Driver oughta make her run.” The only thing moving on him is his mouth.


Guy gets on the morning bus with a big bouquet of roses.  The driver says, “Uh-oh, looks like somebody forgot to go home last night.”  The rider replies, “Nah, I just opened my mouth.”


The photo at the top of this story is titled “yellow roses (on the bus),” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of hugo poon hp. You can see all hugo poon hp’s photos on Flickr at: