Sunday, April 05, 2015

BUS STORY # 439 (Nighthawk At The Bus Stop)

Bus stop beer, © All Rights Reserved, by Bill Morgan

We’ve been sitting on the bench waiting for the bus for a few quiet minutes, me reading, him checking out the contents of his plastic grocery bag, when a fire engine comes blaring around the corner. We watch it go by and on up the street.

“One of these days, I’m gonna call 911,” he says.

Um... “What would you be calling 911 for?” I ask.

“Well, first, I gotta get their number.”

He says this straight, still looking down the road after the fire engine. Then he turns his eyes on me and a big grin crinkles his face.

He’s got Tom Waits’ voice, like maybe he’s been gargling paint thinner for a few years. Yellow short-sleeved plaid shirt, some work khakis with what looks like Christmas tinsel hanging out of his left pocket. Whispy hair, full white mustache. He looks to be at least as old as me.

We talk about the weather (“Ain’t it glorious?”) and then lapse into silence for a bit. Then he tells me he’s been retired but is looking to get back to work.

I ask what he did.

Computers. But back in the old days, and he drops some numbers that don’t compute with me.

I ask where he worked.

He pauses, thinks this over, then says he was “in academics.” He says he’s probably gotta take some courses to catch up now. Then he sticks out his hand. “My name is Victor.”*

I shake his hand, give him my name. He asks me if I’ve ever heard of _____.

I tell him I didn’t catch that name and lean in closer.

He repeats the name and I still can’t extract it from the growl in his voice.

He’s a musician from here in New Mexico, he explains.

He is telling me what I take to be the story of this New Mexican musician, but like many of the lyrics to many a Tom Waits song, I’m not getting a lot of the words.

That’s when the bus comes.

We end up sitting together on the side bench opposite the back door where we continue talking music, this time about “Mr. Dylan.” Then he asks me if I’m old enough to know about “Mr. Seeger.”

“Pete?” I ask, then answer, “Sure do.” I tell him I never saw him perform in person, and I’m sorry I missed the chance while he was still alive.

His face changes utterly. He starts to say something, then breaks off. He looks like he’s about to cry.

He finally asks me in a hoarse whisper, “When did the Good Lord take him?”

I’m not sure, I tell him. Maybe a year ago.

Now I see tears rimming his eyes. He starts to say something, then turns away.

The only thing I can think to say is Pete must have meant something to him. He nods his head.

He gets off on the near side of the Louisiana intersection. He tells me his name again and shakes my hand. I tell him I enjoyed talking with him.

I get off on the far side of the same intersection and walk north to the Red Line stop. I’ve already taken a seat on the bench when I see him cross the intersection, then turn north toward me. He walks slowly to the stop. He’s maybe twenty yards away when he puts his hand up over his eyes, shading and squinting. Then he grins.

“I thought that was you,” he said.

I laugh, shake his hand again, and he sits down beside me on the bench.

I ask him where he’s headed.

To the International District (an area south of Central roughly between Wyoming and San Mateo). He’s got a place he eats at where he can get “a complete protein.”

Then he tells me he’s an artist. He got into art by way of the martial arts. “You’ve heard of the Samurai?”

Yes I have.

Well, they were trained in dance. And the art of dancing is what made him such a good fighter. He won some tournaments, even came in second in a state championship. That was back when he was just angry all the time.

He pulls the cord for the stop at Central. He tells me he’s got a little place nearby. As we’re pulling into the stop, he gets up and growls, “Yeah, I’m so tough when the bedbugs bite, they just crawl off and die.”

That could’ve been Mr. Waits himself, live from Rafael’s Red Line Lounge.


Real name changed.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Bus stop beer,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the permission of Bill Morgan. You can see all Bill Morgan’s photos on Flickr here.


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