Sunday, November 10, 2013

BUS STORY # 366 (The Old Tex Bus Stories)

A Gerard Forken photo downloaded from Stars and Stripes: Seabees' new bridge in Vietnam gets a test. 1967 by busboy4
A Gerard Forken photo: "Seabees' new bridge in Vietnam gets a test, 1967," downloaded from Stars and Stripes.

Most mornings, he got on the same bus I took to work, and he got off at San Mateo to catch the southbound to the VA.

He always wore the same thing: blue jeans, black windbreaker, black baseball cap with “SEABEES” across the front.

I didn’t ever get his name. I’m calling him “Old Tex” in these bus stories because he was old and from Texas.

When I say “old,” I mean I thought he was older than me. I had him somewhere in his 70s, and so it came as a surprise when, the last time I saw him, I learned he was actually two years younger.

I heard him before I saw him. He was hard of hearing, and he spoke at a volume I figured was his normal. So he could pretty much be heard by everybody on the bus.

Hearing is not the same as understanding.
He wasn’t just from Texas; he was from piney woods East Texas.  I am familiar with several Texas accents, but his accent, spoken in quick bursts of phrases in a gravel voice, made a lot of what he said unintelligible to me.  A lot of good bus stories got lost.

So did a lot of his life story.

He shared parts of it freely with whoever would listen. But something in the telling of a particular story would often remind him of another story and off we’d go. It was a bit like starting out for Santa Fe and winding up in San Ysidro.

So it took a lot of rides and a lot of careful listening for me to begin assembling that jigsaw puzzle of a biography.

I knew he was a born Texan, that he’d been in the Seabees, that part of that service was in Vietnam, that he was actively engaged in some form of socializing with other veterans, as well as some probably informal advocacy on behalf of at least one of those veterans, and that the reason he was on the bus several times a week was to go to the VA here in Albuquerque.

I knew that he’d been a foster parent or sponsor of some kind, and I regret not getting more of that story.

I knew he’d been in a bad accident, that the accident was a lot of how he ended up here, and why, the last time I saw him, I wasn’t likely to see him again any time soon.

I also knew that he was divorced, and that he had two grown children, one, the boy, in Florida and the other, the girl, in a place I never really did get nailed down. I don’t know, but suspect, he wasn’t close to his children -- or at least they weren’t close to him. There were too many stories that were missing a supportive son and daughter where you would expect them to be. But you didn’t get that from anything he said, or from any tone of voice. You had to read between the lines and be old enough to know what you were looking at.

He was, I think, an easy touch. I got this sense from fragments of stories he told. I also remember the morning a woman in a wheelchair got on the bus and discovered her bus pass had expired. Several folks reached for their wallets or purses, but he got up and went to the front to pay her fare.

I think most of all, he was lonely.

I also think he didn’t let that get him down. Leastways, not where any of us could see it. He was always positive, interested, unfailingly polite, and could see the humor in things. I would describe him as a good ol’ boy in the good sense of that term.

I have three stories from Old Tex. I got them sitting there in the back of the bus with him, facing him across the aisle, leaning forward with my elbows on my knees, listening hard to every word he was saying to me. I’ll be telling these stories over the next three weeks.


The photo at the top of this story was taken by Gerard Forken. It has been downloaded from an article titled "Seabees' new bridge in Vietnam gets a test, 1967," in Stars and Stripes.


Anonymous Brenda said...

Your "ticklers" kill me! I've never been one to read the end of the book first but I am one to read it cover to cover as quickly as my schedule allows! I will be looking forward to the next three weeks very much!

8:20 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thank you, Brenda. I hope you will find his stories as interesting as I have.

3:54 PM  

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